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https://www.duolingo.com/WackyJack

Spanish Problems: False Cognates

I know that in Spanish, there are many words that sound exactly like they do in English, which makes translation way easier. However, there are a group of words called "false cognates" that sound like one English word but mean another. If you learn them now, it will save you some hearts later. :) Here are some common ones. If anyone else knows of some more, post a comment and I will include it.

  • Actualmente: Nowadays NOT Actually
  • Asistir: To attend NOT To assist
  • Atender: To attend to, to serve NOT To attend (something)
  • El campo: The field NOT The camp
  • La carpeta: The folder NOT The carpet
  • Contestar: To answer NOT To contest
  • Embarazada: Pregnant NOT Embarassed
  • Familiar: Having to do with family NOT Familiar
  • Largo: Long NOT Large.
  • Sensible: Sensitive NOT Sensible
  • Sopa: Soup NOT Soap
  • Pretender: To intend or to want NOT To pretend
  • Molestar: To annoy NOT To molest
  • La jubilación: The retirement NOT The jubilation
  • Estar constipado: To have a cold (illness) NOT To be constipated
  • Probar: To try (something) NOT To probe
  • El bombero: The firefighter NOT The bomber
  • El preservativo: The condom NOT The preservative
  • La advertencia: The warning, the advice NOT The advertisement
  • Bizarro: Valiant NOT Bizarre
  • El colegio: The high school NOT The college
  • La carta: The letter NOT The cart
  • La decepción: The disappointment NOT The deception
  • Chocar: To crash NOT To choke

And now, for the grandaddy of them all...

  • El éxito: The success NOT The exit

Special thanks to Beta-Tron, JMVanPelt, and nbsnyder for adding to the list. ("El preservativo" was nbsnyder's addition. I take no credit, or blame, for that one)

3 years ago

40 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/Klgregonis
Klgregonis
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Cognates are basically words that stem from the same root. Sometimes they keep the same meaning, sometimes they have related, but slightly different meanings, and sometimes they go off in two totally different directions, but they are still cognates, because they can be traced back to the same root.

Some of the words in your list can mean something similar in English and Spanish , for instance, asistir does mean to attend, but asistir can mean to help in the sense of medical help. And many of the words coming from assistir definitely have a meaning related to help or assistence. Attender has one of the English meanings of attend, you just have to remember which one, one of the meanings of familiar is familiar, and I have seen and heard it used that way by native speakers, Sopa could as easily be soup as soap, I've never had a problem with it because I've always heard it in connection with food. Sensible actually used to have the meaning of sensitive in English (about 200 years ago or so) (Sense and Sensibility doesn't make much sense as a title with the current meaning of sensible). Specialized vocabulary often maintains the older meaning, so you can contest (answer) a lawsuit. Carpeta can also mean a table covering, which used to be one of the meanings in English.

Most of the words in your list are cognates, but the meanings have diverged, so they have become false friends.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/WackyJack

Interesting... I guess we don't think of languages evolving as fast as they do.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/attanatta
attanatta
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...and a FALSE cognate would be two words from two different langauges that appear to be cognates due to their similar spelling and meaning, even though they do NOT share a common linguistic root. Sort of like multiple different linguistic cultures reinventing the wheel independently from one another.

I don't think any of the words listed are false cognates, but rather (as you said) they are (true) cognates whose meanings have diverged over time (creating false friends). Sorry to get so semantically technical to all those who don't appreciate such things, but I find it so interesting, I couldn't help but share.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/nbsnyder
nbsnyder
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Here are some ones you definitely do not want to mess up :)

  • Probar: To try NOT To probe
  • Bombero: Firefighter NOT Bomber
  • Preservativo: Condom NOT Preservative
3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/llamalovers000

Especially the last one. Especially when you are a middle/high schooler/teenager in general.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/casalito
casalito
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I think that is best currently for to write or to say "actualmente" when you want to translation in spanish this word. At least, my teacher says that. You should think about it

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/attanatta
attanatta
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I just wanted to make sure everyone has read this list of false cognates as well: www.spanishdict.com/topics/show/111

Pay attention to the "Spanish Alternative" column for some valuable extra information.

I have also seen these words referred to as "false friends" on a couple of different linguistics web sites: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_friend

Oh actually, according to the following article, we shouldn't be calling these words false cognates at all but rather "false friends" exclusively. I was calling them false cognates too, so this must be a common mistake: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_cognate

...and I did a quick google search to verify this: http://linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/2612/whats-the-difference-between-a-false-cognate-and-a-false-friend

If you want to see another common English mistake, look up the word "moot" in the dictionary. I've been using the word incorrectly my whole life, and so has everyone else I know: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/moot

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/anniejo99
anniejo99
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My Spanish teacher once told us that when she went to South America, she struck up a conversation with a store owner and accidentally said "¡Soy muy embarazada!". Needless to say, she was even more embarrassed after realizing that she had just randomly exclaimed to this guy how pregnant she was. False cognates are dangerous, kids.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/JMVanPelt
JMVanPelt
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Pretender: To intend or to want, NOT To pretend

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/WackyJack

Gracias. Voy a insertarlo.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Beta-Tron
Beta-Tron
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there are so many..

molestar - to annoy

la jubilación - retirement

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/WackyJack

Gracias por su ayuda. Voy a insertarlos.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/mommarigo
mommarigo
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correction: "La constipación" does mean "constipation". It is "estar constipado" that means "to have a cold". You might get some strange looks if you get that one wrong!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/WackyJack

Gracias.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Thakelo
Thakelo
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I do not know where you learned that "estar constipado" means having a cold. I have never heard or read of it. It must be a thing in one or just a few countries.

"La constipación" and "estar constipado" are in fact medical terms for constipation (as in less frequency and some other criteria). Any other uses for those words are informal. Trust me, I'm a med student and a native speaker.

Usually, having a runny nose is termed "estar congestionado" and having a cold "estar resfriado/tener un resfrío".

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/mommarigo
mommarigo
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I am not a native Spanish speaker, so I bow to your knowledge. Thank you for adding to my vocabulary, I can honestly say that " yo tengo un resfrio."

I was basing my answer on http://www.spanishdict.com/translate/constipado. Usually it's a pretty good source. If you don't mind answering, what country are you from, or living in?

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Thakelo
Thakelo
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I'm from Chile, which is usually not a good reference for Spanish, but I have a lot of contact with native speakers of other countries and I read a lot (which is neutral spanish) and I'm pretty sure that it's not a common expression, or at least not as common as the ones I listed. I do not deny that that site is a good source. That piece of information is probably correct but that doesn't make it common.

Who knows, maybe another native speaker will come in and tell me I'm mistaken.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/mutate9602

Actually molest does mean annoy in English. For example, "he was stung because he molested the hornet's nest". This makes it pretty easy to remember.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Beta-Tron
Beta-Tron
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something tells me I'm never going to forget that..

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/pangaea
pangaea
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The one that gets me is intentar - to try not to intend

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/jorma1998b

Ahi te va este lingote por publicar esta lista, muy util para los que empiezan a aprender espanol.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/WackyJack

Gracias. Cualquier yo puedo hacer ayudar.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ampdot

You have sparked quite a discussion.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/jorma1998b

Las palabras póliza (policy) y política (politics) presentan un problema; cuando estaba en Colombia nunca vi que se mezclaran. El significado principal de póliza es relacionado con contratos de seguros (insurance contracts); una póliza de seguro es un contrato de seguro. Política se refiere a una gran cantidad de tópicos, como los asuntos públicos de un país (public affairs), los reglamentos de una escuela, los principios de una corporación, etc. Sin embargo, en USA las dos palabras tienden a mezclarse de manera confusa. Inclusive, hay una compañía de seguros que produjo y mantiene un comercial que dice: responsabilidad. What’s your policy?

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/llamalovers000

That is so helpful!!!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Ivanka_ps
Ivanka_ps
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At least in Mexico, Bizarro = bizarre. People from Spain will say that it's wrong...

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Topolski

Ropa - Clothes, clothing NOT Rope

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Andres_Pe

Asistir: To attend NOT To assist

well, no... "Asistir" is to attend and also is giving help. For example: "Asistencia mecánica"

The same goes to "Embarazada: Pregnant NOT Embarassed" because something "embarazoso" gives you shame...

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/WackyJack

Ah. I see. But still, isn't the more common usage "to attend"? And also, while it is a diminutive of "Embarazada," "embarazoso" is a different word entirely.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Andres_Pe

I dont know, because "embarazo" and "embarazoso" have the same root...

Yes, the the more common usage is "to attend" but the other way is ok too..

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Jensen_David

actually familiar can be like in english, as in recognizable. It's both Pretender is also to pretend -> Deja de pretender (stop pretending). Preservativo can also mean a preservative (a chemical that preserves food or other stuff). You are totally wrong with bizarro, IT IS bizarre. Valiant, as in showing courage, is valiente. Colegio can be any school. Decepción can actually mean deception, but not very frequent.

-Native speaker

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/WackyJack

I know that you, as a native speaker, have the experience, but both Google Translate and SpanishDict do not even give an option for "bizarro" meaning "bizarre." Both say it means brave or gallant. Isn't extraño used for bizarre?

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Thakelo
Thakelo
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I have to agree. Spanish speakers do not use "bizarro" as "valiant" at all. It is an old word that was almost forgotten. It's a word that has become quite popular in the last decade because of globalisation and "anglicisms" (it's not really and anglicism but it acted liek one), and people who don't like adding it to their vocabulary have been using the "valiant" definition as an argument to stop this trend. It IS true that the RAE lists "valiant" or similar words as the only definition for bizarro, but that will probably change soon enough.

You see, the word has Latin roots and in French, "bizarre" DOES mean strange. The two languages just took different paths.

You will probably only find "bizarro" meaning "brave" in poems or old texts. I encourage you to never use it this way.

The RAE (the academy that sets the rules for the language) keeps an eye open to trends and they update their database every now and then to add new meanings, and I am sure it will happen to this word.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Jensen_David

So I decided to humor you and not listen to my native brain.... and yes you are right.... but AT LEAST in Mexico, if you go and say Soy muy bizarro! people will nod and agree (why, because who goes around saying that they are bizarre!?).

Further reading suggest that its usage as strange is frowned upon, but quite widespread... We call them "anglicisms". This one is unfortunate that we also had the other meaning of brave from before. And until I stumbled with this post I didn't know it meant brave........

So there you have, you are right (yet wrong....) and I'm wrong (yet right...). I would suggest you keep both meanings, but really use only valiente for brave.

About extraño I would translate it as strange (they even share the same root), and it also means a male stranger.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Jensen_David

And... even though it's incorrect and uncultivated and bla bla bla, I will continue using bizarro as strange :P

(But its nice to know it means brave if I ever stumble upon it on some old novel or whatever)

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ElisaP5

Muchas gracias por esta lista! Muy ùtil! (sorry for my lack of accents and upside question mark, but I can't find them on the keyboard, even though I switched to the "Spanish keyboard"!)

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/attanatta
attanatta
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Check out the post by "tara668" on this thread: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/5714960

She suggests the international keyboard option in windows. It's the best method IMHO.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/germanzorba

A few time ago I read both English and Spanish dictionaries for the word bizarre and bizarro. In both cases, there appeared the two meanings: brave and strange (or something like that), one of that meanings is used and the other drops unused. At least in my country (Argentina) the usual meaning of bizarro is strange, like in 'cine bizarro'. And this kind of problems with cognates arise even to native speakers when traveling to different regions, and in some cases this could be quite embarrassing (by the way, 'embarazoso' does mean embarrassing). Once, in Chile (not so far from Argentina), I asked for the 'hora pico' trying to mean 'peak time', but that was understood as 'penis time'. It is not so hard to imagine how the same root had evolved in these two different meanings, but this happened in a short time and in two spots not so far away.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/uNO1TDCq

And that's not even the worst of it! What do you think billón means? Billion? NOPE! Million! What do you think millón means, million? NOPE! Trillion.

facepalm How do I count?

http://www.language-pro.info/most-confusing-false-cognates-in-spanish/

3 months ago