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Top 10 False Cognates in Spanish

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. 

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List of False Cognates in Spanish: Yabla's Top Ten 

 

1. embarazada 

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 encuentro - Part 2

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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 8 - Part 3

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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 Cortometraje - Part 4

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2. actual

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... la situación de ahora. -A la situación actual.

I think that you really need to find another road, another solution to... to the situation now. -To the current situation.

Captions 43-44, 75 minutos Gangas para ricos - Part 5

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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 Cholito - Part 2

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Nadie sabe el nombre real de esta ciudad,

Nobody knows the actual name of this city,

Caption 37, Querido México Teotihuacán

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3. éxito

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?

Caption 88, Animales en familia Un día en Bioparc: Cachorro de leopardo - Part 2

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El brut ha tenido mucho éxito.

The brut has been very successful.

Caption 51, Europa Abierta Champagne en Andalucía

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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 casa - Part 2

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4. fábrica

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? Y la gente dejaba de ahorrar y el tipo se va a la quiebra.

a guy who had a piggy bank factory, right? And people stopped saving and the guy goes bankrupt.

Captions 32-33, Muñeca Brava 47 Esperanzas - Part 3

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As we see in the following example, the Spanish word for "fabric" is tela:

 

Aquí, tengo un cárdigan liviano. La tela no es muy gruesa,

Here, I have a light knit sweater. The fabric isn't very thick,

Captions 30-31, Natalia de Ecuador Vocabulario de prendas de vestir

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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 que fabrica diferentes variedades de zumos, sidras, sopas y mermeladas.

the fourth generation of a family business that manufactures different kinds of juices, ciders, soups and jams.

Captions 28-29, Europa Abierta Empuje para Pymes

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That said, let's take a look at some additional verbs that fall into the "false friend" category.

 

5. molestar

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, que mi hijo no te va a molestar más.

I came to tell you to not to worry, that my son is not going to bother you anymore.

Captions 1-2, Muñeca Brava 46 Recuperación - Part 8

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Once again, substitution of the word this verb sounds like in English could result in a very serious misunderstanding. 

 

6. enviar 

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 trabajo - Part 1

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¡Ay, cómo envidio esa sartén! No sabe.

Oh, how I envy that frying pan! You don't know.

Caption 1, Muñeca Brava 7 El poema - Part 7

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7. introducir

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 Malagueño

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Ahora introduces la esquina izquierda en este doblez,

Now you insert the left corner into this fold,

Caption 48, Manos a la obra Separadores de libros: Charmander

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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 fascinante

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8. asistir

Let's examine a typical use of the Spanish verb asistir:

 

y me fascinaba perderme entre sus calles y asistir a la innumerable cantidad de eventos culturales que la ciudad tiene para ofrecerte.

and it fascinated me to get lost in its streets and attend the countless number of cultural events that the city has to offer you.

Captions 11-13, Latinos por el mundo Gio en Barcelona

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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."

 

9. recordar

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, para recordarte que es la hora de su comida.

they start to do their ritual of movements and sounds, if necessary, to remind you that it's their mealtime.

Captions 58-59, Fermín y los gatos Mis gatas vecinas

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¿Recuerdas cuál era la copa para servir vino?

Do you remember which cup was the one for serving wine?

Caption 36, Ana Carolina El comedor

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"To record," in turn, is conveyed with the Spanish verb grabar:

 

Utiliza video o audio para grabarte mientras lees o improvisas un pequeño diálogo,

Use video or audio to record yourself while you read or improvise a little dialogue,

Captions 51-52, Ana Carolina Mejorando la pronunciación

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10. soportar

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 Encuentros - Part 2

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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 3 - Part 1

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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

 

Vocabulary

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Combining Parts of Speech - Part 1

Combining Parts of Speech - Part 2

Combining Parts of Speech - Part 3

Combining Parts of Speech - Part 4

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Using Spanish articles and pronouns is not always easy, and learning to combine them is even more complicated. Let's study some interesting examples to learn more about these combinations.
 
The phrases la que, el que mean "the one that" or "the one who":
 

...que es la que está con el niño atrás.

...who is the one who is with the little boy back there.

Caption 14, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 3

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Aligerar, hacer ritmo. -Y el que venga conmigo...

To hurry up, to make it quick. -And, whoever comes with me...

Caption 81, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 4

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As you can see, the English translations may be different, but the meaning is still the same in both examples. In the second case, a more literal translation is also possible: el que venga conmigo (the one who comes with me).

It's important to always have in mind the variations of gender and number: los que and las que ("the ones that" or "the ones who"):
 

los que se pueden coger con la mano desde abajo...

the ones that can be picked by hand from below...

Caption 88, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 16

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Now, in Spanish it's also possible to combine these expression with prepositions. For example, you can add the preposition and form a los quea las quea la que, and al que (remember that a + el + que al que).
 
These phrases could mean, literally, "to/for the one(s) that" or "to/for the one(s) who":
 

Al que llegó sin avisar

To the one who arrived without warning

Caption 21, Calle 13 - Pa'l norte

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Depending on the context, the English equivalent of these phrases is different, though. For example, check out the following caption including an extra pronoun (a reflexive one): nos (to us).
 

Ah, a los que nos gusta surfear,

Ah, for those of us who like surfing,

Caption 9, Antonio Vargas - Artista - ilustración - Part 1

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Also, depending on the context, and since the preposition a has many different meanings, the literal meaning of these phrases could also be "to the ones that" or "to the ones who" =  "whom" or "to which."  
 

Al que llamaban Speedy Gonzales.

Whom they called Speedy Gonzales.

Caption 4, A. B. Quintanilla - Speedy Gonzalez

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...a la que pertenecieron sus primeros moradores.

...to which its first inhabitants belonged.

Caption 17, Club de las ideas - Mi entorno

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Check out this example, also with an extra reflexive pronoun: se (to it, to him, to her, to them)
 

El principal problema al que se enfrentan la mayoría de las PYMEs europeas

The main problem that most of the European SMEs face

Caption 5, Europa Abierta - Empuje para Pymes

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Tricky, right? The English translation is simply "that," but you can think of a literal one just to see how Spanish works: "the main problem to the one (to which) most of the European SMEs face."
 
You can also combine these phrases with a different preposition, for example the preposition con (with). Then you have con la que, con el que, con los que, con las que (with whom or with which). But let's save that for a future lesson. 

Grammar

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