Falsos amigos

Falso amigos
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False Friends

One of the great things about learning Spanish is that many words have the same roots in the Romance languages and English. However, there are also a great many falsos amigos, or false friends, which look similar but are in fact very different. This is one of the biggest pitfalls for students of Spanish. There are also semi-false friends: words that can only sometimes be translated by the similar word in the other language.

Because some of the words are identical in the two languages, the Spanish word appears in blue and the English in purple.

Absoluto vs Absolute(ly)

Absoluto is a rather interesting word. Alone, it means absolute, utter, complete. When preceded by en, it means not at all, by no means, no way.
Absolute = absoluto. Absolutely = absolutamente, completamente, totalmente.

Actual vs Actual

Actual means current or present: El presidente actual vive en Madrid – The current president lives in Madrid. Actualmente means currently, at present, or now.
Actual means verdadero or efectivo. Actually can be translated by realmente, en realidad, or en efecto.

Advertencia vs Advertisement

Advertencia is a warning, piece of advice, reminder, or preface.
Advertisement = un anuncio.

Agonía vs Agony

Agonía = death throes, dying moments.
Agony refers to terrible physical or mental pain: dolor agudo, angustia.

Alterado vs Altered

Alterado can mean changed or altered as well as angry or upset.
Altered = modificado, cambiado, alterado.

Americano vs American

Americano usually refers to anyone from North or South America.
American = estaounidense (adjective of Estados Unidos – United States)

Aplicar vs Apply

Aplicar means to apply something, like a theory, paint, or sanctions.
Apply = aplicar when it is a transitive verb. As an intransitive verb, it has many translations: apply for a job – solicitar or presentar; to apply oneself to – dirigirse a uno; to apply in the sense of be applicable – ser aplicable or interesar.

Apología vs Apology

Apología refers to defense or a eulogy.
Apology = una disculpa or excusa.

Aprobar vs Approve

Aprobar means to approve (of), consent to, or endorse, as well as to pass a test or class.
Approve = aprobar.

Arena vs Arena

Arena means sand.
Arena = anfiteatro, redondel, plaza.

Argumento vs Argument

Argumento means argument in the sense of reasoning (as in a courtroom).
Argument in the sense of disagreement translates as una discusión, pelea, disputa, or polémica.

Asesino vs Assassin

Asesino can refer to an assassin as well as non-political murderer or killer. It's also an adjective: murderous.
Assassin = asesino.

Asistencia vs Assistance

Asistencia usually means attendance, though it can also mean assistance.
Assistance is most commonly translated by ayuda or auxilio.

Asistir vs Assist

Asistir means to attend.
Assist translates as ayudar.

Atender vs Attend

Atender can mean to attend in Latin America, but in Spain it means to pay attention to, to heed, or to care for.
Attend = asistir.

Autor vs Author

Autor can refer to an author or writer as well as the creator of something (e.g., a painting) or the perpetrator of a crime.
Author nearly indicates a writer: un autor, una autora.

Bachillerato vs Bachelor

Bachillerato is the equivalent of a high school diploma in the US or A-levels in the UK.
Bachelor refers to an unmarried man: un soltero. A bachelor's degree is una licenciatura.

Billón vs Billion

Billón is kind of a semi-false friend. It indicates a trillion in US, billion in UK.
Billion, as spoken by an American, = mil millones. When a Brit says billion, s/he means billón.

Bizarro vs Bizarre

Bizarro has two categories of meaning: 1) valient, gallant, brave, or 2) generous.
Bizarre means extraño or raro (see raro vs rare, below).

Blanco vs Blank

Blanco is a semi-false friend. It is usually the Spanish word for the color white but can in some instances be translated by blank: una página blanca – a blank sheet of paper.
Blank is an adjective meaning en blanco, liso, or sin adorno.

Blindar vs Blind

Blindar means to armor-plate or to shield, and its adjective blindado means armor-plated, shielded, or bullet-proof.
Blind = ciego as an adjective, and cegar or deslumbrar as a verb.

Bufete vs Buffet

Bufete is a desk or a lawyer's office.
Buffet refers to una cantina, un buffet libre, or una comida buffet.

Cámara vs Camera

Cámara can mean a camera, a camera operator, or a chamber.
Camera usually refers to a still camera: una cámara, una máquina fotográfica.

Campo vs Camp

Campo means country(side), field, or farm.
Camp refers to un campamento.

Cargo vs Cargo

Cargo refers to a post or position as well as a charge in all senses: hacerse cargo de – to take charge, sin cargo – free of charge, retirar los cargos contra – to drop the charges against.
Cargo = cargamento, carga.

Carpeta vs Carpet

Carpeta = folder, file, portfolio, briefcase, or table cloth.
Carpet is una alfombra or una moqueta.

Carrera vs Career

Carrera can refer to any of the following: running, race; a row or line; a beam, girder, or joist; route, ride, journey, course; avenue; career; or university studies.
Career indicates una carrera profesional or una profesión.

Carta vs Cart/Card

Carta refers to a (postal) letter, document, deed, charter, map, or menu.
Cart is un carro, una carreta, un carretón, or una carretilla. A card is usually una tarjeta.

Chocar vs Choke

Chocar normally means to shock or startle, but can also mean to clink (glasses) or to shake (hands).
Choke = sofocarse or atragantarse.

Colegio vs College

Colegio refers to a high school, usually private.
College can be translated by colegio only when it refers to "colleges" as in divisions of a school. Otherwise, college = universidad or escuela superior.

Colorado vs Colored

Colorado means red or reddish.
Colored = de color.

Complexión vs Complexion

Complexión refers to one's constitution, make-up, temperament, or physical build.
Complexion = la tez, el cutiz, or la piel.

Compromiso vs Compromise

Compromiso is an obligation, commitment, promise, or agreement.
Compromise as a noun can be expressed as una transacción, una avenencia, unas concesiones recíprocas, el término medio, or la solución intermedia. The verb is comprometer or transigir.

Conductor vs Conductor

Conductor equals conductor when referring to science: un conductor de electricidad – conductor of electricity. It can also mean a driver or a TV or radio presenter.
Conductor of an orchestra is un(a) director(a), and  train conductor is un(a) revisor(a).

Conexión vs Connection

Conexión is a physical or logical connection.
Connection when referring to human/emotional connections is una relación.

Conferencia vs Conference

Conferencia can mean conference, meeting, lecture, speech, or phone call.
Conference = una conferencia, una reunión, una asamblea, or un congreso.

Constipación vs Constipation

Constipación and its synonym constipado both refer to a cold or catarrh.
Constipation = el estreñimiento.

Contento vs Content

Contento means happy.
Contemt means satisfecho.

Contestar vs Contest

Contestar means to answer or reply.
Contest as a verb means impugnar, atacar, disputar, or contender.

Conveniente vs Convenient

Conveniente means suitable, fitting, proper, useful, or advantageous.
Convenient means cómodo, práctico, útil, or accesible.

Copa vs Cup

Copa = a glass or goblet, an alcoholic drink, a trophy (la Copa del Mundo – World Cup).
Cup = una taza.

Copia vs Copy

Copia is a photopcopy or other duplicate.
Copy can also mean un ejemplar (of a book) or un número (of a magazine).

Coraje vs Courage

Coraje can mean courage as well as anger.
Courage can be translated by el coraje as well as el valor, la valentía, los ánimos, and las fuerzas.

Corresponder vs Correspond

Corresponder means things like to correspond, tally, fit in, match, or belong.
Correspond translates to corresponder only in the sense of agreeing with or matching (e.g., this corresponds with our thoughts). When referring to a correspondence by mail, the Spanish translation is escribirse or estar en correspondencia con.

Costumbre vs Costume

Costumbre is a habit
Costume = disfraz.

Cuestión vs Question

Cuestión is a matter/issue/question to be resolved.
Question is translated by cuestión when referring to an issue, or una pregunta when asking a question.

Culto vs Cult

Culto can refer to a religious sect or to a religious service. As an adjective, it means cultured or refined.
Cult = una secta.

Damnificado vs Damned

Damnificado = victim, from the verb damnificar – to injure, harm, damage.
Damned means condenado or maldito.

Decepción/Decepcionar vs Deception/Deceive

Decepción = disappointment. Decepcionar = to disappoint.
Deception = un engaño, un fraude. To deceive = engañar, defraudar.

Defraudar vs Defraud

Defraudar can mean to defraud or cheat as well as to disappoint or let down.
Defraud means estafar or defraudar.

Delito vs Delight

Delito refers to a crime, offence, or misdeed.
Delight = el placer, el deleite, el encanto, or la delicia.To delight = encantar or deleitar.

Departamento vs Department

Departamento means department, section; office; compartment; province; or apartment.
Department = departamento, sección, ministerio.

Desgracia vs Disgrace

Desgracia means misfortune, mishap, accident, setback, or bad luck.
Disgrace refers to la deshonra or ignominia.

Deshonesto vs Dishonest

Deshonesto means indecent or lewd. It means dishonest only in the sense of untrustworthy, not in the sense of not telling the truth.
Dishonest = poco honrado, fraudulento.

Despertar vs Desperate

Despertar means to wake up, both figuratively and literally, and requires a direct object. To say "I'm waking up" in the sense of getting out of bed, you need to use the reflexive form, despertarse.
Desperate = desesperado.

Destituido vs Destitute

Destituido means devoid of or lacking.
Destitute = indigente, desamparado, necesitado, or en la miseria.

Disco vs Disco

Disco is a semi-false friend. Aside from disco, it has numerous translations: disk, discus, traffic-light, or (audio) record.
Disco = disco, discoteca, or sala de baile.

Discusión vs Discussion

Discusión can be a simple discussion, but more commonly it refers to something more intense, like a debate, dispute, or argument.
Discussion is equivalent to discusión or deliberaciones.

Discutir vs Discuss

Discutir is stronger than discuss; more like debate or argue.
Discuss = hablar de, tratar de, comentar.

Disgusto vs Disgust

Disgusto is not as strong as disgust; it means annoyance, displeasure, grief, or trouble.
Disgust refers to repugnancia or aversión.

Echar vs Echo

Echar has numerous meanings, including to throw, to put, to pour, to give, to cut, and to push.
Echo means resonar, repetir, or hacer eco.

Editor vs Editor

Editor is an adjective: publishing, and a noun: publisher or editor.
Editor can be translated by editor, director, or redactor.

Educación vs Education

Educación has a broader meaning than education. The Spanish word's best translation is upbringing, which includes both school education as well as what a child learns at home.
Education is best translated by formación or enseñanza.

Educado vs Educated

Educado means well-mannered, polite, or cultivated, from the verb educar – to raise, bring up, rear.
Educated is from the verb to educate: formar or instruir.

Efectivo vs Effective

Efectivo means real or actual. En efectivo means in cash. Efectivos are military forces or (police) officers.
Effective = eficaz.

Elevador vs Elevator

Elevador means elevator only in Mexico, though un elevador de granos is a grain elevator anywhere.
Elevator = un ascensor.

Embarazada vs Embarrassed

Embarazada means pregnant. It can also be a noun: una embarazada = a pregnant woman, an expectant mother.
Embarrassed is avergonzado, molesto, or incómodo.

Emocionante vs Emotional

Emocionante means exciting, thrilling, or moving.
Emotional indicates something that is afectivo, emocional, or emotivo, or someone that is sentimental.

Equivocado vs Equivocal

Equivocado means wrong.
Equivocal is equívoco or ambiguo.

Eventual vs Eventual

Eventual means fortuitous, possible, or temporary.
Eventual = final, definitivo, consiguiente.

Excitar vs Excite

Excitar means to excite sexually.
Excite when talking about something you're looking forward to is entusiasmar or provocar.

Éxito vs Exit

Éxito means success: a gran éxitovery successful.
Exit is una salida.

Fábrica vs Fabric

Fábrica is a factory, plant, or mill.
Fabric is el tejido or la tela.

Factoría vs Factory

Factoría can mean a factory (in some Spanish-speaking countries), but is more commonly a trading post.
Factory = una fábrica.

Facultad vs Faculty

Facultad refers to mental faculty, power or ability, or a university department.
Faculty in reference to a group of teachers is el profesorado.

Falta vs Fault

Falta is a lack, want, need, absence, shortage, failure, or shortcoming.
A fault (imperfection) is un defecto, un desperfecto, or una imperfección. Fault (blame) is la culpa.

Familiar vs Familiar

Familiar as an adjective means family, familiar, domestic, informal, plain, or colloquial. As a noun it refers to a relative or close friend.
Familiar is only an adjective: familiar, conocido, común, familiarizado, íntimo.

Fastidioso vs Fastidious

Fastidioso means annoying or boring. It can mean fastidious in Latin America.
Fastidious means escrupuloso.

Firma vs Firm

Firma can refer to a firm, but more commonly means a signature.
Firm as an adjective means firme, sólido, duro, seguro. As a noun, it can be translated by una firma or una empresa.

Fiscal vs Fiscal

Fiscal means fiscal or tax-related as an adjective. As a noun, however, it refers to a district attorney or public prosecutor.
Fiscal = fiscal.

Formal vs Formal

Formal means reliable, dependable, responsible, or serious.
Formal means solemne, correcto, oficial, or, when referring to clothing, de etiqueta.

Fracaso vs Fracas

Fracaso is a failure or disaster.
Fracas is une gresca or una reyerta.

Fútbol vsFootball

Fútbol refers to soccer (in American English).
Football = el fútbol americano.

Fútil vs Futile

Fútil means trivial, while
Futile means inútil, vano, or infructuoso.

Grabar vs Grab

Grabar is to engrave, record, or impress.
Grab means asir, coger, or arrebatar.

Gracioso vs Gracious

Gracioso means funny or cute.
Gracious = gentil, cortés, or refinado.

Grosería vs Grocery store

Grosería seems to follow the -ía pattern on most Spanish words for stores, but in fact it refers only to rudeness, crudeness, or vulgarity.
Grocery store = tienda de abarrotes/comestibles, bodega, or abacería, depending on what country you're in.

Honesto vs Honest

Honesto means sincere, honorable, or decent.
Honest = sincero, franco, or honrado.

Humor vs Humor

Humor means mood or humor.
Humor refers to gracia or humor. Sense of humor = sentido del humor.

Idioma vs Idiom

Idioma refers to a language.
Idiom = idiotosmo, modismo, or lenguaje.

Ignorar vs Ignore

Ignorar means to not know or to be unaware of.
Ignore means no hacer caso de, desatender, or dejar a un lado.

Insulto vs Insult

Insulto means insult in most places, but in Mexico it can also refer to indigestion or a stomachache.
Insult = insulto.

Introducir vs Introduce

Introducir is a semi-false friend. It means to introduce only in the context of introducing a topic.
Introduce can mean to introduce a topic or a person. The latter is translated by presentar in Spanish.

Jamón vs Jam

Jamón = ham.
Jam = mermelada.

Jubilación vs Jubilation

Jubilación refers to retirement: both the act of retiring and a pension.
Jubilation = júbilo.

Labor vs Labor

Labor can mean any kind of work: paid work, chores, needlework, etc.
Labor refers to trabajo (the actual work) or la mano de obra (the workers).

Largo vs Large

Largo means long, generous, or abundant.
Large = grande or importante.

Lectura vs Lecture

Lectura refers to the act of reading or reading material.
Lecture = una conferencia, una explicación, or un sermoneo.

Letra vs Letter

Letra refers only to a letter of the alphabet.
Letter is un letra (of the alphabet) or una carta (that you write to a friend).

Librería/Librero vs Library

Librería is a bookstore, while librero refers to a bookseller or bookcase.
Library refers to una biblioteca.

Lujuria vs Luxury

Lujuria = lust, lewdness, excess.
Luxury = el lujo.

Mama vs Mama

Mama refers to a breast.
Mama = mamá (see how important an accent can be?)

Mango vs Mango

Mango can mean mango the fruit as well as a handle (as of a knife).
Mango = mango.

Marca/Marco vs Mark

Marca is a mark (as in a spot or line) as well as a brand, make, or label. In sports, una marca is a record or best time. Un marco is a (picture) frame, goal, setting, or framework.
Mark can be translated by una mancha or una señal.

Masa vs Mass

Masa can mean mass (in terms of people and volume), as well as dough.
Mass in reference to church is la misa.

Matar vs Mate

Matar means to kill.
Mate = as a noun is un macho / una hembra for animals, un compañero / una compañera for people. To mate means aparear or unir.

Mayor vs Mayor

Mayor as an adjective means main, major, larger, older. As a noun is means chief, boss, superior, adult, or ancestor.
Mayor = el alcalde or la alcadesa.

Minorista vs Minority

Minorista is a Caribbean and South American word for retail or retail seller.
Minority = la minoría or, as an adjective, minoritario.

Molestar vs Molest

Molestar means to annoy or bother.
Molest = acosar sexualmente.

Motivo vs Motive

Motivo isn't necessarily the same thing as motive (which tends to have a negative connotation, like "motive for the murder"); it's more like reason or cause.
Motive = móvil, motivos, or intención.

Natural vs Natural

Natural as an adjective means natural, fresh (with fruit), and illegimate (with children). As a noun it means nature or native.
Natural can be translated by natural, normal, innato, or biológico (with family members).

Negocio vs Negotiation

Negocio refers to a business, deal, or transaction.
Negotiation is una negociación

Nombre vs Number

Nombre means name or noun.
Number is un número.

Noticia vs Notice

Noticia is a news item or piece of news. Noticias means news or information.
A Notice = un aviso, un cartel, un letrero, un preaviso.

Nudo vs Nude

Nudo is a noun: knot, node, joint.
Nude is a noun or adjective: desnudo.

Ocasión vs Occasion

Ocasión is usually a chance or opportunity. It can also mean cause or reason, and in Latin American it refers to a bargain.
Occasion refers to una vez, una oportunidad, un acontecimiento, una razón, or un motivo.

Oculto vs Occult

Oculto can mean hidden, concealed, or secret, as well as occult.
Occult = oculto or misterioso.

Ocupado vs Occupied

Ocupado means busy.
Occupied can mean ocupado or habitado.

Oficial vs Official

Oficial as an adjective is the same as in English. As a noun, it refers to a military officer or a skilled worker.
Official as a noun is un funcionario.

Oficio vs Office

Oficio = trade or function, religious service/mass, or an official letter.
Office is una oficina, un despacho.

Once vs Once

Once is eleven in Spanish.
Once = una vez.

Ordinario vs Ordinary

Ordinario can mean ordinary as well as common or coarse (in reference to a person) and fine or ok, in answer to ¿Cómo estás?
Ordinary = normal or corriente.

Pan vs Pan

Pan = bread
Pan is una cazuela, cacerola, olla, or sartén.

Papa/Papá vs Papa

Papa means potato when it's feminine and Pope when it's masculine. Papá is equivalent to papa or dad in English.
Papa = papá.

Pariente vs Parent

Pariente is any relative
Parent = el padre or la madre only.

Patrón vs Patron

Patrón can indicate a boss or owner as well as a pattern or standard.
Patron = patrocinador or cliente.

Pie vs Pie

Pie = foot.
Pie = pastel.

Plagio vs Plague

Plagio is plagiarism.
Plague refers to la peste, la plaga, or el fastidio.

Prácticamente vs Practically

Prácticamente should not be used to mean almost; it means practically in the sense of "in a practical way" or "in practical terms."
Practically = casi.

Preciso vs Precise

Preciso can mean precise, correct, or necessary.
Precise = preciso or exacto.

Preocupado vs Preoccupied

Preocupado = worried.
Preoccupied = absorto.

Presente vs Present

Presente = present when talking about time or presence.
Present meaning "gift" is un regalo.

Preservativo vs Preservative

Preservativo indicates a condom.
Preservative is un conservador.

Pretender vs Pretend

Pretender means to hope or to claim: Ella pretende ser rica – She claims to be rich.
Pretend is translated by fingir or simular.

Privado vs Private

Privado means private as in exclusive (such as a school or club).
Private is fairly general – it's basically the opposite of public and can be translated by privado, personal, secreto, íntimo, or particular.

Procurar vs Procure

Procurar rarely means to procure; the more common translations by far are to try and to manage (to do something).
Procure = obtener, conseguir.

Quitar vs Quit

Quitar means to take away, remove, or get rid of.
Quit = dejar, abandonar, salir de. To quit one's job: abandonar su puesto, dimitir.

Raro vs Rare

Raro can mean rare, but more commonly means odd or strange.
Rare = poco común or excepcional.

Real vs Real

Real can mean real as well as royal.
Real means verdadero, auténtico, or legítimo.

Realizar vs Realize

Realizar means to realize only in the sense of to make real, to attain, or to fulfill.
Realize can mean realizar as well as darse cuenta de, comprender, and reconocer.

Receta vs Receipt

Receta = recipe or prescription.
Receipt = un recibo.

Recolección vs Recollection

Recolección is a collection, harvest, or summary.
Recollection is el recuerdo or la memoria.

Recordar vs Record

Recordar means to remember, recall, or remind.
Record is equivalent to registrar, inscribir, or grabar.

Red vs Red

Red refers to a network.
Red is the color rojo.

Relativo vs Relative

Relativo has the same meaning as an adjective, but as a noun it is used only in linguistics.
Relative as a noun = pariente or familiar.

Restar vs Rest

Rester means to take away or subtract, to not give much, to remain or be left or, in sports, to return.
Rest as a verb = descansar or apoyar.

Revolver vs Revolver

Revolver is a verb: to move around, turn over, revolve, or disturb.
Revolver is a noun: un revólver (that accent is important!)

Ropa vs Rope

Ropa means clothing.
Rope = una cuerda or una soga.

Salario vs Salary

Salario refers to hourly wages, while
Salary indicates fixed earnings per month or year: el sueldo.

Sano vs Sane

Sano = healthy, fit, or intact.
Sane means cuerdo, sensato, or de juicio sano.

Sensible vs Sensible

Sensible = sensitive or regrettable.
Sensible means juicioso, sensato, or prudente.

Simple vs Simple

Simple can nearly always be translated by simple: when it means foolish, not compound, etc.
Simple, however, is translated as sencillo when it means unadorned or uncomplicated.

Sobre vs Sober

Sobre is either a noun: envelope or a preposition: on, above, over.
Sober means sobrio or sereno.

Sopa vs Soap

Sopa refers to soup or, informally, a hangover, while
Soap is jabón.

Soportar vs Support

Soportar means to bear, carry, support, hold up, or withstand.
Support as a verb is usually translated by apoyar, sostener, or mantener.

Suceder vs Succeed

Suceder means to happen or to follow, come next.
Succeed = tener éxito, triunfar.

Suceso vs Success

Suceso is an event, incident, happening, or outcome.
Success refers to un éxito or triunfo.

Tabla vs Table

Tabla can refer to a board, plank, sheet (of metal), table top, or stage.
Table is una mesa.

Tipo vs Type

Tipo means type/kind as well as guy or bloke.
Type = tipo or clase. To type = escribir a máquina.

Trampa vs Tramp

Trampa indicates a trap.
Tramp is a un vagabundo or una zorra.

Tratar vs Treat

Tratar means to treat or handle; to deal with, be about, have to do with; or to address.
Treat as a verb means tratar, invitar, curar, or discutir.

Tuna vs Tuna

Tuna has a range of meanings: prickly pear, a student music group, the life of a rogue, and, in Central America, drunkenness.
Tuna = el atún.

Últimamente vs Ultimately

Últimamente means lastly, finally, as a last resort, or lately.
Ultimately = por último, al final, a la larga, en el fondo.

Último vs Ultimate

Último means final or last.
Ultimate has several meanings: the best – definitivo, the most important/essential – fundamental, esencial; the latest – último grito.

Vaso vs Vase

Vaso is a glass or tumbler.
Vase indicates un florero or jarrón.


The words discussed here are not explained in every possible context. There may be occasions where the Spanish and English mean the same thing. I have chosen word pairs that are usually not related by anything other than spelling. For complete definitions and more extensive examples, please consult a dictionary.

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Spanish false friends - falsos amigos

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