Worldly Translations

Fake English cognates: Why are they so confusing?

Fake English cognates: Why are they so confusing?

As professional translators and language aficionados, we are always trying to find those contact points between different languages that make the exchange between native speakers of different languages possible.

On our blog’s last article we analyzed those words that facilitate language learning and comprehension: the cognates. As seen previously, cognates are those words that share an etymological origin – shared by many languages – but that differ in its’ phonetics and usually in its’ semantics.

However, as we have observed throughout our articles, not everything is as simple as it seems in the language world. The main stars of this article are those words that create confusion for many language  speakers: the fake cognates

What are fake cognates?

A fake cognate is a word that, given the similarities of appearance, seem to keep a kinship or to be related (like cognates) to another word in a different language, but that actually do not share the same etymological origin; they are not real cognates. In spite of their apparently obvious similarities – like the English word “exit” and the Spanish word “éxito” (success) – Fake cognates actually come from different roots that will make their uses and meaning substantially different.

Therefore, studying languages and incorporating their different vocabularies, these words present a particular challenge for those who are at the early stages of learning. While cognates are a way of organically approaching a new language, fake cognates usually give real headaches to those who are not yet familiar with their different meanings.

Hereunder, we share 10 English-Spanish cognates that usually confuse Spanish speakers when learning English. These are specially interesting cases for the aficionados of other languages’ particularities

·         Exit / Éxito

Even though Spanish speakers are used to seeing the word “exit” marking the exit at shows and public spaces, its similarity with the word “éxito” (success) can create some confusion during a conversation between Spanish and English speakers.

·         Library / Librería

This is one of the most common mistakes created by fake cognates. While “library” is the equivalent of “biblioteca”, the word “librería” actually translates to “book store”.

·         Cartoon / Cartón

In spite of their similar appearance, these two words don’t have anything in common. “Cartoon” is the equivalent of “dibujo animado”, while the material known as “cartón” in English is called “cardboard”.

·         Assist / Asistir

This is a complex case of fake cognates, since it represents its own objections. In English, the word “assist” means “to help someone” or “to contribute”, while in Spanish the verb “asistir” is related to “participate” or “attend”. However, in some Spanish speaking countries, the word “asistir” is also given the same meaning as its English counterpart.

·         Embarrassed / Embarazada

These fake cognates are emblematic, since they tend to confuse learners of both languages. The English word “embarrassed” in Spanish is “avergonzado”, a word that has no relation at all with the Spanish word “embarazada” (pregnant).

·         Idiom / Idioma

By their resemblance, with just one letter difference, this is another one of the most common cases of fake cognates in the world. The English word “idiom” means “modismo” in Spanish. However, the Spanish word “idioma” is -just as the word “lenguaje”- is equivalent to the English word “language”.

·         Notice / Noticia

While in English the word “notice” means to “realize” or to “become aware”, the Spanish word “noticias” is the exact equivalent of the word “news”.

·         Contest / Contestar

In this case, we have a noun and a verb that have nothing in common besides their appearance. While “contest” means “concurso”, “contestar” -just like “responder”- means “to answer”.

·         Rope / Ropa

We find ourselves facing another case where the only difference between the two words is one letter, these are some of the trickiest cases of fake cognates. While “rope” means “soga”, “ropa” in English means “clothes”.

·         Parents / Parientes

The English word “parents” is translated into Spanish as “padres”. However, the Spanish word “parientes” refers to all the members of a family, the word “relatives” in English would be its exact translation.


We hope you have enjoyed learning these fake English-Spanish cognates that are characteristic of each language. Until next time!