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Basic words in Spanish with a double meaning (and English words with two different translations)

When learning a different language, false cognates and "(directly) untranslatable" words aren't the only words that can cause trouble. Like in English, Spanish has words that have more than one meaning. This is a list of the most basic ones.

  • Rico/a (adjective); When talking about a person or company, this word simply means "rich", but when you talk about "comida rica", this is usually referring to the taste of the food; "rico/a" means "tasty" in this context.

  • Familiar (ajective); This can mean something that is familiar to you, but it can also mean "familial" or "of the family"; in other words "una actividad familiar" can be a family activity.

  • Real (adjective); like with the above, both meanings are cognates to this word, although they mean entirely different things. In addition to the word "real", this word can also mean "royal" or "pertaining to royality".

  • Manzana (noun); This can be an apple, but in some contexts this is also the word for a block (as in a block in the city).

  • Por & Para (conjuncion, ect.); "Por" and "para" are two very important Spanish words, but they have a plethora of meanings in Spanish. The most common translation from both is "for", but "por" can also mean "by way of", "through", "because of" or "times (multiplication)", while "para" can mean "in order for", "up to", "by the use of", or it can be a verb conjugation meaning "(s)he/it stops". The way these words are used depends on the context, and sometimes using one in place of the other can cause confusion. (Such as asking someone to walk through a door (por) or up to it (para)).

  • Nada (noun, verb conjugation); this can mean "nothing" or it can be the third person for "to swim"

English words that have multiple meanings but can translate to different words in Spanish;

  • Can (verb, noun); "to be able to" is "poder", but the noun meaning something like "a tin can" is "lata".

  • Bat (noun); a baseball bat is a "bate" or "maza" but the animal is a "murciélago".

  • Mean (adjective, verb); When something has meaning, it would be "significar" in Spanish, but someone being mean would be described as "malo/a" (bad), "infame" (infamous), sometimes "injusto/a" (unjust, although this can be lighter in context) or even "cruel" (same word in English). In mathematics, the mean of a set of numbers can be a "media".

Can you guys think of other words that can be translated in different ways when they change meaning, in either English or Spanish?

Thank you for reading!

February 14, 2018



Nice post!

Some of my friends who are also learning English, have struggled with some of these words, specially the word "manzana" here's an example of what they used to say:
a) Where do You live?
b) I live in Avenue "ABC", Apple D Lt. 4.

I laughed in the inside, but I knew that some words were very tricky to learn.

There are many other words in English that have two different meanings in Spanish, like:

"book" which can mean "libro" (sustantive) or "reservar" (verb).
"water" which can mean "agua" (sustantive) or "regar" (verb)
"sign" which can mean "señal" (sustantive) or "firmar" (verb)

February 14, 2018


How can you be learning so many languages and be able to speak it

February 14, 2018


The fact that someone is learning many languages does not mean he/she can speak them all. I can only speak fluently in Spanish (native), English, Esperanto and Portuguese. But I'm looking forward to speak fluently more languages, specially endangered languages from the Andes and the Amazon.

February 14, 2018


What about unidad? It can refer to “la unidad” =Unity or “unidades” = units, a measure of quantity. This was one I just realized today.

February 15, 2018


Bear - oso vs. bear - soportar Like - gustar vs. like - mismo

February 14, 2018


This was very helpful to me, Thank you! Este muy util, gracias!

February 14, 2018


Wow, it must've took some time to write/type all that down.

February 14, 2018


It to long to even read but it helps a lot thank you

February 14, 2018
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