10 False Cognates in Spanish

Two years ago, my school was putting on its annual Thanksgiving dinner for students. It is a huge meal with all the works: turkey, stuffing, cornbread, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. The best part is that the professors are the ones who are serving the students. I was sitting at a long table with a group of my friends and there was one piece of cornbread left in the basket. With all the conversation buzzing around, it was hard to hear who was speaking, including a first-year student that expressed that she wanted the last piece of cornbread. Not having heard her, I reached in the basket one second later and said aloud, “Nobody wants this? I’ll take it!”

It wasn’t until I heard my boyfriend apologize on my behalf that I realized there was a miscommunication. “Sorry, she isn’t like that. I promise she didn’t do it on purpose. She just didn’t hear you.”

There are many ways to miscommunicate. When learning a language, it is inevitable that you will make mistakes. It is an important part of the learning process because it is from those mistakes that we learn how to communicate better. One part that makes language-learning easier is the use of cognates or words that resemble words in another language. However, there are words that could exist in a language that we are learning that resemble words we may know but actually mean something completely different. If you are studying Spanish, pay attention to these words:

Pretender looks like the English verb “to pretend.” Pretender is pretending to be the verb “to pretend.” In reality, it means has a few meanings. If you want to talk about pretending, use the verb fingir.

Actualmente looks like the word “actually” in English. At first, I used to use this word the same way that I would use the word actually, to express a change of mind. For example, I would say something along the lines of, “Actually, I don’t think I can make it.” This word means currently.

Eventualmente does not mean “eventually.” It means something that can happen in the future. If you would like to say eventually in Spanish, use the term finalmente.

Embarazada is a funny one. Beginning Spanish-learners use this word, thinking that it means “embarrassed.” However, if you use this word, it will result in you being embarrassed. The word is used to say that you or someone else is pregnant.

Éxito looks like “exit” but does not mean exit. The word means “success!” If you are looking for an exit, look for a sign that says the word salida.

Exitado like embarazada, can result in funny stories if you use this word incorrectly. While it looks like the word “excited” in English, it has a little twist to it. Yes, you can say the word when you are excited but not when you are excited to go to a movie on Friday. This word is specifically used to say that you are sexually excited or turned on. If you tell someone you are exitado or exitada, that might be awkward.

Carpeta was one of the first vocabulary words I learned in my beginner Spanish class. It means folder not carpet. If you want to talk about carpets, use the word alfombra.

Librería was another word that I learned early on when studying Spanish. It is a place that has books but it is not a “library.” It is a bookstore. If you are looking for a library, ask someone about the biblioteca.

Salado not a “salad.” It is an adjective used to describe something that is salty. If you would like to order a salad, make sure to order una ensalada.

It is not a sin to use the word sin. Sin means without. If you want to talk about sins, talk about pecados.

Not all of these words will give you an embarrassing story to talk about later. Some of the words will just make the sentence harder to understand. Even so, those situations can be avoided if you use those words properly. Have you ever had a funny situation where you used a word incorrectly in a foreign language without knowing?