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False Cognates: 5 Spanish Words That Will Trick You, Part 1

by Cynthia Lopez

Posted on March 23, 2014 at 12:00 AM.

False cognates or false friends are words that appear to look the same, but have different meanings. In Spanish there are a few words that’ll trick you because they look like certain words in English. In today's post I'll introduce five common false cognates.

As a child, who was living in both Spanish and English speaking environments, I often had trouble distinguishing the true cognates from the false ones. There are quite a number of words in Spanish and English that are true cognates. Typically, one or two letters can be added to the end of a word and voilà it's Spanish.

Here's an example: exact is exacto.

This was a method I often used and most of the time it worked! But there were times I would get it completely wrong and I'd end up expressing something totally different. That's why I've decided to come up with a list of 5 false cognates, so that you don't make the same mistakes I made growing up. 

If you look at this word you’ll probably think it looks very similar to educated, but don’t be fooled because that’s not what it means. It actually means polite. When you want to describe someone who is polite you can use educado/a. The same is true for the word mal educado/a; it means someone who is rude, not someone who isn't educated. The word mal means bad. The correct word for educated is instruido/a.

Asistir is another false cognate because it looks like assist, but it actually means to attend. The same is true for the word asistencia, it doesn’t mean assistance, it means attendance. Lastly, the word asistente doesn’t mean assistant, it means attendee. If you want to say to assist, use ayuadar

This word looks a lot like library, but it actually means bookstore. The word for library in Spanish is biblioteca. If you want to ask someone Where is the library? in Spanish say Donde esta la biblioteca? not Donde esta la librería?

I know exactly what you're thinking, remove the a and you have carpet, right? Wrong! As a child, I was often fooled by this tricky word. Carpeta actually means file folder. It can also be used to refer to a type of table cover. The correct word for carpet is alfombra.

When you first look at the word embarazado/a, you'll probably see a remarkable resemblence to the word embarrassed. However, embarrassed in Spanish is avergonzado/a. In Spanish if you want to say I'm pregnantyou can say Estoy embarazada. 

Keep your eyes peeled for part two of False Cognates. And stay tuned for our new ¡Ya Tú Sabes! Spanish Language Culture Show on False Cognates, which is in the works! Please feel free to leave comments and share this post! Thanks for reading! Hasta luego!

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