In a previous lesson, we focused on the Spanish verb pretender (to hope, expect, try, etc.). Although this word closely resembles the English word "pretend," its meaning is totally different, putting it into the category of false cognates in Spanish. Also known as "faux amis" or "false friends," English-speakers often misuse these types of words for obvious reasons! Let's take a look at some of the most common false cognates in Spanish so we can be on the lookout for them in everyday speech.
While English speakers might be tempted to say Estoy embarazada when attempting to say "I'm embarrassed," this could lead to a very serious misunderstanding! Let's take a look:
Si estuviera embarazada, me hubiera dado cuenta. ¿No le parece?
If I were pregnant, I would have noticed! Don't you think?
Caption 71, Muñeca Brava - 44 El encuentroPlay Caption
While we can see that estar embarazada means "to be pregnant," there are many ways to express the idea of being embarrassed in Spanish, such as tener vergüenza or dar(le) pena (a alguien). Let's look at some examples:
Es que me da pena.
It's just that I'm embarrassed.
Caption 42, Los Años Maravillosos - Capítulo 8Play Caption
En este momento, duda porque tiene vergüenza de ir a la escuela,
At this moment she hesitates because she's embarrassed to go to school,
Caption 49, Con ánimo de lucro - CortometrajePlay Caption
The Spanish adjective actual is very confusing since it is spelled exactly like the English word "actual." However, actual is a false cognate in Spanish that "actually" means "current," as in the following example:
Creo que realmente hay que buscar otra vía, otra solución a...
I think that you really need to find another road, another solution to...
la situación de ahora. -A la situación actual.
to the situation now. -To the current situation.
Captions 43-44, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricosPlay Caption
If you do want to speak about the "actual situation" in Spanish, you might say: la situación verdadera or la situación real. Let's check out these two words in action:
Pero esta es la verdadera isla
But this one is the actual island
Caption 26, Cholito - En la playa con CholitoPlay Caption
Nadie sabe el nombre real de esta ciudad,
Nobody knows the actual name of this city,
Caption 37, Querido México - TeotihuacánPlay Caption
The Spanish noun éxito might look like "exit," but its actual meaning is "success," while the Spanish verb tener éxito means "to be successful":
Bueno, ha sido un éxito, ¿no, Jesús?
Well, it has been a success, right, Jesus?Play Caption
El brut ha tenido mucho éxito.
The brut has been very successful.
Caption 51, Europa Abierta - Champagne en AndalucíaPlay Caption
On the other hand, in order to talk about an actual "exit" in Spanish, la salida is the way to go:
Tiene una salida al patio de atrás para su ventilación.
It has an exit to the back patio for your ventilation.
Caption 12, Ricardo - La compañera de casaPlay Caption
Although it might seem like la fábrica would mean "the fabric," its true translation is "the factory."
un tipo que tenía una fábrica de alcancías ¿no?
a guy who had a piggy bank factory, right?
Y la gente dejaba de ahorrar y el tipo se va a la quiebra.
And people stopped saving and the guy goes bankrupt.
Captions 32-33, Muñeca Brava - 47 EsperanzasPlay Caption
As we see in the following example, the Spanish word for "fabric" is tela:
Aquí, tengo un cárdigan liviano.
Here, I have a light knit sweater.
La tela no es muy gruesa,
The fabric isn't very thick,
Captions 30-31, Natalia de Ecuador - Vocabulario de prendas de vestirPlay Caption
As a side note, although the verb fabricar occasionally means "to fabricate" in the sense of lying or making things up, the more common verbs for describing those actions are mentir and inventar, whereas the most typical translation for fabricar is "to make" or "manufacture":
la cuarta generación de una empresa familiar
the fourth generation of a family business
que fabrica diferentes variedades de zumos,
that manufactures different kinds of juices,
sidras, sopas y mermeladas.
ciders, soups and jams.
Captions 28-29, Europa Abierta - Empuje para PymesPlay Caption
That said, let's take a look at some additional verbs that fall into the "false friend" category.
The Spanish verb molestar does not mean "to molest" (for which you might say abusar or acosar sexualmente), but rather "to annoy" or "bother":
Vine a decirte que te quedes tranquilo,
I came to tell you to not to worry,
que mi hijo no te va a molestar más.
that my son is not going to bother you anymore.
Captions 1-2, Muñeca Brava - 46 RecuperaciónPlay Caption
Once again, substitution of the word this verb sounds like in English could result in a very serious misunderstanding.
Just because it sounds like "envy," don't mix up the Spanish verb enviar, which means "to send," with envidiar (to envy). Let's take a look at examples of each of these verbs:
Como ya tengo su dirección de correo, le puedo enviar el contrato.
As I already have your e-mail address, I can send you the contract.
Caption 37, Negocios - Empezar en un nuevo trabajoPlay Caption
¡Ay, cómo envidio esa sartén! No sabe.
Oh, how I envy that frying pan! You don't know.
Caption 1, Muñeca Brava - 7 El poemaPlay Caption
The most common translations for the Spanish verb introducir are "to put" or "insert." Let's look:
Ahora lo que tenemos que hacer es introducir todo en la olla.
What we have to do now is put everything in the pot.
Caption 43, La cocina de María - Cocido MalagueñoPlay Caption
Ahora introduces la esquina izquierda en este doblez,
Now you insert the left corner into this fold,Play Caption
It is worth noting that the Spanish verb introducir can occasionally be translated as "to introduce," most often when speaking about the introduction of some item or concept. However, the most frequently employed verb to describe the idea of "introducing," say, people to one another, is presentar:
Les quiero presentar a Pedro, un experto en la Calle Ocho.
I want to introduce you guys to Pedro, an expert on Calle Ocho.
Caption 21, La Calle 8 - Un recorrido fascinantePlay Caption
Let's examine a typical use of the Spanish verb asistir:
y me fascinaba perderme entre sus calles
and it fascinated me to get lost in its streets
y asistir a la innumerable cantidad de eventos culturales
and attend the countless number of cultural events
que la ciudad tiene para ofrecerte.
that the city has to offer you.
Captions 11-13, Latinos por el mundo - Gio en BarcelonaPlay Caption
Although the Spanish verb asistir can indeed mean "to help" or "assist," this verb and its counterpart asistir a are included in the category of false cognates in Spanish due to their alternative meaning, "to attend."
Although the Spanish false cognate recordar certainly seems like it would mean "to record," it actually means "to remember" or "remind," as in the following captions:
empiezan a hacer su ritual de movimientos y sonidos, si hace falta,
they start to do their ritual of movements and sounds, if necessary,
para recordarte que es la hora de su comida.
to remind you that it's their mealtime.
Captions 58-59, Fermín y los gatos - Mis gatas vecinasPlay Caption
¿Recuerdas cuál era la copa para servir vino?
Do you remember which cup was the one for serving wine?
Caption 36, Ana Carolina - El comedorPlay Caption
"To record," in turn, is conveyed with the Spanish verb grabar:
Utiliza video o audio
Use video or audio
para grabarte mientras lees o improvisas un pequeño diálogo,
to record yourself while you read or improvise a little dialogue,
Captions 51-52, Ana Carolina - Mejorando la pronunciaciónPlay Caption
Rather than "to support," the Spanish verb soportar often means "to tolerate," "endure," or "bear":
No lo pude aguantar, no se puede soportar eso.
I couldn't stand it, that can't be tolerated.
Caption 50, Yago - 7 EncuentrosPlay Caption
Although "soportar" can also mean "support" in the sense of bearing weight, the more common verb for talking about the notion of "supporting" someone or something, especially in figurative senses such as emotionally, economically, etc., is apoyar:
La abuela estaba loca si pensaba que la íbamos a apoyar.
Grandma was crazy if she thought that we were going to support her.
Caption 9, Los Años Maravillosos - Capítulo 3Play Caption
These are just a few examples of the many false cognates in Spanish. For additional examples of false cognates in Spanish, you might enjoy our lessons on the verbs realizar (to carry out) and falta (shortage, foul, offense, etc.). In the meantime, we hope our list of false cognates in Spanish will help you to identify and understand them when you run across them— and don't forget to leave us your suggestions and comments.