False Cognates - Cognados Falsos | SpanishDict Answers
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8 Vote

Let's see who can find the most interesting false cognates. These are words in our new language that would seem to have the same meaning as they do in our first language. I once came accross the word "suburbio," and I thought it would mean the same as "suburb" in English, but it acutally means "shanty town." These meanings are quite different, so they are false cognates. Have you come accross any of these? Please try to respond in both Spanish and English.

Vayamos a ver quién puede encontrar los cognados falsos mas interesantes. Éstos son palabras en nuestra idioma nueva que parecería tener el mismo sentido que ellos hacen en nuestra primera lengua. Me encontré con la palabra -suburbio,- pensé que significaría el mismo como -suburb- in inglés, pero esto realmente significa el -barrio de chabolas.- Estos sentidos son completamente diferentes, así que son cognados falsos. ¿Han encontrado alguna de éstas? Por favor trate de responder tanto enspañol como inglés.

  • Love the question... can't think of my favorites right now. - yahvey_hoffm Aug 3, 2012 flag
  • Good question. Hopefully there will be a lot of answers. - 0095ca4c Aug 4, 2012 flag
  • Hairsplitter here. *Technically*, your example, suburbio/suburb, is not a case of false cognates. That's called "false friends". Suburbio and suburb *are*, in fact, cognates - they both stem from the same Latin word - but have since come to mean slightly- - inkubzz Aug 6, 2012 flag
  • -different things. An example of false cognates would be mucho/much (their etymologies are entirely disparate). ;) Sorry about this, I just wanted to clear it up. I *love* the thread otherwise. Great job! ;) - inkubzz Aug 6, 2012 flag
  • Thanks for the clarification inkubzz. - RiCrow Aug 7, 2012 flag

21 Answers

0 Vote

éxito = success, not exit. con éxito = successfullyenter image description here

0 Vote

Hurtar = to steal (Not to hurt, as the English word is.)

¡Alguien me hurtó el chicle!

Someone stole some gum from me!

0 Vote

Un éxito es el opuesto de un fracaso, no es una salida.

Un éxito is the opposite of a failure, it is not an exit.

0 Vote

Contestar = the answer. (Not a contest, as an English speaker would think).

¿Es correcta, la contesta?

Is the answer correct.

  • Do many people use la contesta rather than la respuesta for the answer? - afowen Aug 6, 2012 flag
0 Vote

Here's a part-time false cognate: Competencia usually means competition, but sometimes it's a true cognate because it can mean competence.

Hay siempre bastante competencia en los juegos olympicos. There is always plenty of competition in the olympics.

No había ningun duda acerca de su competencia como mecánico, pero no estaba muy bueno en los negocios. There was no doubt about his competence as a mechanic, but he wasn't a very good businessman.

1 Vote

Careful with these false friends,

Actualmente = currently, presently, nowadays

Actually = en realidad, realmente, exactamente, de hecho

Últimamente = lately, recently

Ultimately = finally, eventually

0 Vote

"Exit" and "éxito."
La fiesta fue un éxito. (The party was a success.) Now let's find the exit.

  • And exito, as in me exito... - afowen Aug 6, 2012 flag
1 Vote

soportar - support

No lo soporto. / I can’t stand him.

My mum has always supported me. / Mi madre siempre me ha apoyado.

2 Vote

pariente - parent

Es pariente mio. / He’s a relative of mine.

My parents are Irish. / Mis padres son irlandeses.

2 Vote

actual - actual

La situación actual del pais. / The country’s present situation.

The film is based on actual events. / La película está basada en hechos reales.

3 Vote

efectivo = Cash (as noun) and Actual/Real (as adjective)

Quisiera pagar en efectivo - I would like to pay in cash.

Los resultados harán efectivos - The results will be carried out.

nb: while one of the definitions includes 'effective', it is a false cognate as a noun.

5 Vote

This one can be a little confusing for a traveller.

dirección = address (not direction as you might suspect)

  • "Dirección" también se refiere a un rumbo o camino. Ej.: ¿En qué dirección debemos continuar? - -cae- Aug 5, 2012 flag
3 Vote

Here's an example of false cognate confusion in practice. As LagartijaVerde mentions, 'Estoy constipado' means 'I've got a cold.', not... what you'd think...

So, an English guy who hadn't been in Spain very long was on his first date with a Spanish girl. She was lovely. She didn't speak English, but his Spanish was reasonable, if not great, and they were getting on very well until, out of the blue, she turned her big brown eyes on him and said ruefully, 'Estoy constipada.'

'Yuck!', he thought, 'Too much information!' and basically left as soon as possible, didn't phone her, etc.

Some time later, he told his story to a friend who had been here a bit longer, who promptly fell about laughing, and then explained False Cognate Number 1.


Alguien me contó una pequeña historia de un problema con un cognado falso.

Como explica LagartijaVerde, en inglés 'Estoy constipado' significa 'I've got a cold.'


Un inglés recién llegado en España tiene su primera cita con una chica española. Quedan encontrarse en un bar un fin de semana. Ella es linda y muy simpatica, y a pesar de que no habla inglés, y que el inglés por su parte es principiante en español, se congenian. Pasen un buen rato hasta, de modo inesperado y con una mirada algo avergonzada, la chica dice al chico - Lo siento: estoy constipada.

El inglés está asombrado, y se pregunta as su mismo - ¡Puaj! ¿Porqué me cuenta del estado de sus intestinos? ¡Qué rara!

Y lo más pronto, se despide a ella, y después no la llama más.

Poco tiempo después, nuestro protagonista se encuentra con un amigo que ha pasado más tiempo en España. Le cuenta a él la história del fracaso con la chica rara. Y cuando su compañero acaba de reírse a carcajadas, le presente a Romeo ´El Cognado Falso Numero 1.'


enter image description here

  • Por favor, ¿corrija mi español? (Prefería que no hacerme en chimpancé.) - Enderby Aug 4, 2012 flag
  • Thats a very funny story. :) - viejito Aug 4, 2012 flag
3 Vote

Estaba embarazada de cuatro meses . She was four months pregnant.

I was really embarrassed. Me dio mucha vergúenza.

  • That's a great answer, and it was really helpful that you highlighted the words! - RiCrow Aug 4, 2012 flag
5 Vote

Hay muchos ejemplos:

un billón: in Spanish it means a trillion (1,000,000,000,000), and mil millones means a billion

una receta: In Spanish means a cooking recipe or medicine prescription, and recibo means receipt

últimamente: not ultimately (in the sense of finally) as we think in English, but rather "recently" or lately. a fin de cuentas or al final are good for saying finally in spanish.

le recomiendo a todo el mundo buscar por un libro que se llama "Breaking Out of Beginner's Spanish" escrito por Joseph J Keenan. Es un gran libro, y tiene un capítulo fantástico sobre este tema, el tema de los cognados falsos, o cómo se llama el autor "the tricksters" //// I recommend everyone look for a book called "Breaking out of beginner's spanish" by Joseph J Keenan. It's a great book, and it has a fantastic chapter on this topic, the topic of false cognates, or as the author calls them "the tricksters"

  • A billón in Spanish is a billion in English, it´s only a trillion in American... - afowen Aug 6, 2012 flag
  • eso es interesante! I did not know that afowen. supongo que este tema merezca su propia página ahora. I wonder how "billón" is used differently in Europe vs. LatinAmerica - DreSmith3 Aug 7, 2012 flag
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