Falsos 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
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.
= absolutamente, completamente, totalmente.
Actual vs 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
can be translated by realmente, en realidad, or en efecto.
Advertencia is a
warning, piece of advice, reminder, or preface.
Advertisement = un anuncio.
Agonía = death throes,
Agony refers to terrible physical
or mental pain: dolor agudo, angustia.
Alterado can mean
changed or altered as well as angry or upset.
Altered = modificado,
Americano usually refers to
anyone from North or South America.
American = estaounidense (adjective
of Estados Unidos - United States)
Aplicar vs Apply
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 refers to
defense or a eulogy.
Apology = una disculpa or
Aprobar vs Approve
Aprobar means to approve (of),
consent to, or endorse, as well as to pass a test or
Approve = aprobar.
Arena vs Arena
Arena means sand.
Arena = anfiteatro, redondel,
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 can refer to an
assassin as well as non-political murderer or killer.
It's also an adjective: murderous.
Assassin = asesino.
Asistencia usually means
attendance, though it can also mean assistance.
Assistance is most commonly
translated by ayuda
Asistir vs Assist
means to attend.
Assist translates as ayudar.
Atender vs Attend
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 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 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:
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.
Blank is an adjective meaning en
blanco, liso, or sin adorno.
Blindar means to
armor-plate or to shield, and its adjective
blindado means armor-plated,
shielded, or bullet-proof.
Blind = ciego as an
cegar or deslumbrar as a verb.
Bufete is a desk or a
Buffet refers to una cantina,
un buffet libre, or una comida buffet.
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),
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
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
Career indicates una carrera
profesional or una profesión.
Carta vs Cart/Card
Carta refers to a (postal)
letter, document, deed, charter, map,
Cart is un carro, una
carreta, un carretón, or una carretilla. A
card is usually una tarjeta.
Chocar normally means to
shock or startle, but can also mean to clink
(glasses) or to
Choke = sofocarse or
Colegio refers to a high school,
College can be translated by colegio
only when it refers to "colleges" as in divisions of a school. Otherwise,
college = universidad or
Colorado means red or
Colored = de color.
Complexión refers to one's
constitution, make-up, temperament, or physical
Complexion = la tez, el
cutiz, or la piel.
is an obligation, commitment, promise, or
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 equals conductor
when referring to science: un conductor de electricidad - conductor
of electricity. It can also mean a driver or a TV or radio
Conductor of an orchestra is un(a)
director(a), and train conductor is un(a) revisor(a).
Conexión is a physical or logical
Connection when referring to
human/emotional connections is una relación.
Conferencia can mean conference,
meeting, lecture, speech, or phone call.
Conference = una conferencia, una
reunión, una asamblea, or un congreso.
Constipación and its synonym
both refer to a cold or catarrh.
Constipation = el estreñimiento.
Contestar means to answer or
Contest as a verb means impugnar,
disputar, or contender.
suitable, fitting, proper, useful, or
Convenient means cómodo,
práctico, útil, or accesible.
Copa vs Cup
Copa = a glass or
alcoholic drink, a trophy (la Copa del Mundo - World Cup).
Cup = una taza.
Copia vs Copy
Copia is a photopcopy or
Copy can also mean un
ejemplar (of a book) or un número (of a magazine).
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 means things like to
correspond, tally, fit in, match, or
Correspond translates to
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
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 = disappointment.
Decepcionar = to disappoint.
Deception = un engaño, un
fraude. To deceive = engañar,
Defraudar can mean to defraud
or cheat as well as to disappoint or let down.
Defraud means estafar or
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.
department, section; office; compartment;
province; or apartment.
Department = departamento,
Desgracia vs Disgrace
Desgracia means misfortune,
mishap, accident, setback, or bad luck.
Disgrace refers to la deshonra
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,
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 means devoid of
Destitute = indigente,
necesitado, or en la miseria.
Disco vs Disco
Disco is a semi-false cognate.
Aside from disco, it has numerous translations: disk,
traffic-light, or (audio) record.
Disco = disco, discoteca,
sala de baile.
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 is stronger than discuss;
more like debate or argue.
Discuss = hablar de, tratar de,
Disgusto is not as strong as disgust; it
means annoyance, displeasure, grief, or trouble.
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 is an adjective:
publishing, and a noun: publisher or editor.
Editor can be translated by editor,
director, or redactor.
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
Education is best translated by
formación or enseñanza.
Educado vs Educated
Educado means well-mannered,
polite, or cultivated, from the verb
- to raise, bring up, rear.
Educated is from the verb
to educate: formar or instruir.
Efectivo means real
or actual. En efectivo means
in cash. Efectivos are
military forces or (police) officers.
Effective = eficaz.
Elevador means elevator
only in Mexico, though un elevador de granos is a grain elevator
Elevator = un ascensor.
Embarazada means pregnant. It
can also be a noun: una embarazada = a pregnant woman, an
Embarrassed is avergonzado,
(anecdote about embarazada)
Emocionante means exciting,
thrilling, or moving.
Emotional indicates something that
is afectivo, emocional, or emotivo, or someone that
Equivocado means wrong.
Equivocal is equívoco or
fortuitous, possible, or temporary.
Eventual = final,
Excitar means to excite
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
Factoría can mean a factory
(in some Spanish-speaking countries), but is more commonly a trading
Factory = una fábrica.
Facultad refers to mental
power or ability, or a university department.
Faculty in reference to a group of
teachers is el
Falta vs Fault
Falta is a lack,
want, need, absence, shortage, failure,
A fault (imperfection) is un
defecto, un desperfecto, or una imperfección. Fault
(blame) is la culpa.
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,
annoying or boring. It can mean fastidious in Latin
Fastidious means escrupuloso.
Firma vs Firm
Firma can refer to a firm,
but more commonly means a signature.
Firm as an adjective means firme,
duro, seguro. As a noun, it can be translated by una
firma or una empresa.
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 means reliable,
dependable, responsible, or serious.
Formal means solemne,
correcto, oficial, or, when referring to clothing, de
Fracaso is a failure or
Fracas is une gresca or una
Fútbol refers to soccer (in
Football = el fútbol
Fútil vs Futile
Fútil means trivial, while
Futile means inútil, vano,
Grabar vs Grab
Grabar is to engrave,
record, or impress.
Grab means asir, coger,
Gracioso means funny
Gracious = gentil, cortés,
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,
Humor vs Humor
Humor means mood or
Humor refers to gracia or
humor. Sense of humor = sentido del humor.
Idioma vs Idiom
Idioma refers to a
Idiom = idiotosmo, modismo,
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
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
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
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 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 is a bookstore, while
librero refers to a bookseller or
Library refers to una biblioteca.
Lujuria = lust,
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,
Mark can be translated by una
mancha or una
Masa vs Mass
Masa can mean mass
(in terms of people and volume), as well as dough.
Mass in reference to church is la
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
Mayor = el alcalde or la
Minorista vs Minority
is a Caribbean and South American word for retail or retail
Minority = la minoría or,
as an adjective, minoritario.
Molestar vs Molest
Molestar means to annoy or
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
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
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
piece of news. Noticias means
news or information.
Nudo vs Nude
Nudo is a noun: knot,
Nude is a noun or adjective:
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
Oculto can mean hidden,
concealed, or secret, as well as occult.
Occult = oculto or
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
Oficio = trade or
religious service/mass, or an official letter.
Office is una oficina, un
Once vs Once
Once is eleven in Spanish.
Once = una vez.
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
Pan vs Pan
Pan = bread
Pan is una cazuela, cacerola, olla,
Papa/Papá vs Papa
Papa means potato when
it's feminine and Pope when it's masculine.
Papá is equivalent to
papa or dad
Papa = papá.
Pariente vs Parent
Pariente is any relative
Parent = el padre or la
Patrón can indicate a
boss or owner as well as a pattern or standard.
Patron = patrocinador or
Pie vs Pie
Pie = foot.
Pie = pastel.
Plagio is plagiarism.
Plague refers to la peste,
plaga, or el fastidio.
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 can mean precise,
correct, or necessary.
Precise = preciso or
Presente = present when
talking about time or presence.
Present meaning "gift" is un
Preservativo indicates a
Preservative is un conservador.
Pretender vs Pretend
Pretender means to claim: Ella
pretende ser rica - She claims to be rich.
Pretend is translated by fingir or
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 rarely means to
procure; the more common translations by far are to try
and to manage (to do something).
Procure = obtener,
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 can mean rare, but more
commonly means odd or strange.
Rare = poco común or excepcional.
Real vs Real
Real can mean real as well
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
Realize can mean realizar as
well as darse cuenta de, comprender, and reconocer.
Receta = recipe or
Receipt = un recibo.
Recolección is a collection,
harvest, or summary.
Recollection is el recuerdo
or la memoria.
means to remember, recall, or remind.
is equivalent to registrar, inscribir, or
Red vs Red
Red refers to a network.
Red is the color rojo.
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
Revolver vs Revolver
is a verb: to move around, turn over, revolve, or
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,
Salary indicates fixed earnings per
month or year: el sueldo.
Sano vs Sane
Sano = healthy, fit,
Sane means cuerdo, sensato,
de juicio sano.
Sensible vs Sensible
Sensible = sensitive or
Sensible means juicioso, sensato,
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,
Soap is jabón.
Soportar means to bear,
carry, support, hold up, or withstand.
Support as a verb is usually translated by apoyar,
Suceder means to happen or
to follow, come next.
Succeed = tener éxito,
Suceso vs Success
is an event, incident, happening, or outcome.
Success refers to un éxito
Tabla vs Table
Tabla can refer to a
board, plank, sheet (of metal), table top, or
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 indicates a trap.
Tramp is a un vagabundo or
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.
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
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
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
All rights reserved.
Find Spanish Lessons|