Spanish Lessons


Pretender: Beware of false cognates

Lo que pretendemos es sembrar en la gente la actitud de reducir...
[Caption 1, De consumidor a persona > Short Film > 3


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, AKA 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."

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

¿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."



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


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