Language is a bridge that connects people across cultures, allowing us to communicate and understand one another. However, this bridge can sometimes be fraught with pitfalls, especially when encountering false friends—words that appear similar in two languages but have different meanings. English and Spanish, despite sharing some linguistic roots, are not exempt from this phenomenon. Let’s explore some of the common false friends that can trip up English speakers learning Spanish, and vice versa.


  1. Embarazada/Embarrassed

One of the most famous false friends, “embarazada” in Spanish means “pregnant,” not “embarrassed” as one might think. This confusion can lead to humorous misunderstandings if not clarified promptly!


  1. Actual/Actual

In English, “actual” means “real” or “existing.” However, in Spanish, “actual” translates to “current” or “present.” So, when a Spanish speaker says, “el presidente actual,” they’re referring to the current president, not necessarily the “real” president.


  1. Exit/Éxito

While “exit” in English refers to a way out, “éxito” in Spanish means “success.” So, when you see a sign that says “éxito” in a Spanish-speaking country, it’s not indicating an exit but rather a successful outcome!


  1. Library/Librería

In English, a “library” is a place where you borrow books. However, in Spanish, “librería” refers to a bookstore. If you’re looking for a quiet place to study in Spanish, you’d ask for the “biblioteca.”


  1. Constipado/Constipated

A common mistake made by English speakers learning Spanish is using “constipado” to mean “constipated.” However, “constipado” in Spanish actually means “having a cold” or “congested.” The word for “constipated” in Spanish is “estreñido.”


  1. Sensible/Sensible

In English, “sensible” means “reasonable” or “practical.” However, in Spanish, “sensible” refers to someone who is sensitive or emotional. So, if you call someone “sensible” in Spanish, you’re not necessarily complimenting their practicality!


  1. Introducir/Introduce

While “introduce” in English means to present someone to others, in Spanish, “introducir” means to insert or to put something into something else. So, if you want to say “to introduce someone” in Spanish, you’d use the verb “presentar.”


Navigating the linguistic landscape between English and Spanish can be both rewarding and challenging. False friends serve as a reminder that language is nuanced and context-dependent. As language learners, it’s important to approach each word with curiosity and an open mind, embracing the differences that make languages unique.


By understanding and being aware of false friends, we can avoid potential misunderstandings and deepen our appreciation for the richness of both the English and Spanish languages. So, next time you encounter a word that seems familiar but feels slightly off, take a moment to explore its true meaning—you might just uncover a hidden gem of linguistic diversity!


Don’t forget to download the PDF of this document with some practice activities here!