Beyond Words - Language Blog

Don’t Make This Mistake! 20 False Cognates

Learning a foreign language can be tricky: Not only is there a completely new set of grammatical and syntactical rules to learn, but occasionally the vocabulary itself poses some unexpected difficulties.

False cognates, or false friends, are one of these pitfalls. These words (amigos falsos, faux amis, or falsche Freunde) remind Anglophones of familiar words, but their meanings bear little resemblance.

Below is a list of 20 Spanish, French, and German false cognates to pay close attention to when traveling, or talking with native speakers:

SPANISH FALSE COGNATES

False cognate: embarazada
Sounds like: embarrassed
Actually means: pregnant

False cognate: realizar
Sounds like: to realize
Actually means: to actualize

False cognate: éxito
Sounds like: exit
Actually means: success

False cognate: soportar
Sounds like: to support
Actually means: to put up with

False cognate: parientes
Sounds like: parents
Actually means: relatives

False cognate: recorder
Sounds like: to record
Actually means: to remember

FRENCH FALSE COGNATES

False cognate: bras
Sounds like: bra
Actually means: arm

False cognate: chair
Sounds like: chair
Actually means: flesh

False cognate: coin
Sounds like: coin
Actually means: corner

False cognate: blesser
Sounds like: to bless
Actually means: to injure

False cognate: chance
Sounds like: chance
Actually means: luck

False cognate: demander
Sounds like: to demand
Actually means: to ask for

False cognate: raisin
Sounds like: raisin
Actually means: grape

GERMAN FALSE COGNATES

False cognate: Bad
Sounds like: bad
Actually means: bathroom

False cognate: After
Sounds like: after
Actually means: anus

False cognate: Fabrik
Sounds like: fabric
Actually means: factory

False cognate: Gift
Sounds like: gift (present)
Actually means: poison

False cognate: hell
Sounds like: Hell
Actually means: light in color

False cognate: Jalousie
Sounds like: jealousy
Actually means: Venetian blind

False cognate: Konvict
Sounds like: convict
Actually means: seminary