False friend

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False friend is a term used by learners (and their teachers) of foreign languages, mostly applied to cognate (related) languages. It is used to label terms in the language being learnt which look like a term in the learner's mother tongue (sometimes a third language), but do not mean the same.

Some examples are:

In Italian

  • the adjective geniale does not mean the same as the English ‘genial’: it means ‘clever, ingenious, talented’. The English 'genial' could be translated into Italian as cordiale, socievole, amabile, or benigno.
  • the noun delusione does not mean the same as the English ‘delusion’: it means ‘disappointment’. The English 'delusion' could be translated into Italian as illusione or inganno.
  • the noun pavimento does not mean the same as the English ‘pavement’: it means ‘floor’. The Italian for 'pavement' is marciapiede.

In French

  • the adjective blessé does not mean ‘blessed’: it means ‘wounded’. The English ‘blessed’ might be translated into French as béni, saint, or bien-heureux.
  • the noun journée does not mean ‘journey’: it means ‘day’. The French for ‘journey’ is voyage.
  • the verb attendre does not mean ‘to attend’: it means ‘to wait for’. The French for ‘to attend’ is assister à.

In German

  • the verb bekommen does not mean ‘to become’: it means ‘to get, receive, obtain’. The German for ‘to become’ is werden.
  • the word hell does not mean the same as the English ‘hell’ (i.e., a place of eternal damnation): it means ‘clear, bright, shining’. The German word for the English ‘hell’ is Hölle.
  • the verbal phrase sich blamieren does not mean ‘to blame oneself’ but ‘to disgrace oneself’ or ‘to make a fool of oneself’. ‘To blame oneself’ might be translated into German as sich tadeln.

In Spanish

  • the (feminine) adjective embarazada means 'pregnant', and may also be used as a noun to mean 'pregnant woman'. It does not mean 'embarrassed', for which the Spanish could be azorado or turbado.
  • the verb pretender does not mean ‘to pretend’: it means ‘to try’ or ‘to endeavour’ (to do something). The Spanish for 'to pretend’ is fingir.
  • the noun ropa does not mean ‘rope’: it means ‘clothes’. The Spanish for ‘rope’ is cuerda.