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Top Spanish False Cognates to Avoid

Top Spanish False Cognates to Avoid

English – Spanish False Cognates

You may notice a few Spanish words that sound just like their english counterparts – garaje is garage – café is coffee (although they say ‘tinto’ in Colombia). However, this is not always the case – some words may sound similar but have an entirely different meaning. These words, known as false cognates can lead to some hilarious misunderstandings. Be careful!

The Naked Rock Climber Climbs Alone

When I first arrived in Colombia, I was talking with a friend I had recently met about how I enjoy bouldering – a form of rock climbing that does not require ropes. In translating that sentence in my head, I said “A mi me gusta la escalada que se llama ‘búlder,’ sin ropa.” My friend looked at me horrified – he started laughing hysterically and responded “Que te vayas solo.”

It was then I realized I had accidentally told him that I enjoy climbing without clothes, sin ropa, when I should have said without rope, sin cuerda. That’s why he had told me to go alone!

I was so embarrassed, but hey – I will never make that mistake again. Practice makes perfect, right?

Escalada Antioqueña
A famous climbing spot in Guatapé just two hours from Medellín (with ropes / con cuerdas).

Top False Cognates to Avoid

We’re compiling an ever-growing list of  false cognates so that you can avoid cringe-worthy situations when you’re out and about in Medellin flexing your Spanish skills. Use our handy chart below to scope out some of the most common false cognates:


English Word…Spanish False CognateFalse Cognate MeaningCorrect Spanish Translation*
Embarrassed Embarazada (adj.) Pregnant, with-childAvergonzado/a (Embarrassed)
Actually Actualmente (adv.) RecentlyDe verdad (for real); En realidad (contrarily)
SoapSopa(nf.) SoupEl Jabón (soap)
RopeRopa(nf.) Clothes, clothingLa Cuerda (rope)
Bizarre Bizarro(adj.) Brave, valiente Estrafalario/a (bizarre)
To EnvyEnviar(v tr.) To sendEnvidiar (to envy)
ExitÉxito(nm.) Success La Salida (exit, the way out)
To PresumePresumir(v i.) To brag, boastAsumir (to presume, assume)

*This is the word you should use for the english word you originally had in mind

Spanish False Cognate – The word in Spanish that sounds like the English word, but means something else entirely

False Cognate Meaning – The definition of the Spanish false cognate

Correct Spanish Translation – The Spanish word you were originally looking for, the one that corresponds to the english word

False cognate misadventures are usually hilarious, and always make for a good lesson or story! Have you ever mistakenly used a false cognate?

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