LEARN: False Friends – Avoid making these common errors in English

False Friends
Mike presents the top 10 English False Friends. Photo: Gabriel Montes

False Friend: a word in one language that looks or sounds the same as a word in another language – but has a totally different meaning.

Properly referred to as false cognates, but more colloquially known as false friends, these words can get you into a barrel of trouble. You’d be well advised to learn these, and quickly.

Here’s a list of some of the more common English false friends – (in brackets).

#1. Carpeta (Carpet)

Spanish meaning: Alfombra
Proper term in English: Folder

What NOT to say:
You: “Hi boss, I put the sales presentation in the carpet.”
Your boss: “You what!!?!”


#2. Constipado (Constipated)

Spanish meaning: Estreñido
Proper term in English: Sick (with a common cold)

What NOT to say:
You: “You’re obviously constipated. You should take the day off.”
Your boss: “Pardon me? I’m wha-wha-what?!?”


#3. Compromiso (Compromise)

Spanish meaning: Transigir
Proper term in English: Commitment

What NOT to say:
You: “I will make a compromise to marry your daughter.”
Her father: “You’ll do a what!? I don’t think so buddy!!”


#4. Bombero (Bomber)

Spanish meaning: Terrorista / Dinamitero
Proper term in English: Firefighter

What NOT to say:
You: “There’s a fire! Call a bomber!!”
Them: “What?!? Are you #&$& crazy?!?”


#5. Groseria (Grocery)

Spanish meaning: Supermercado
Proper term in English: Gross

What NOT to say:
You: “Picking your nose is so grocery!”
Them: “Ehhh.. what?”


#6. Assistir (Assist)

Spanish meaning: Apoyar
Proper term in English: Attend

What NOT to say:
You: “I want to assist class!”
Teacher: “You want to help me? Great!”


#7. Embarazada (Embarrassed)

Spanish meaning: Avergonzar
Proper term in English: Get pregnant

What NOT to say:
You: “Every time Susan gets embarrassed she has a beautiful kid!”
Them: “Oh my god!!! How?”


#8. Pretender (Pretend)

Spanish meaning: Fingir
Proper term in English: To hope, or to expect

What NOT to say:
You: “I pretend to work hard!”
Your boss: “Oh really??? You’re fired!!”


#9. Estrechar (Stretch)

Spanish meaning: Estirar
Proper term in English: To narrow or make smaller

What NOT to say:
You: “I want to stretch the gap between the rich and the poor.”  
Voters: “No votes for you!!”


#10. Molestar (Molest)

Spanish meaning: Abusar sexualmente
Proper term in English: To bother

What NOT to say:
You: “I’m sorry for molesting your dog!”  
Voters: “You’re what?!? I’m calling the police!”


Keep learning!

Here’s a site full of false friends – I recommend you start learning these today – you don’t want to make a fool of yourself – or get thrown in jail!!

If you want help improving your English, click here to read about Speak. They’re one of the top language schools in the city and they’re accepting new students now.