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Pretender: Beware of False Cognates

Lo que pretendemos es sembrar en la gente la actitud de reducir...

What we seek is to instill in the people the attitude of reducing...

Caption 1, De consumidor a persona - Short Film

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It's easy enough to guess the meaning of some Spanish verbs. Take the environmentally helpful trio reducir, reutilizar and reciclar, for example. If you guessed the three verbs mean "to reduce," "to reutilize" and "to recycle," respectively, you're right on. Because Spanish and English share so many Latin language roots, many words sound similar–in other words, they are cognates. But watch out for false cognates, also known as false friends. Two examples are the verbs atender and asistir. In Spanish, atender does not mean "to attend," but "to serve." Meanwhile, asistir does not mean "to assist" but "to attend."

Which brings us back to the quote above. False friend pretender commonly means "to try,"
"to seek" or "to be after." So, the sentence above can be translated as: "What we seek is to instill [literally, "to sow"] in the people the attitude of reducing...."

While pretender and "pretend" have common Latin roots, the use of the word in English to mean "to seek" or "to undertake" fell out of use many moons ago. (Note the archaic definition still stands in some English dictionaries, like
this one.)

El gobierno pretende proteger los derechos de los trabajadores.
The government seeks (or tries) to protect the rights of the workers.


Este decreto en el cual el gobierno de España pretende cobrarnos un impuesto injusto, no tiene validez.

This decree, in which the government of Spain is attempting to charge us an unfair tax, is invalid.

Captions 12-13, Los Años Maravillosos - Capítulo 9

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No pretendo ser tu dueño.
I don't want (or aspire) to be your master.


Yo no pretendo tener ninguna relación con ningún hombre después de Tomás.

I don't intend to have any relationship with any man after Tomas.

Caption 31, Yago - 11 Prisión

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¿Y qué pretendes que haga yo? Como si pudiera cambiar algo.
And what do you want me to do? As if I could change a thing.


¿Pretendes que vaya hasta allá a buscarla desnuda?

Do you expect me to go over there and get it naked?

Caption 27, Yago - 1 La llegada

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Note: the Spanish equivalent of "to pretend," as it is commonly used in modern English, is commonly fingir.


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