5 most common false friends in Spanish and English

Falsos amigos – also known as false friends – are words that are identical or similar in spelling or sound in two languages, but actually have wildly different meanings. They’re tough cookies, but together we swallow them all.

On your journey towards Spanish fluency, false friends are likely to lead to many an awkward situation, but with enough charm, we’re confident no lasting damage will be done. 

To add to your confusion, we’ve devised a devious list of 5 false friends between the Spanish and the English language that might betray you at any moment.

Librería / Library

This first entry is fit for bookworms and really all worms if you think about it (please don’t). While you can enter both of these places to pick up some Spanish books, one place will hand them to you for free, while the other may ask for dinero in return. In Spanish, a librería refers to a bookshop or bookstore. To refer to a library, you can use the Spanish word biblioteca. Of course, bookstores are a dying breed, so visit them while they still exist.

Spanish EnglishNot to be confused with (English)Which translates in Spanish as
LibreríaBookshopLibraryBiblioteca


Example: Voy a mi librería preferida a ojear los últimos bestsellers. ¿Vienes conmigo?

Translation: I’m headed to my favorite bookshop to check out the latest bestsellers. Are you coming with?

Molestar / To molest

If you’ve traveled to Valladolid or Seville in the summer, you may have noticed that your hotel door hanger says no molestar. This of course doesn’t mean “to molest” in the English sense, but to “disturb”. To convey the abusive, non-consensual touching sense of the English term, violar is used.

Spanish EnglishNot to be confused with (English)Which translates in Spanish as
MolestarTo bother, to disturbMolestViolar


Example: Lamento molestarlo pero, ¿podría dejar su motocicleta fuera del museo?

Translation: I’m sorry to bother you, but do you mind leaving your motorcycle outside the museum?

Realizar / To realize

The Spanish verb realizar is often used as a synonym of hacer, and translates as “to carry out”, “to do” or “to make”. Spanish speakers will refer to the act of realizing something mentally as darse cuenta de algo. In English, this sense of “to realize (one’s dreams)” is used less frequently.

Spanish EnglishNot to be confused with (English)Which translates in Spanish as
Realizar(to) carry out, (to) do, (to) make(to) realizeDarse cuenta


Example: Esto fue muy difícil de realizar, pero mi jefa me dijo que había hecho un gran trabajo. El hecho de que sea mi madre, ayuda.

Translation: This task was very difficult to carry out, but my boss told me I did a great job. It helps that she’s my Mom.

Embarazada / Embarrassed

One of the most common mistakes English speakers will make on their way to Spanish fluency, embarazada and embarrassed have tremendously different meanings. Embarazada refers to somebody who is pregnant, while avergonzado or avergonzada refers to the state of embarrassment an English speaker will experience when they make this very mistake.

Spanish EnglishNot to be confused with (English)Which translates in Spanish as
EmbarazadaPregnantEmbarrassedAvergonzada


Example: Julia acaba de llamarme con muy buenas noticias: ¡está embarazada!

Translation: Julia just called me with some amazing news: she is pregnant!

Ropa / Rope

Every English speaker has attempted to add an ‘o’ or an ‘a’ at the end of a word in order to make an English word Spanish – and many have failed miserably. This next false cognate is a great example.

While window shopping on Calle Gran Via, you’re likely to come across many ropa shops and boutiques. In Spanish, ropa actually means “clothes” or “clothing”. Should you want to make reference to a rope – perhaps sailing or tug of war is your thing, no judgment here – you should use the words cuerda or soga.

Spanish EnglishNot to be confused with (English)Which translates in Spanish as
RopaClothesRopeCuerda


Example: ¡Esta ropa es muy barata! Por supuesto, la policía de la moda va a confiscar mi maleta.

Translation: I can’t get over how cheap these clothes are! My suitcase is surely going to be confiscated by the fashion police.

Bonus 1: Recordar / To record

Your video camera may come in handy for our last entry. Recordar is a very common Spanish verb which means “to remember” or “to recall”, while grabar is the verb you’re looking for should you want to record the precious memories of your trip to the basement.

Did you know? Recordar and record both come from the Latin verb recordari which means “to go over in one’s mind” or “to remember”.

Spanish EnglishNot to be confused with (English)Which translates in Spanish as
RecordarRememberRecordGrabar


Example: Acabo de recordar que tengo que estar en la estación de tren a las diez. Voy a perder el tren.

Translation: I’ve just remembered that I have to be at the train station at 10am. I’m going to miss my train for sure.

Bonus 2: Preservativo / Preservative

Warning: Spanishiyfing this word may lead to dire consequences.

While “preservatives” may keep your favorite ready meal fresh for days, we can’t say as much for its Spanish counterpart. In the language of Cervantes, preservativo refers to a condom. If you want to talk about the many chemicals your microwaved paella contains, go for conservantes, not to be confused with the aforementioned author, Cervantes.

Spanish EnglishNot to be confused with (English)Which translates in Spanish as
PreservativoCondomPreservativeConservantes


Want to do away with false friends once and for all? Try our online Spanish course Hotel Borbollón for free for seven days today!



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