Ah yes, those irritating and often embarrassing “exceptions” to the rules, the bane of using cognates (words that have the same or similar meaning in Spanish and English with only minor changes to the word), False Cognates and Simi-False Cognates.

From my Caribbean Spanish section you probably remember that a cognate is a word that you know in English that when said in a Spanish way means the same or a similar thing. A good example; with many words that in English end in “tion”, simply remove the “tion”, replace it with “cion” and add a Spanish accent. For example after reading this you might be in the mood for a celebration, when telling your Spanish friends about the fiesta (party) you only have to remove the “tion” from Celebration and add “cion” to come up with celebración. Party time! you just learned over 100 new Spanish words (check them out on my tion Cognates page).

But as I mentioned in the start of this tutorial this extremely useful shortcut has a problem. False Cognates and Simi-False Cognates! So, what are the difference between the two?

  • False Cognates – False Cognates are words that sound like an English word that you is said in a Spanish manner (small change in spelling and pronunciation), but do not have the same meaning. Sometimes the difference in definition can be rather embarrassing
  • Simi-False Cognates – Simi-False Cognates can be a little trickery. Words usually have multiple similar meanings, meanings that change in context as well as in different localities. These are words that when you use them as a cognate technically have the meaning you are looking for, but unfortunately, in Spanish the definition you expect from English isn’t the primary definition, people in general understand the word to mean something different.

Spanish False Cognate Example

After trying out a word (doing the “tion” to “cion” switch) you may find that the listener gets a rather concerned or puzzled look on their face, or worse just busts out laughing. At this point you might be a little bit embarrassed after your friend asks you why your face is getting red you may try to explain “Estoy embarazado” hoping to convey the fact that you are a bit embarrassed or “I’m Embarrassed”. Be prepared for that concerned or puzzled look or a loud burst of laughter!. In reality you just said “I’m Pregnant”. While embarazar may sound like it comes from the same root as embarrassed it is actually the verb for pregnant.

Spanish Simi-False Cognate Example

These words can be a little more tricky. Often the meaning you are looking for is one of the possible meanings of the word, but it is not the meaning most Spanish people will associate with the word. Also you will find sites that list False Cognates and Simi-False Cognates differently.

For Example. I count “Discussion” (Spanish Discusión) as a Simi-False Cognate, Whether it is the correct word or not depends on your intent. In English discussion can mean anything from a peaceful conversation to a heated argument. Usually it is somewhere in the middle, more of a conversation on a particular topic of importance. This is one of the meanings in Spanish however in Spanish it usually goes stronger to the idea convened in English by “heated Discussion”, or dispute or argument. So if your friend and you were having a discussion on a matter in English, unless you were arguing about it, in Spanish you were likely having a “conversación” or conversation.