7 False Friends in Spanish That You Won’t Be Bested by Again!

Ever felt betrayed after confidently using a word in Spanish only to be told it doesn’t mean what you thought? Well, no more!

We’ve had enough of false friends in Spanish!

If you are an English speaker learning Spanish, you will find that there are a lot of words that sound similar and have the same meaning, for example ‘plant’ is la planta. Convenient, right? But, don’t let this lull you into a false sense of security! It’s not always as simple as shoving an -o or an -a on the end of a word (although that does work on occasion).

There are plenty of words, known as false friends, that sound fairly similar in both English and Spanish but actually have completely different meanings! Whilst there is a comprehensive list of false friends in Spanish, just to start off, we’ve picked out a few that we know cause a little trouble.

With no further ado, here’s our own selection of the seven most popular false friends in Spanish:

false friends in Spanish

Beware These 7 False Friends in Spanish:

ACTUALMENTE

With the suffix -mente more or less translating to the suffix -ly in English, you could be forgiven for thinking this word means ‘actually’. Unfortunately, it’s one of our false friends in Spanish so the real translation is ‘currently’. If you want to say ‘actually’ you’ll need to use something like realmente or en realidad.

  • Actualmente, está leyendo un artículo sobre los falsos amigos en español porque en realidad no sabe lo que significa este término.
  • He’s currently reading an article about false friends in Spanish because he actually doesn’t know what this term means.

ATENDER

This example is a 2 for 1! This verb looks like it should mean ‘to attend’, and it sort of does in the sense of attending to a person or assisting them but not in the sense of attending an event. For that instance, you need to use the verb asistir which is another false friend! Once you know these two verbs are a little untrustworthy then the problem disappears, just reverse the meanings!

  • No voy a asistir la fiesta esta noche; tengo que atender a mi abuela.
  • I’m not going to the party tonight; I have to help my grandma.

EMBARAZADA

This is one of the false friends in Spanish that you should make a note of! Ironically, it might result in an embarrassing situation given that this is the word for pregnant, not embarrassed. You can confess your embarrassment by saying me da verguenza or estoy avergonzado/a, phrases that may come in handy if you fall into the false friend trap!

  • ¿Estás embarazada? No hay por qué estar avergonzada, ¡enhorabuena!
  • You’re pregnant? There’s no reason to be embarrassed, congratulations!
falsos amigos en español

IDIOMA

Let’s take a guess… do you reckon this word means ‘idiom’? Annoyingly, it doesn’t. Idiom would be modismo. Idioma is actually the Spanish word for language. If you are trying to speak about language you might reach first for the word lenguaje, and whilst this does also mean language there’s an important distinction between the two. If you are talking about a specific language, such as Spanish, English or French, these are all idiomas. However, if you’re describing a type of language, perhaps the language is colloquial or a type of slang, then the word lenguaje would be correct.

  • El inglés no es mi idioma natal, pero al haber vivido unos años en el Reino Unido he podido aprender el lenguaje coloquial.
  • English is not my first language but having lived in the UK for some years I have been able to pick up the colloquial language.

INTRODUCIR

Whilst it looks like this verb should mean ‘to introduce’ its actual meaning is ‘to insert’. There’s a certain semantic similarity there so hopefully that will make it easier to remember. An appropriate verb for ‘introduce’ in Spanish would be presentar.

  • Introduce el DVD en la tele y te presento a mis personajes favoritos.
  • Put the DVD in the TV and I will introduce you to my favourite characters.

REALIZAR

Another seemingly obvious verb, surely this means ‘to realise’? Nope! It can be translated as ‘to carry out’ or ‘to do’ (a great synonym for hacer if you want to diversify your vocab 😉). The correct verb for ‘to realise’ is darse cuenta

  • No es justo que realice el trabajo sin ayuda pero no me di cuenta de que todo el equipo está ocupado.
  • It’s not fair for him to do the work without any help but I didn’t realise that the whole team is busy.
falsos amigos en español

SUCEDER

And finally, we come to the verb that doesn’t mean ‘to succeed’ but ‘to happen’. The only instance where this word does have the meaning of ‘succeed’ is in relation to a line of succession. If you want to make a comment about being successful, the correct set phrase is tener éxito.

  • Hombre, ¿qué ha sucedido aquí? No tendremos éxito si continuamos de esa manera.
  • Man, what’s happened here? We won’t be successful if we keep going this way.

And there you have 7 false friends in Spanish! After coming across these words once they tend to stick in your head, especially if there was a bit of a faux pas involved – it’s all a part of language learning.  And if nothing else, it makes for an entertaining story, use it to break the ice and join one of our group Spanish classes. We look forward to laughing along with you!

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