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False Friend


Definition: Words that are similar in spelling and/or pronunciation in two languages but have different meanings. A common mistake that beginning students of foreign languages make is to assume that a word that looks similar to one they know will have the same meaning.

Sometimes the similarity in words of two languages comes about because of coincidence. For example, there is no connection between the English "tuna" and the Spanish tuna (which refers to a type of cactus). At other times, the meaning has changed in one or both languages from what it originally meant. An example is the Latin word futilis, which originally meant something (such as a boat) that leaked. In English the word eventually became "futile," meaning "ineffective," while in Spanish the word became fútil, meaning "insignificant."

Also Known As: falso amigo in Spanish. In English, although it is not technically precise, sometimes the term "false cognate" is used synonymously.
The Spanish once means "eleven," not "once." Pretender usually means "to try," not "to pretend." Delito usually means "crime," not "delight."
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