If you’ve studied a language before, you already know that cognates are words from different languages that look similar to one another. True cognates are derived from the same root word and have the same meaning. For example, the English word vacation and the Spanish word vacación both come from the Latin word vacationem. However, we use the term “false cognates” to refer to words from two languages that look alike through pure coincidence; false cognates have no common root or meaning.
The term “false friends” refers to any pair of lookalike words from two languages that don’t have the same definition. False friends is a larger category that includes false cognates but also words that evolved from the same root, eventually resulting in divergent meanings. In any case, don’t be fooled; here’s a list of Spanish-English false friends to watch out for so you don’t wind up in a silly situation!
This Spanish word may look like another version of dad, but without the accent on the second “a” (papá), you’re talking not about your father but about a potato or the pope. How do you know the difference between the latter two? Pay attention to the article: el papa is the religious ruler and la papa is what you make into French fries.
Despite what it looks like, this word has nothing to do with dessert, and it’s pronounced “pee-ay.” So if you see pie when you’re reading something in Spanish, don’t get too excited. It means the same as “foot,” the body part.
Since this is in an article about false cognates, you know that this word doesn’t mean “delight.” So what does it mean? It refers to a crime or serious offense, which is pretty much the opposite of delightful.
Nope, it doesn’t mean “crude.” It can mean “raw,” like raw meat (carne cruda), or, in less-formal Spanish, “drunk.”
I know what you’re thinking, but you’ve got it all wrong. This Spanish word refers to sinus and nasal congestion from an upper-respiratory infection. So if someone tells you, “Estoy constipado,” don’t think it’s TMI. Just hand them some cold medicine!
While this word can also refer to propaganda as we know it (political brainwashing), it’s more commonly used in Spanish to refer to advertisements. So if you get some propaganda in your mailbox, it’s less likely that you’ll be invited to join a political regime and more likely that you’ll be urged to buy some orange juice on sale for $2.99.
Looks like embarrassed, right? Embarrassed is what you’ll be if you tell someone you’re embarazada when you’re not—or if you’re a man! It means “pregnant,” so use it wisely!
In English, a sensible person is levelheaded and rational. But in Spanish, if you’re sensible, it means you’re sensitive and emotional. Just remember, if you’re sensible, your heart is doing the talking, not your brain!
Bigote ≠ bigot. If you meet someone who’s intolerant and unreasonable, you’ll just have to find another name to call them because the Spanish word bigote means “mustache”!
If you think this is something manufacturers put in food to extend its shelf life, think again. It’s actually one of the Spanish words for “condom,” so make sure you don’t get mixed up! The word you want for the food additive is conservante.
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