This week we’re going to revisit my personal favorite false friends from French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. These false friends have stuck with me because the potential misunderstandings they could create are either especially serious or particularly amusing. They also serve as good reminders of why you should never assume that a word in another language carries the same meaning as similarly-spelled English word.
Remember: If you are learning a new Language and need more help with false friends, you can contact the Language Island in Atlanta. Our passionate, caring teachers can create a lesson plan that is tailored to your individual needs. With that out of the way, here are my top 10 false friends grouped by language.
Excité and Excited
While the English word excited means “very enthusiastic and eager,” the French excité specifically means “aroused.” Unless you’re expressing excitement for an amorous encounter, enthusiaste is a better choice to convey your enthusiasm for a situation.
Délit and Delight
Take care not to confuse these false friends. The English delight means “(to give) great pleasure” and is always positive. The French délit, however, refers to a crime, offense, abuse, felony, misdemeanor, violation, or another form of wrongdoing.
Baldo translates to “bold” or “courageous,” not “bald.” If you’re referring to a lack of hair, use calvo.
Dente means “tooth,” not dent. A deformation in the surface of an object would be ammaccatura.
Rumore means “noise” or “sound.” A rumor would be voce diffusa.
Êxito and Exit: Êxito means “success.” If you need to find the way out of a building, you’ll want to look for the saída.
Novela and Novel
A novela is a soap opera. It is not a work of narrative fiction nor is it something that is unique or new. The former is called a romance. A good choice for the latter is the adjective novo,meaning “new” or “young.”
Particular and Particular
These identically-spelled words have very different meanings. The Portuguese particular refers to a matter that is “personal” or “private” in nature. If you want to say that something or someone is exceptional, use the adjective especial. If you’re referring to something specific, use the adjective específico.
While embarazada resembles the English “embarrassed,” this Spanish word actually means “pregnant.” Use desconcertado if you want to express embarrassment without further embarrassing yourself.
Excitado and Excited
Just like the French excité, the Spanish excitado implies arousal. Emocionado and agitado are safe, baggage-free terms for excitement in the general sense.