We say that a word is a ‘false friend’ or a ‘false cognate’ when it has the same or very similar form in two languages, but a different meaning in each. The similarity may cause students to use the word wrongly, giving rise sometimes to awkward misunderstandings: fastidious, for example, does not mean ‘fastidioso’ (annoying, bothersome), but ‘meticuloso’.
Sometimes an English term is equivalent to a Spanish one, but only in one of its meanings: to assist can mean ‘asistir’, but only in the sense of ‘socorrer, ayudar’; for ‘asistir a un acto’ you must use to attend; café means ‘café’ only in the sense of the place where you can have coffee (the beverage). These terms can be described as partially false friends.
EXERCISE: Answer the following questions:
a.-When someone refers to the actual events, is he referring to events happening now?
b.- If a woman says she’s embarrassed, does it mean she’s expecting a baby?
c.- If your teacher asks you to resume your work, does he want you to summarize it?
d.- If I say that my mother was dismayed at the news, do I mean that she passed out?
e.- If your girlfriend forgot to buy you a birthday present, would you regard it as a deception?
f.- Is a comedian supposed to be gracious?
a.- no, he’s referring to the events themselves; b.- no, she means she’s confused or disconcerted; c.- no, he wants me to continue with my work; d.- no, you mean that she was upset; e.- no, as a disappointment; f.- no, funny