The Spanish Language Blog

Do you know what a false friend is? In this article you will learn everything about these words and some useful examples when studying Spanish. All the false friends you will see below are English words, but there are also some in French or Italian.

If you want to read this article in English, just click here.

What does false friends mean?

False friends are words from two different languages that are similar in form or spelling but have completely different meanings. In general, these words can lead to confusion when learning a language, as you may think you understand the meaning of a word in another language because of their similarity, when in fact the meanings are different.

This phenomenon is common between related languages or languages that share linguistic roots, such as Spanish and English or French and Spanish. In addition, false friends can cause misunderstandings if not carefully addressed during the learning of a language such as Spanish.

To assist vs Asistir

Asistir” in Spanish means “to attend”, not “to assist”. In fact, the Spanish word for “to assist” is “ayudar”. In English, “to assist” translates to help, which is why this confusion is so common.

The word “asistir” has nothing to do with “to assist” in English. Instead, it means to go or to be present, for example, to go to a meeting or to go to a class. If you want to say “to assist” in Spanish, you can use the word “ayuda”.

For example:

  • Asistir: Ayer asistí a una conferencia en Londres que me gustó mucho (Yesterday I attended a conference in London that I really enjoyed).
  • To assist: After the storm, neighbors came together to assist each other in cleaning up the debris and restoring their community. (Tras la tormenta, los vecinos se unieron para ayudarse mutuamente a limpiar los escombros y restaurar su comunidad).

The word Pie

A word that is spelled the same in two languages but has nothing to do with each other is “pie”. In Spanish, “pie” is a part of the body, it means “foot”; while in English “pie” is a cake and is pronounced ˈpaɪ. Therefore, if you want to say “pie” in Spanish, you can use the word “pastel” or “tarta”.

Dessert vs Desierto

Another word similar to the previous one is “dessert” and “desierto”. In English, “dessert” refers to a sweet dish, the food consumed at the end of a meal, such as a cake or yogurt. Whereas, in Spanish, 'desierto' means a dry, arid area with little or no vegetation. For example, the Sahara Desert.

Constipation vs Constipado

Another word that can generate enormous confusion if you use it in the wrong context is “constipation” and “constipado”. Although, they may sound the same and their spelling is very similar, their meanings are far apart.

In English, the word “constipation” refers to the difficulty of evacuating the intestine. Whereas “constipado” in Spanish means to have a cold or to have symptoms of being sick.

Therefore, you must know the meaning of this word when you want to say you are sick in English or want to use this word in Spanish.

Arena vs Arena

The word 'arena' is spelled the same in both languages and is the only thing they are similar in, as their meanings are completely different. In English, “arena” can refer to a venue for sporting events or shows. Whereas, in Spanish, “arena” refers to beach sand or the small particles that make up the ground.

Lecture vs Lectura

This word can generate confusion very easily because they only differ in one letter. “Lecture” in English refers to an informative speech, even a class or lesson in college.

While “lectura” in Spanish refers to the act of reading or the material that is read. Therefore, although their spelling is very similar, they do not mean the same thing and you must be careful with them depending on the context.

Soap vs Sopa

The last word can also lead to confusion since in English there are “soap” and “soup” and in Spanish “sopa”. The false friend here is between “sopa” and “soap”, since they are the same letters, but in different order.

“Sopa” in Spanish is a dish that is consumed hot, the English translation of which would be “soup”. On the contrary, “soap” means substance for washing in English and has nothing to do with food. So, when you want to talk about a bowl of soup in Spanish, remember that it is “soup”, don't confuse it with “soap”.

Learning a new language is an exciting journey, but it can also have its challenges. False friends are only a small part of the experience but understanding them can make the difference between a successful conversation or a funny misunderstanding.

The key to avoiding these linguistic tricks is constant practice and exposure to the language. The more you listen, speak, and read in Spanish, the more familiar you will become with it, which is why don Quijote helps you with its intensive Spanish courses. Also, learn Spanish in Spain may be one of the keys you need to improve your vocabulary, live a unique experience and immerse yourself in the Spanish language.

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