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 Cognate False Cognate Meaning Correct Spanish Translation*
Embarrassed Embarazada (adj.) Pregnant, with-child Avergonzado/a (Embarrassed)
Actually Actualmente (adv.) Recently De verdad (for real); En realidad (contrarily)
Soap Sopa (nf.) Soup El Jabón (soap)
Rope Ropa (nf.) Clothes, clothing La Cuerda (rope)
Bizarre Bizarro (adj.) Brave, valiente Estrafalario/a (bizarre)
To Envy Enviar (v tr.) To send Envidiar (to envy)
Exit Éxito (nm.) Success La Salida (exit, the way out)
To Presume Presumir (v i.) To brag, boast Asumir (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?

Colombia Immersion

At Colombia Immersion we believe in a more compassionate world where people can communicate, connect and see the world through the eyes of their neighbor. Our Spanish school is a community to learn and live in local neighborhoods, for students that want to learn Spanish while connecting deeply with the Colombian people and culture. Welcome to Colombia Immersion, your community for cultural immersion.

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