I’m going to take you on a journey and test you on the 17 most dangerous, most seductive, most difficult to eradicate false cognates that exist (from Portuguese to English). If you pass the test, you should congratulate yourself, because these mistakes are made by a lot of extremely fluent speakers.
If you read the whole article, I guarantee that you’re going to learn. But you must keep reading. Trust me on this.
Nothing can illustrate the embarrassment of confusing false cognates like a good “Gringo in Carnival” story.
My Exquisite False Cognate Lesson in Portunhol
I was feeling more and more confident speaking what I thought to be Portuguese, so in the naivety of my lack of experience as a Portunhol speaker, I openly proclaimed “Portuguese is practically the same as Spanish.” I’ll admit it, I got cocky. I had not yet learned of the dangers of the false cognate trap, and at that time, I was ignorant to the horrible events that would follow.
One day I was talking with a lovely girl, and everything was going really well. I thought she was beautiful in an elegant way, and I searched for the words to express myself. Feeling confident, relaxed and courageous, I looked her in the eyes and told her in my best Portunhol, “you´re so very lovely,” only to be rejected in the most horrible of ways. She gave me a disgusted look, her body language changed, she turned and looked for her friends, and then she was gone.
It really was like a kick in the stomach. I was terribly confused, my confidence was destroyed, and I didn’t know how to deal with the situation. What I didn’t know at the moment was that I had been tricked by a false cognate. A friend explained to me a few days later that although the word “exquisite,” which is an elegant way to say beautiful in Spanish and English, really means “weird” in Portuguese.
I had learned another painful lesson in the school of false cognates, but as this article attempts to show you, it doesn’t always have to be so difficult to learn.
Just When You Thought You Knew All the Words
As you can see, I empathize. I know you’ve been on a long journey to get where you are. You’ve worked hard, you’ve put in the blood, sweat and tears to decipher this crazy, complicated system of symbols and sounds we call a language. You maybe even achieved a level where you feel relaxed, confident, and possibly a bit cocky at times.
And then, with absolutely no warning, BAM! It hits you like a freight train.
Ouch! Don’t ever get cocky now or ever because that’s when you fall in the false cognate trap. It´s happened to me, and I am sure it has happened to you. Let´s fix this NOW. This can happen as you are speaking (more likely), but also in your listening and reading comprehension.
PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE WORDS BECAUSE THEY WILL SEDUCE YOU
How does it feel when you discover that you´re wrong? We’ve all been there. It’s like a kick in the stomach. You’re in shock. You might even argue with the person who told you were wrong (even if they are a native speaker). But there comes a moment when you have to accept the cold hard truth: you were deceived by a false cognate. But keep reading because I promise you that today you are going to learn.
Keep reading. Today you will learn.
FALSE COGNATES ARE A BITCH! You think, “How could this have happened?” After all, you had been using the wrong word for years and nobody ever told you.
Now the doubt appears in your mind. How could this have possibly happened? After years of dedication, and maybe even a certificate or two that prove your proficiency, you thought you’d eventuallyspeak perfectly, but now you just look like an uneducated fool. You’ve assumed that you’re fluent, you’ve even discussed it with your parents, and now you start to think that maybe you were always just pretendingto speak the language, that you actually don’t know anything. Be brave and pay attention because maybe you aren’t seeing the true meaning of the words.
keep reading. Today you will learn.
You’ve probably been wrong thousands of times, maybe even millions, yet you never even realize it as you were listening to the lyrics to your favorite music, which you’ll now have to go back and read letter by letter to make sure you understood. And what about your favorite novel that you assumedyou understood so well? How could you have trusted that horrible propagandacampaign from that school you studied at, so sure that you had made a sensibledecision, only to realize that you were tricked by an expert?
Now Let’s Make False Cognates Your Bitch
Did you notice any problems with the last two paragraphs? Did anything seem a little strange? If you’re Brazilian, you have probably have just been seduced by “The 16 Most Dangerous False Cognate Errors Made Made Brazilian.”
Try reading it again BELOW (in the paragraph below) with the false cognates in bold. Read numbered list of explanations that follows.
Laugh, smile, accept it, learn and move on. It´s been fun!
FALSE COGNATES ARE A BITCH1! Now the doubt2 appears in your mind. How could this have possibly happened? After years of dedication, and maybe even a certificate or two that prove your fluency, you thought you’d eventually3speak perfectly, but now you just look like an uneducated4 fool. You’ve assumed5 that you’re fluent, you’ve even discussed6 it with your parents7, and now you start to think that maybe you were always just pretending8 to speak the language, that you actually9 don’t know anything. Be brave10 and pay attention because maybe you aren’t seeing the true meaning of the words.
You’ve probably been wrong thousands of times, maybe even millions, yet you never even realize11 it as you were listening to the lyrics to your favorite music12, which you’ll now have to go back and read letter by letter13 to make sure you understood. And what about your favorite novel14 that you assumed5 you understood so well? How could you have trusted that horrible propaganda15 campaign from that school you studied at, so sure that you had made a sensible16 decision, only to realize10 that you were tricked by an expert17?
*“bitch” and “doubt” are not technically false cognates, but most Brazilians don’t truly understand what they mean”
- *BITCH rarely means “PROSTITUTE.” You can learn more about the complicated uses of this word here, but this article uses “bitch” as (1) A COMPLICATED PROBLEM that’s difficult to solve, and (2) YOUR SERVANT (as used as the title to this paragraph)
- *DOUBT does not mean “QUESTION” as Brazilians typically use it. When you say “I have a doubt” in English (which nobody actually says), you are basically saying, “I am in doubt/ estou na dúvida” which communicates confusion, but doesn’t ask for clarification. “Tenho uma dúvida” should be “I have a question.”
- EVENTUALLY does not mean “OCCASSIONALLY” or “BY CHANCE” as the Portuguese False Cognate Suggests. It really means “FINALMENTE” or “POR FIM.”
- UNEDUCATED does not mean “MALEDUCADO.” It really means “SEM INSTRUÇÃO” or “SEM CULTURA.”
- ASSUME does not usually mean “ASSUMIR.” It means “SUPOR” In English. There is a popular English saying that says “When you ASSUME, you make an ASS out of U and ME” (ASS + U + ME = ASSUME).
- DISCUSS in English is not the same as “DISCUTIR.” “DISCUTIR” usually has a heavy, or negative connotation, where as “discuss” in English is just neutral, which is to “CONVERSAR” about something.
- PARENTS does not mean “PARENTES.” It really means “PAIS” or “Mom & Dad.” “PARENTES” in Portuguese means “RELATIVES” or “(extended) FAMILY” in English.
- PRETEND does not mean “PRETENDER” as it does in Portuguese. “Pretend” in English means “fingir,” whereas “pretender” means “WANT/ INTEND.”
- ACTUALLY does not mean “ATUALMENTE.” “Actually” in English means “NA VERDADE,” while “Atualmente” in Portuguese means “Currently” in English.
- BRAVE does not mean “BRAVO” as it does in Portuguese. Brave means “Corajoso.” While technically “bravo” means “corjoso” too, the common use of it “Bravo” in the sense of “mad” or “angry.”
- REALIZE does not mean “REALIZAR” here. Although there are limited contexts, such as “realize your dream,” Realize in English almost always means “PERCEBER” in Portuguese.”
- MUSIC in English does not mean “MUSICA/ CANÇÃO” in the above example. You can say, “I like Brazilian Music” or “Music in English is good” but the 3 or 4 minute recording is called a SONG. For example: “Although generally don’t like Bossa Nova MUSIC, but I really do like the SONG ‘Girl From Ipanema.’”
- LETTER does not mean “LETRA” in the above example in the same way you think. “LETRA” (the words to a song) really means “LYRICS,” while “LETTERS” of the alphabet really do mean “LETRA.” Other common mistakes people make are for “HANDWRITING,” which means “letra” (The style your hand writes on the paper). So, while the above example would translate “Letra por letra,” you may have thought we were saying “lyrics” (the words to the song”).
- NOVEL does not mean “NOVELA” in English. The Portuguese word, “Novela” means “Soap Opera” in English, while “Novel” in English means “Romance” in Portuguese.
- PROPAGANDA English is not the same as “PROPAGANDA” in Portuguese. They are similar, but the sense and the use of the word is very different. The Portuguese word “propaganda” really means “MANIPULATIVE ADVERTISING” (almost lies), while “ADVERTISING/ ADVERTISEMENT” is the correct translation of the Portuguese word, “Propaganda.”
- SENSIBLE does not mean “SENSÍVEL” from Portuguese. “Sensível” really translates to “sensitive” in English, while the English word “sensible” means “SENSATO” in Portuguse.
- EXPERT does not mean “ESPERTO” from Portuguese. “Esperto” is closer to something like “Clever” or even “smart” person. “Expert” English means something like “PERITO” or “ESPECIALISTA” in Portuguese.
How many did you understand correctly when reading the text the first time? Check your score here.
- 16: Congratulations, you are a false cognate MASTER! We can all learn from you.
- 13-15: PRETTY GOOD. Keep working hard to get it perfect.
- 9-12: NOT BAD. You’re not too far from learning these correctly.
- 4-8: YOU’RE DOING OKAY, but we all know you can do better.
- 0-3: Get off your butt and LEARN THESE! A little hard work goes a long ways.
We’d love to hear about your experience and language learning wisdom with False Cognates. Let me know if and how we can improve these explantions. If you liked this article, we would really appreciate you clicking “like,” as it helps the RLE project a lot. If you’re not already in the Real Life International English Community on Facebook, check it out and think about joining (it’s free).
Subscribe to our mailing list to receive our free monthly Real Life English newsletter, with exclusive language learning tips, updates as to events, and access to our vast database of articles. And finally, we would really appreciate it if you spread the word about the project and tell your friends about it. Thanks a lot!