A False Cognate, also known as a False Friend, is a Spanish word that looks like an English word, but has a different meaning.
Spanish False Cognates are spelled similar to English, but have no related meanings.
Previous Lessons One through Seven list words in English and Spanish with similar spellings and similar meanings.
The previous Lesson Eight explains Cognates that look alike and have different meanings -- but do suggest the correct meanings.
For example, LIBRERÍA in Spanish, is different from the English word it resembles (library) because it means bookstore, but similar in that both have to do with books.
This lesson examines a related topic – Spanish False Cognates with spelling similar to English -- but with different and misleading meanings than the English words they resemble -- not at all related to the meanings of those English words.
This lesson will take you to yet another level of similarities-with-differences between English and Spanish.
In the previous lessons you have seen how Spanish and English “share” thousands of words which, in their written form at least, are identical or strikingly similar.
If every one of the look-alike words meant the same thing in both languages, that would be Super-Easiest Spanish. Then you could go to Spain or Latin America and just assume that any Spanish word that looks remotely familiar means the same thing as its English cognate that you already know.
But there are False Cognates that look similar but do not mean the same thing in Spanish and English.
Your first reaction when you see a Spanish word spelled identically to English may be to think it means what you learned it means — in English. It's an unavoidable reaction, at first, until you become aware that with some look-alikes you will need to retrain yourself.
So now that you have seen some of the many similarities in Spanish-English vocabulary, be aware that there are pitfalls in some Spanish words that look similar to English (or sound similar).
Sometimes those Spanish words that look like English mean entirely different things.
Other times the Spanish word has another primary meaning other than its exact English equivalent.
The two languages have in common many words which are similar in form but partially or totally different in meaning.
These False Cognates are sometimes called False Friends in English.
It is this resemblance in form which, for some pairs of words, is a dangerous trap for any English-speaker setting out to learn Spanish.
If the adopted Spanish word is technical or specialized, its original meaning may have been retained.
But in many cases the cognates have diverged, partially or totally, to have different meanings and to differing degrees. There have been greater or lesser shifts in meaning, as well as specialization or generalization, loss of some meanings, or the acquisition of new meanings.
A word which in English is in everyday use may be limited in Spanish to a particular use such as formal, literary, technical (medical, legal, etc.).
This lesson does not confine its treatment of "cognates" to pairs of words in Spanish and English which have a common origin; it also includes words whose similarity in form is purely coincidental.
False Cognates are another reason why these lessons are essential. In learning a new language related to your native language, one of the first things you must deal with is the way it overlaps your first language. Cognates that look identical or somewhat similar may have similar -- or different -- meanings.
Some of these False Cognates spelled exactly alike in Spanish and English are listed below.
For each English word (in the left column), its Spanish equivalent (in the middle column) is misleading in that it is spelled identically to a totally unrelated English word.
As mentioned in the earlier lesson on identical look-alikes, Spanish pronunciation differs so greatly from English that the different sound helps reduce possible confusion of these cognates. Any confusion is thus limited to the visual word -- since it becomes, in effect, a different sound when spoken. So the seeming disadvantage of a different pronunciation which must be learned for a Spanish look-alike is actually an advantage that can help you realize that a particular look-alike word has a different meaning.
Spanish False Cognates Spelled Exactly Like English Words
Some Spanish False Cognates look exactly like an English word, but actually mean another English word that is spelled somewhat like the Spanish word.
ENGLISH -- SPANISH -- [SAY SPANISH]
bread -- pan -- [pahn]
potato -- papa -- [‘papa’]
sea -- mar -- [‘mar’]
sand -- arena -- [ah-REH-nah]
line (of cars) -- cola -- [‘cola’]
foot -- pie -- [pee-EH]
feet -- pies -- [pee-EHS]
guest house -- pensión -- [pehns-YOHN]
net -- red -- [‘red’]
pie / cake -- pastel -- [pahs-TEHL]
garage (repairs) -- taller -- [tah-YEHR]
monkfish -- rape -- [RRAH-peh]
to -- a -- [ah]
without -- sin -- [seen]
with -- con -- [kohn]
It can be helpful if the Spanish False Cognate has a different pronunciation than the English word it is spelled like -- because that makes it sound different than the English word it is spelled like, and helps make it clear that it is actually a foreign word.
Spanish False Cognates Spelled Somewhat Like English Words
Not only false cognates spelled exactly alike are misleading, but also ones spelled slightly differently than English can also look misleading:
But if the Spanish word is spelled somewhat differently than the English word, this can help you realize that this is truly a foreign word, and probably not related to the English word it looks something like, in the case of these false cognates.
ENGLISH -- SPANISH -- [SAY SPANISH]
menu -- carta -- [KAHR-tah]
beach -- playa -- [PLAH-yah]
robe -- bata -- [BAH-tah]
hanger -- percha -- [PEHR-chah]
duck -- pato -- [PAH-toh]
octopus -- pulpo -- [POOL-poh]
stove -- horno -- [OHR-noh]
path -- senda -- [SEHN-dah]
jewel -- joya -- [HOH-yah]
ready -- listo/a -- [LEES-toh/tah]
street -- calle -- [KAY-yah]
chicken -- pollo -- [POH-yoh]
size -- talla -- [TAH-yah]
chair -- silla -- [SEE-yah]
clothing -- ropa -- [ROH-pah]
fat (n) -- grasa -- [GRAH-sah]
battery -- pila -- [PEE-lah]
food -- comida -- [koh-MEE-dah]
watermelon -- sandía -- [sahn-DEE-ah]
money -- dinero -- [dee-NEH-roh]
team -- equipo -- [eh-KEE-poh]
path -- sendero -- [sehn-DEH-roh]
clean -- limpio/a -- [LEEM-pee-oh/ah]
This lesson has described what are sometimes referred to as ‘false cognates’, and this lesson has used that term for consistency and clarity.
However, ‘false cognates’ are more properly referred to as ‘false friends’, because technically ‘cognates’ are strictly words that are similar in spelling and meaning.