False Friends: Do Not Trust These Words!

False Friends: Do Not Trust These Words!

by Lingoda Team
January 26, 2017

Within the study of language, ‘false friends’ are words in two languages which look similar, or sound similar when spoken out loud, but which have significantly different definitions from one another. They can be especially problematic for students learning a new language, because these people are likely to infer the meaning of the word based on the similar word in their native language, resulting in incorrect knowledge or usage.

False friends have developed in many languages over the years, for various reasons. For example, in some cases, the two false friends have similar origins, perhaps having both been borrowed from a third language, but their meanings have deviated over time. In other cases, however, the words could have completely different origins, but because pronunciations and spellings shift gradually, they have both ended up looking or sounding similar.

To help students understand false friends properly, we have compiled a table of some examples that appear between English and German, English and French, and English and Spanish. In each case, you will find the English word, its real translation, the false friend word, and the real meaning of that false friend.

English – German False Friends

 English Word  German Translation  False Friend  Real Meaning
 Ambulance  Krankenwagen  Ambulanz  Emergency room / A&E  department
 Brand  Marke  Brand  Fire
 College  Hochschule  Kollege  Colleague
 Direction  Richtung  Direktion  Management / Administration
 Gift / Present  Geschenk  Gift  Poison
 Gymnasium  Fitnessstudio /  Turnhalle  Gymnasium  Grammar school / High school
 Hut  Hütte  Hut  Hat
 Lemon  Zitrone  Limone  Lime
 Massive  Riesig / Gewaltig  Massiv  Solid
 Objective  Ziel  Objektiv  Lens
 Pickle  Essiggurke  Pickel  Spot / Zit
 Rat  Ratte   Rat  Advice / Council
 Sensible  Vernünftig  Sensibel  Sensitive
 Stadium  Stadion  Stadium  Stage
 Where  Wo  Wer  Who



English – French False Friends


 English Word  French Translation  False Friend  Real Meaning
 Actually  Réellement  Actuellement  Current
 Car  Voiture  Car  Because (formal)
 Chair  Chaise  Chair  Flesh
 Excited  Enthusiaste  Excité  Aroused
 Grape  Grain de raisin  Grappe  Bunch
 Journey  Voyage  Journée  Day
 Library  Bibliothèque  Librairie  Book shop
 Location  Emplacement  Location  Rental
 Money  Argent  Money  Loose change
 Pain  Douleur  Pain  Bread
 Preservative  Conservateur  Préservatif  Condom
 Sale  Vente  Sale  Dirty
 Sensible  Raisonnable  Sensible  Sensitive
 Slip  Glisser  Slip  Underpants / Men’s briefs
 Travel  Voyager  Travail  Job / Work

English – Spanish False Friends

 English Word  Spanish Translation  False Friend  Real Meaning
 Actual  Real / Efectivo  Actual  Present-day / Current
 Bizarre  Extraño  Bizarro  Brave / Gallant
 Compromise  Componenda  Compromiso  Commitment / Obligation
 Disgrace  Vergüenza  Desgracia  Mistake / Mishap
 Envy  Envidiar  Enviar  Send
 Introduce  Presentar  Introducir  Insert
 Large  Grande  Largo  Long
 Lecture  Conferencia  Lectura  Reading
 Nude  Desnudo  Nudo  Knot
 Parent  Padre  Pariente  Relative
 Preoccupied  Distraído  Preocupado  Concerned / Worried
 Record  Grabar  Recordar  Recall / Remember
 Success  Éxito  Suceso  Event / Incident
 Ultimately  Al final  Últimamente  Recently
 Vase  Florero  Vaso  Glass (drinking)

Learn Languages With Lingoda

As you can tell from looking at the tables above, it is very easy to make mistakes with false friends, especially when the definitions are vaguely similar. Yet, as you will also notice, there is potential to make some very embarrassing mistakes. It is, therefore, essential to take care when learning your vocabulary.

Do not be fooled by false friends. Trust in Lingoda to teach you vocabulary the right way. With us, you will learn from qualified, native speakers. Best of all, our courses are completely flexible, allowing you to study at a pace that suits you, from the comfort of your own home, or even while on your travels.