For many newcomers to Spanish, one thing that soon becomes apparent is that there are a vast number of words that are either identical or at least very similar in both English and Spanish. Words like this are called cognates
as they have a common etymological origin.
This should come as no surprise when we consider that English and Spanish, and most European languages for that matter, all have their origins in Latin.
This is somewhat of a running joke I have with my Spanish friends, when I often ask “¿Cómo se dice insert word of choice?”
only to be told it’s either the same or so similar I could have guessed it!
Examples of very similar words are: Obligatorio (obligatory), ambulancia (ambulance), parque (park), teléfono (telephone) and so on; with words like terrible, social, ideal, formula and alcohol being identical, albeit pronounced a little differently.
Today though, we’re going to look at five interesting words that, at first glance, might appear to fit into the category of cognates,
yet in fact have meanings completely different to how we might expect. We call these types of word “False Friends”. Constipado
Believe it or not, being constipado
will not have you reaching for the prune juice, although it does describe a type of ailment. Constipado
actually means to have a cold
and not to be constipated. Estreñido
is in fact the Spanish word for constipated. Thus we must take great care when describing either condition at “la famacia” (the pharmacy) for instance. Otherwise one could end up with a somewhat inappropriate remedy! Embarazada Embarazada
is the Spanish word for pregnant.
is in fact the Spanish word for embarrassed or ashamed.
|Spanish ||Meaning |
|“¡Ay! ¡Querido! ¡Creo que estoy embarazada!” ||Oh! Darling! I think I'm pregnant! |
|“Estaba un poco avergonzado” ||I was a little embarrassed |
Any newcomer to Spanish could certainly be forgiven for thinking that éxito
means exit. However, it does in fact mean success
(in the sense of a hit record).
The Spanish word for exit
is in fact salida
which is derived from the verb salir
(to go out). Soportar
On first inspection we can see this is an -AR
verb. The obvious guess here would be that it means to support.
Whilst not completely wrong, we normally use this verb when supporting or tolerating of a point of view. Thus soportar more accurately translates to mean to tolerate
or to put up with.
This implies support but not necessarily with one's blessing.
It is far more common to use the verb apoyar
when describing positive support.
|Spanish ||Meaning |
|“No voy a soportar esto” ||I’m not going to put up with this |
|“¿Cuántos apoyan esta medida?” ||How many support this measure? |
Finally we have an adjective that amazingly doesn’t mean bizarre! Bizarro
actually means brave, gallant
To describe something as bizarre it is better to use extraño
which can also translate to mean strange
“Qué extraño!” (How bizarre!) Conclusion | En conclusión
Due to the Latin roots of both Spanish and English, cognates
are rife. But from time to time we will be caught out by false friends.
Whilst it can be argued that some false friends
still make a kind of sense or that we can see how they are derived, it is often how
we use them which makes all the difference.
Realising the existence of false friends
not only helps us avoid common mistakes when learning new vocabulary but also helps us avoid the complacency that often goes hand in hand when spotting what we believe are cognates.