Saturday Spanish #16: Avoid these 7 False Cognates

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English speakers learning Spanish are lucky in that the two languages share thousands of similar words (cognates).

The problem is, not every word that looks like English means what we think it means (the most famous example being embarazada for pregnant rather than embarrassed). These are called false cognates or falsos amigos.

When it comes to grammatical mistakes, I advocate a “communication-first-improve-over-time” approach.

But false cognates between Spanish and English can affect communication, so I think they’re worth paying close attention to.

That said, don’t take it too seriously — if you accidentally say you’re pregnant rather than embarrassed, you’ll have an unforgettable memory to tie it to for the future.

Let’s take a look at 7 falsos amigos that most English speakers confuse at some point:


Means: “Currently”, rather than “actually”.

If you want to start your sentence with “Actually, …”, a better option is “De hecho, …” or “En realidad, …”


More commonly means: “Poisoned” rather than “intoxicated”.

For someone who’s had too much to drink, ebrio is the best equivalent for “intoxicated”, while borracho is the best all-purpose term for “drunk”.


Means: “Introduce (something into something else)” rather than “to introduce (oneself)”.

To greet someone new, you’ll use the verb presentar. As in, Quieres presentarte? (Want to introduce yourself?).


Means w/ respect to people: “Vulgar, rude, crass, etc”

Ordinario can mean mean ordinary in the sense of typical or normal. And the word extraordinario means the same as the English.

But usually, being ordinario is not a positive thing in Spanish. Instead, it’s often used to describe a person who’s rude or crass, especially in public or towards other people.

Or if you make a vaguely crude joke, someone (who’s not genuinely offended) might poke you in the ribs and say “uuuy qué ordinario!”.

To describe a person as “ordinary”, a word like normal or típico is clearest.


Means: “Embarrassment, pity” rather than “pain”.

Qué pena is useful to express mild disappointment or embarrassment (rather than embarazada). For stronger feelings of embarrassment, you can use Qué vergüenza.

To describe physical pain, dolor is the word you want.

To say that something is “a pain”, or “what a hassle”, “Qué lata” is a good equivalent.


Means: “To take off / To take away”, rather than “To quit”.

So you can Quitarte los zapatos, but you cannot Quitar tu trabajo.

Instead, you’d use renunciar — Le voy a decir a mi jefe que renuncio (I’m going to tell my boss I’m quitting”.

To quit doing something, you’ll use dejar de. As in, En el año nuevo, quiero dejar de usar las redes sociales (In the new year, I want to stop using social media).


Most commonly means: “To carry out / conduct”, rather than “to realize”.

To say “realize”, you’ll use Darse cuenta de.

As in, Me di cuenta de que estaba equivocado (“I realized I was wrong”).


Most commonly means: “To bear, to put up with”, rather than “to support”.

Mis amigos me apoyan means that your friends support you (emotionally).

Meanwhile, Mis amigos me soportan means that your friends tolerate you (and maybe it’s time for new friends).

Go forth and make funny mistakes

The worst thing that will happen if you mix these words up is that someone will chuckle, and you’ll have a mildly embarrassing moment seared into your memory. A great way to learn vocab, if you ask me.

Got any funny stories related to mixing up words? I’d love to hear them.



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Hey there, I'm Connor. I help motivated learners speak Spanish without slogging through grammar books or tapping through every new app. I started Breakthrough Spanish to give more people the confidence and focus to learn effectively Spanish from home. Learn more about me here.

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