False Friends in English and Spanish

While it is believed that there are widespread differences between Spanish, which is derived from Latin and is a Romance language, and English, which is known for its Germanic roots, the reality is not so clear cut. Indeed, English did not escape the influence of Latin, which also set the basis for French and Italian and continues to be used in scientific and political contexts.

It is for this reason that even today we find words that, despite their similarities in spelling, differ greatly in meaning. Some examples of this phenomenon in English vs. Spanish are: actual vs. actual, exit vs. éxito, fabric vs. fábrica, library vs. librería, among many others. While at first glance these word pairs look similar, they have very different meanings. Actual in Spanish means “current” in English, while the English “actual” would be translated as real in Spanish; éxito means “success,” not “exit,” which Is salida; fábrica means “factory,” whereas “fabric” is tela. Lastly, librería is not a library, but rather a bookshop; biblioteca is the word for library.

Although most of these above examples are common knowledge in the process of translation, one should not underestimate the occurrence of complex terms that may go unnoticed in the eyes of a layman or an amateur translator.

These misleading terms are called false friends, referring to the confusion between words with similar spellings but semantic differences.

It is therefore critical that research tools be applied during the translation process, among them being our old and faithful friend, a dictionary. In this way, we can resolve any uncertainties, ensure quality, and avoid mistakes that professional translators do not commit.

If you want to know more about false friends, we invite you to read some of our related posts: What Are False Friends? Watch Out for ‘False Friends’ ¿Falsos amigos o enemigos íntimos?