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Vocabulary: False Friends & Confusing Words

False Friends & Confusing Words

Vocabulary: False Friends & Confusing Words

We’ve all heard the terms false friends and confusing words, but what do those terms actually mean?

Well, a false friend – or false cognate – is a word that looks or sounds like a word in your language, but in fact is significantly different. For example, ‘embarrassed’ in English sounds like the Spanish word ‘embarazada’. However, ’embarazada’ doesn’t mean self-conscious or ashamed – it means pregnant (something quite different!). In Polish the word ‘kat’ may look and sound like our furry feline pet, but it actually means executioner! And that reminds me – the word ‘actually’ means ‘in fact’ or ‘as a matter of fact’, and not ‘currently’. We’re sure you can think of other examples from your own language to English.

There are also many types of what we’re calling confusing words. For example, there can be confusion within word families. In British English, ‘practise’ is the verb and ‘practice’ the noun (in American English they’re both ‘practice’).

Another area which sometimes causes confusion are loanwords: words that are taken from one language and incorporated into another without direct translation. In Spanish, you often hear the phrase ‘Eres un crack’, meaning ‘You’re great at this’. Literally translated, it means ‘You’re a crack’ … actually, this is a crack!

a crack in the wall

False friends and confusing words: practice makes perfect!

Obviously, we can’t give you examples from all the languages under the sun, so we think the best way to practise is to jump straight in with this mini-test!

Next steps

If you can think of any typical false friends and confusing words from your language, please share them in the comments box below. We’d love to hear your ideas!

And make sure you try our other vocabulary exercises and tests. For example, you can practise another tricky area – when to use make or do.

And this link will take you to all our posts on vocabulary.

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