False Friends (False Cognates)

False cognates are those words that you think you know them but you don’t, so, you think you know the meaning (because it is similar to an English word), but its meaning is different. For example: preservative and preservativo looks and sounds similar, but preservativo means “condom.”

The number of false friends between Spanish and English is anecdotal. They are just a few. It is just important to know that they exist.

The following is a list of the the most common false cognates.

# English Spanish – translation Spanish – False Friend
1. actual actual actual (current)
2. assist asistir asistir (to attend, be present at)
3. attend asistir atender (to pay attention
4. billion mil millones billón (one million million)
5. casualty víctima casualidad (coincidence, chance)
6. college facultad, universidad colegio (kid’s school, professional board)
7. constipated estreñido constipado (sick with a cold)
8. dormitory residencia de estudiantes dormitorio (bedroom) 
9. embarrassed  avergonzado embarazada (pregnant) 
10. exit  salida éxito (success) 
11. fabric tela fábrica (factory)
12. grocery  tienda de comestibles grosería (rudeness)
13. introduce presentar a alguien introducir (insert) 
14. library biblioteca librería (bookstore)
15. molest  forzar sexualmente molestar (bother)
16. once una vez once (eleven)
17. preservative conservante preservativo (condom)
18. realize  darse cuenta realizar (perform)
19. record registro recordar (to remember, to remind)
20. rope cuerda ropa (clothes)
21. sane cuerdo sano (healthy)
22. sensible razonable sensible (sensitive)
23. soap jabón sopa (soup)
24. support apoyar soportar (tolerate, put up with)
25. success éxito suceso (event)
26. tuna atún tuna (cactus fruit)
27. vase jarrón vaso (drinking glass)

A friend and a false friend together

There are a very few words that have two meanings and for one meaning they have a cognate (a friend) and, for another meaning, they have a false cognate (false friend).

# Spanish English- translation 1 (cognate) English – translation 2 (false cognate)
1. americano American (from the US) person from the Americas
2. aborto abortion miscarriage
# English Spanish- translation 1 (cognate) Spanish – translation 2 (false cognate)
1. congress congreso (congress of doctors) Congreso (House of Representatives)
2. court corte (supreme court) Cortes (House of Representatives + Senate)

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