Spanish-English False Cognates

Translating from Spanish to English can be tricky. Take care with these tricky terms.

More Languages
This article is available in: English español

Today’s editing tip focuses on the translation process, which is never easy. Beyond mastering varying grammar rules, new pronunciations, and potentially entirely new alphabets or writing systems, there are other tricky aspects to learning a new language. One particularly pesky trap when translating from one language to another is a set of words known as false friends or false cognates. These terms look similar but have different meanings. Be sure to watch out for these as you translate text or speak in a foreign language; it can be easy to think that a similar-sounding word you’ve heard before is the equivalent of a word you know in your first language. And of course, there are enough similar-sounding words in English already!

Here is a list of some common false pairs in Spanish and English, focusing on words encountered in scholarly writing:

  • Actualmente = currently (not actually)
  • Aprobar un examen = to pass an exam (not to approve an exam)
  • Argumento = rationale (not argument)
  • Contestar = to answer (not to contest)
  • En absoluto = not at all (not absolutely)
  • Éxito = success (not exit)
  • Familiar = relative or familial (not familiar, meaning well known)
  • Fútil = trivial (not futile)
  • Idioma = language (not idiom)
  • Lectura = reading (not lecture)
  • Librería = bookstore (not library)
  • Molestar = to bother (not to molest)
  • Nombre = name (not number)
  • Realizar = to complete (not to realize)
  • Recordar = to remember (not to record)
  • Un científico = a scientist (not a scientific)

Please email us with any questions or comments. This list was created in conjunction with AJE’s Academic Translation Advisors.

Share with your colleagues

Share your work as a preprint and help move science forward

We invite you to share your research with the community by posting it online as a preprint. Our sister company, Research Square, is a trusted preprint platform that lets you get credit for your unpublished research early, increase your citations, and get feedback from the community.

Related Articles

Tricky Translations

Plural Usage As a Key Difference between Chinese and English

Some common problems with plural use for Chinese speakers writing in English - and how to avoid these mistakes. Read More »

Portuguese-English False Cognates

Tricky Translations

Portuguese-English False Cognates

Certain terms can cause confusion when translating from Portuguese to English. Here's a list. Read More »

Stay up to date

Sign up for early access to AJE Scholar articles, discounts on AJE services, and more