My name is Francisco Hidalgo, and I am the author of this False Friends English-Spanish Dictionary.
English is the least Germanic of the Germanic languages: approximately half of English vocabulary is Latin in origin. Logically, when one of these English words of Latin origin comes up, we tend to think that it means the same thing as its Spanish version, and generally we’re right. Nevertheless, there are some that are misleading and whose formal semblance hides a different meaning. These are what are known as false friends, and they are what this dictionary is about.
Not all false friends are equally false: some are always false, such as deception, which means engaño and not decepción, while others are only sometimes, such as platform, which, as well as plataforma can also mean andén.
They are distinguished as follows: in cursive the false equivalent, in bold the correct term and in cursive and bold the term that may be, but isn’t always, correct.
Not all false friends cause confusion. The most frequent false friends are two words with a common etymology, be it Latin, French, Greek, Germanic or other, whose respective meanings have diverged over time; however, there are also many terms with different origins whose semblance is coincidental and with which there can be no possible confusion, such as agape, ailment, arras, can, castor, condo, mate, mole, pan, pie, rape, target. I have excluded these latter terms, which can be fun in word games, but a search function and a list of them would not contribute to the practical objective of this dictionary which is explained later on.
For the same reason, I have also excluded words that, although they are similar or identical, belong to different grammar categories in each language. In the sentence ‘he defected to the enemy’, it is clear, even to those who do not know that to defect means desertar, that it cannot mean defecto, since the former is a verb and the latter a noun. Other examples include the verbs to exact, to humor, to impair and to malign, whose Spanish false friends would be nouns and adjectives, and are therefore not included in this dictionary. However, I have accepted noun-adjective false friend pairs such as aerial, brief and cabal, because of the frequency and ease of slips between both categories.
I would also like to make a brief reference to what I would call lost battles, which are those Spanish words whose English false friend is imposing itself with overwhelming force. According to the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española, doméstico relates to the house or home and not, like domestic, to national or internal, as opposed to international. Nevertheless, this latter meaning has become so widespread that, in my view, it is only a matter of time before it becomes officially accepted. The same applies to severo, which, as well as its traditional meaning of rigorous in terms of observing the law or imposing punishment, is increasingly being used as a synonym of ‘grave’ because of the English influence. Another example is santuario, which, in addition to its religious meaning, is now also being understood to mean ‘asilo’, ‘refugio’ and ‘reserva natural’, taken from the word sanctuary. One last example before it gets boring is secuela, which is taken to mean ‘continuación’ or ‘segunda parte’ in films or television series because of the English term sequel. It still irritates me when I hear or read ‘vuelos domésticos’ (between the dining room and the kitchen?), ‘lesiones severas’, ‘un santuario para aves rapaces’ or ‘la secuela de Terminator’, but the fact is that widespread use tends to result, over time, in what used to be improper use becoming the new norm.
This is not an English or Spanish usage dictionary. It has a far more modest and limited objective: simply to raise awareness, elicit questions and dissuade users from automatically assuming that two similar words in different languages necessarily have the same meaning. I have tried to set it out clearly and concisely, with no abbreviations, examples or lengthy explanations so that each entry can be seen at a glance.
Click here and use it for free