Today we’re going to explore the world of Spanish-English partial cognates. Back in our first lesson, we talked about the difference between cognates and false friends. Cognates are words that share a common etymological origin across languages. They are spelled similarly or identically and have identical or nearly-identical meanings. False friends are words in different languages that look similar but carry different connotations or entirely different meanings. Partial cognates fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Some of them share etymological origins, but their modern meanings have long since diverged. Other partial cognates possess the same literal meaning but subtle differences connotation and/or usage.
Apología and Apology: Apología has a clear English cognate but not the one you’re probably thinking of. The Spanish word means “a defense” of something, such as a defense of faith. Thus apologia is associated with the concept of (religious) apologetics. If you feel you owe someone an apology, you should offer him or her una disculpa.
Colegio and College: The Spanish masculine noun colegio refers to school in general, not just college. A more precise choice for an institute of higher education is the feminine universidad.
Conducir and Conduct: While conducir can mean “to conduct,” it more commonly means “to drive” or “to transport.” When talking about trains, for instance, conductor refers specifically to the driver, not the ticket-taker role we commonly-associate with the English word.
Debate and Debate: Debate does not necessarily imply a disagreement. It can simply mean a discussion, with or without opposing viewpoints. Conversely, discusión usually suggests a much more heated argument than its English partial cognate does.
Excitado and Excited: Excitado is more closely associated with “arousal” than excitement in general. Use words such as emocionado and agitado if you want to express excitement without implying anything sexual.
Familiar and Familiar: Familiar is strongly associated with the people you’re most likely to be closest to: your family. Conocido (known) or común (common) are better choices for expressing that you are familiar with someone or something of a non-familial nature.
Honesto and Honest: Like excitado, honesto literally means the same thing as its English partial cognate, but it also frequently carries sexual overtones. Honesto and deshonesto (the negative form) are often used in ways equivalent to “chaste” and “lewd” in English. Honrado and sincero are safer choices for saying that someone is honest.
Introducir and Introduce: While the verb introducir does mean “to introduce,” it means so in the sense that are putting something (such as a law or policy) into effect. You’ll want to use presentar when introducing people.
Misería and Misery: This partial cognate carries a connotation of extreme poverty that its English counterpart does not. Miseria refers to being in a miserable situation, not simply feeling miserable. Pena and tristeza are closer in meaning to the way misery is usually used in modern English.
Notorio and Notorious: Notorio does not carry the negative connotations of “notorious.” It simply means that someone or something is well-known. A notorio individual is a noteworthy individual.
Petición and Petition: A petición can be any kind of request. It only means a formal legal request or a document with a list of signatures when used in those specific contexts.
Relativo and Relative: The adjective relativo does indeed mean “related to.” However, it can’t be used as a noun to refer to a family member. The noun you use when speaking about your relatives is pariente.
Rentar and Rent: While rentar can mean to rent, it more commonly means “to yield a profit.” Along the same lines, rentable usually means “profitable.” This may be true for whoever is doing the renting, but it isn’t exactly helpful if you’re looking to rent an apartment.
Último and Ultimate: These partial cognates share a common meaning across languages, just not the one most-commonly used in modern English. Último can literally mean “the best” but usually means “last” or “most recent.” This is effectively the opposite of how “ultimate” is used in modern English. Ultimate does literally mean “final” but more commonly refers to the best or most-definitive example of something.