False friends in Spanish (falsos amigos)

False friends or false cognates are words that sound and/or look the same in two languages but  different meaning. Not all familiar sounding words in Spanish mean the same as they do in English.

Many words that end in -tion in English end in -ción in Spanish and many of them have the same or similar meanings. For example action is acción, description is descripción, invitation is invitación and civilization is civilización. However there are some exceptions (excepciónes): decepción means disappointment, not deception, which is engaño; and insulation is not insulación, which doesn’t exist in Spanish, but aislamiento.

Other false friends in Spanish include:

  • Actual = current, at the present time (actual = real / verdadero)
  • Argumento = scheme, arrangement (argument = discución)
  • Asistir = to attend, to be present, e.g. Asisto a la oficina cada día, I go to the office every day. (to assist/help = ayudar)
  • Constipación = a cold, e.g. estoy constipado = I have a cold / my nose is blocked up. (I am constipated = estoy estreñido)
  • Contestar = to answer (to contest something = contender)
  • Disgusto = displeasure or misfortune. (disgust = asco / repugnancia)
  • Efectivo = cash (effective = eficaz)
  • Embarazada = to be pregnant (to be embarrassed = tiene vergüenza / se siente avergonzado)
  • Grapa = staple (grape = uva)
  • Lectura = reading (lecture = conferencia)
  • Librería = bookshop (library = biblioteca)
  • Noticia = a piece of news (notice = aviso)
  • Particular = private (particular = especial)
  • Policia = police (policy = politica)
  • Pretender = to intend, try, seek (to pretend = fingir)
  • Realizer = to become real (to realize = darse cuenta)
  • Suburbio = slum (suburb = Barrio residencial)
  • Suceso = event (success = éxito)