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Spanish languageFalsos Amigos - False Cognates

One of the great things about learning Spanish or English 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 cognates, 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 cognates: 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 cognate. 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 cognate. 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.
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.

Contestar vs Contest

Contestar means to answer or reply.
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.

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 cognate. 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.
(anecdote about embarazada)

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 éxito - very 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 vs Football 

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 cognate. 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.

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.