False Friends


False friends are words in two languages that are very similar either in writing or in pronunciation but have very different meanings.

They can be similar because they have a common ancestor (they are cognates) but their meaning changed. The Spanish actual and the English actual both come from the Latin actualis but while in English it has an emphatic role meaning pertaining to the real thing, in Spanish it means current, present.

False friends don’t necessarily have to have the same origin. Very similar-sounding words can also trick language learners, so they are also called false friends, though their similarity is just coincidental. The English rope and the Spanish ropa are similar but neither their origin nor their meaning coincide.

The third category of false friends is called pseudo-anglicism. It’s basically when an English word is used in a completely different meaning in a different language. The German Handy means cell phone which is different from its English meaning, but it’s still noticeable for German speakers that the word is a borrowing from English. The Hungarian word farmer is an obvious English loan word but it means jeans.

For a list of pseudo-anglicisms in different languages, visit this Wikipedia page:



For Spanish learners I’ve collected some frequent false friends below:

SpanishEnglish EquivalentEnglish False FriendSpanish Equivalent
ACTUALcurrent, present-dayACTUALreal, efectivo
DORMITORIObedroomDORMITORYresidencia universitaria
ESTIMADOesteemedESTIMATEestimacíon, presupuesto
ÉXITOsuccess, hitEXITsalida
MOLESTARbotherMOLESTabusar (sexualmente)
PRETENDERto attempt, to wooPRETENDfingir
REALIZARto come trueREALISEdarse cuenta
RECORDARto remember, remindRECORDgrabar
SOPORTARtolerate, put up withSUPPORTapoyar
VASOdrinking glassVASEjarrón, florero
GROSERÍAgrossness, crudenessGROCERYabarrotería, tienda de comestibles
SENSIBLEsensitiveSENSIBLEsensato, prudente

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