Beware of false friends!

February 13, 2019 10:30 am

We all have had to face some “false friends” when it comes to learning a new language,  words that are often confused with a word in another language with a different meaning because the two words look or sound similar (and, sometimes, even exactly the same).

False friends exist for a number of reasons. For example, in some cases, the two words have similar origins but their meanings have deviated over time. In other cases, the words have completely different origins but, because pronunciations and spellings shift gradually, they have both ended up looking or sounding similar.

As you will see from looking at the table below, it is very easy to make some (even very embarrassing!) mistakes. It is, therefore, essential to take care when learning new vocabulary.

FALSE FRIEND WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE WHAT IT IS
GERMAN
Der Chef chef boss/manager
Das Gymnasium/Gym gym grammar school
Die Fabrik fabric factory
spenden to spend to donate
winken to wink to wave
bekommen to become to receive/get
Die Kaution caution security deposit (for an apartment) or juridicial bail
Das Gift gift poison/toxin
Der Brand brand fire
Die Aktion action retail store with a sale / political demonstration
SPANISH
ropa rope clothes
librería library book shop
chocar choke to strike / collide
codo code elbow
enviar envy to send
grosería grocery grossness
introducir introduce to insert
nudo nude knot
suceso success event
recordar record to remember
ITALIAN
abusare abuse to take advantage of
affrontare affront to face
coda code tail, queue
estate estate summer
fatale fatal inevitable
gioco joke game
ginnasio gym grammar school
guardare guard look at
marrone maroon brown
stampa stamp press/print
DUTCH
bevel bevel order, command
bond bond association, federation
brink brink village square
damp damp vapor
file file traffic jam
fee fee fairy
long long lung
minder minder less, fewer
offer offer sacrifice
pop pop doll
FRENCH
 car  car  because (formal)
 chair  chair  flesh
 excité  excited  aroused
 grappe  grape  bunch
 location  location  rental
 money  money  loose change
 pain  pain  bread
 sale  sale  dirty
 sensible  sensible  sensitive
 slip  slip  underpants / men’s briefs

 

 

Sources:

https://www.heardutchhere.net/FalseFriends.html

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/false-friend

https://www.lingoda.com/en/blog/false-friends

http://mentalfloss.com/article/57195/50-spanish-english-false-friend-words

https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/its-important-to-know-your-false-friends-in-english-and-french/4383604.html

https://www.fluentu.com/blog/german/false-friends-english-german/

https://www.reference.tjtaylor.net/false-friends/

 


Written by Marta Guillén Martínez – Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg). She holds a Degree in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Alicante, Spain and she did her European Voluntary Service on communication and european youth mobility in Milan, Italy. She speaks Spanish, Catalan, English and Italian.

 

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