Themes > Management > False friends
False friends

A false friend is a word in English which looks similar to a word in your own language. However, it has a different meaning.


Embarrassed means to feel uncomfortable or shy. It looks like the Spanish word for being pregnant: embarazada.

An editor is the person responsible for checking and approving the content of a book or newspaper. In Portuguese, Italian and French it looks like the word for publisher (the company or person who finances and / or produces the book or newspaper).

Actually means really or in fact. However, in many European languages it means now.

Note that sometimes the meanings are very different and sometimes quite similar. You will also notice that there are different false friends for different languages.

What about you?

A. Write three false friends in the table below:


Meaning in

Meaning in
my language

Particular problems with false friends

1. Sometimes the word has the same meaning in some, but not all, situations.


Conveniente in Italian has several meanings. It can have the same meaning as convenient in English (suitable for your needs and not difficult) but in Italian the word also means profitable and cheap. It does not have these meanings in English.
2. The formation of noun, adjective, verb or adverb forms of the word can be different.


Electrician NOT elettricist (ellectricista in Italian).
Vacation NOT vacance (vacance in French).
3. Often the word has a different pronunciation and word stress.


'motor in English. In German: Mo'tor

What can you do?

If you see a word in English that looks familiar to you, it may be a false friend. Look up the word in a dictionary and check the meaning. Also, look at the different ways the word is used and the way it is pronounced.

Keep a list of false friends. Include notes on meaning(s) and pronunciation. Write some example sentences which show the ways in which each false friend is used.

Test it out!

B. Look at the false friends you wrote in Exercise A above. Write example sentences with each of these words.




True friends

There is some good news! Some English words may well be true friends which are words which do have the same meanings as words which look similar. Necessary, for instance, tends to have the same meaning as similar words in many other European languages.


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