A graphic image that reads “Cinema Bizzarre”

Source: Cinema Bizarre wordmark, Vectorisation, Wikimedia

False cognates are sometimes called “false friends.” A few words may look or sound like they should be cognates, but they are not. This means that the words don't have the same meaning. Fortunately, there are few false cognates. One common false cognate that you might already know is the Spanish word embarrazada, which means “pregnant.” The English word embarrassed has a similar spelling, but it has a different meaning. Embarrassed means “ashamed.”

When you’re reading text, sometimes you will see a false cognate. Because of the context around it, though, you can identify it because it doesn’t make sense in the sentence if you apply the English meaning.

Here’s a list of common false cognates. Note the similar spellings but the different meanings between the Spanish words and the English words; however, you might see a connection between the Spanish meaning and English meaning. The difference between a book store and a library is not that great.

Spanish WordEnglish TranslationEnglish WordEnglish Definition
actualmente right now; currently actually in reality
decepción disappointment deception a trick or lie
bizarre courageous bizarre strange
carpeta folder carpet a floor covering
libreria bookstore library a place that loans books
coma punctuation mark coma medical condition
sensible sensitive sensible reasonable
largo long large big
últimamente lately, recently ultimately in the end; eventually
pariente relative parent mother or father

If you aren’t sure whether a word is a cognate, look it up in a Spanish-to-English dictionary. You can find an excellent online version at www.spanishdict.com. You will find that your knowledge of cognates in many different languages will enrich your English vocabulary and help you master new languages.