False friend
False friends are pairs of word
In language, a word is the smallest free form that may be uttered in isolation with semantic or pragmatic content . This contrasts with a morpheme, which is the smallest unit of meaning but will not necessarily stand on its own...

s or phrase
In everyday speech, a phrase may refer to any group of words. In linguistics, a phrase is a group of words which form a constituent and so function as a single unit in the syntax of a sentence. A phrase is lower on the grammatical hierarchy than a clause....

s in two language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

s or dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

s (or letters in two alphabets) that look
In linguistics, a homonym is, in the strict sense, one of a group of words that often but not necessarily share the same spelling and the same pronunciation but have different meanings...

 or sound
A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning. The words may be spelled the same, such as rose and rose , or differently, such as carat, caret, and carrot, or to, two, and too. Homophones that are spelled the same are also both homographs and homonyms...

 similar, but differ in meaning.

The term should be distinguished from "false cognate
False cognate
False cognates are pairs of words in the same or different languages that are similar in form and meaning but have different roots. That is, they appear to be, or are sometimes considered, cognates, when in fact they are not....

s", which are similar words in different languages that appear to have a common historical linguistic origin
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

 (whatever their current meaning) but actually do not.

As well as complete false friends, use of loanword
A loanword is a word borrowed from a donor language and incorporated into a recipient language. By contrast, a calque or loan translation is a related concept where the meaning or idiom is borrowed rather than the lexical item itself. The word loanword is itself a calque of the German Lehnwort,...

s often results in the use of a word in a restricted context, which may then develop new meanings not found in the original language.


Both false friends and false cognates can cause difficulty for students learning a foreign language, particularly one that is related to their native language
First language
A first language is the language a person has learned from birth or within the critical period, or that a person speaks the best and so is often the basis for sociolinguistic identity...

, because students are likely to identify the words wrongly due to linguistic interference. For this reason, teachers sometimes compile lists of false friends as an aid for their students.

Comedy , as a popular meaning, is any humorous discourse or work generally intended to amuse by creating laughter, especially in television, film, and stand-up comedy. This must be carefully distinguished from its academic definition, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in...

 sometimes includes pun
The pun, also called paronomasia, is a form of word play which suggests two or more meanings, by exploiting multiple meanings of words, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect. These ambiguities can arise from the intentional use and abuse of homophonic,...

s on false friends, which are considered particularly amusing if one of the two words is obscene
An obscenity is any statement or act which strongly offends the prevalent morality of the time, is a profanity, or is otherwise taboo, indecent, abhorrent, or disgusting, or is especially inauspicious...

; when an obscene meaning is produced in these circumstances, it is called , Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 for "ill-sounding".

British and American English

One kind of false friend can occur when two speakers speak different varieties of the same language. Speakers of British English
British English
British English, or English , is the broad term used to distinguish the forms of the English language used in the United Kingdom from forms used elsewhere...

 and American English
American English
American English is a set of dialects of the English language used mostly in the United States. Approximately two-thirds of the world's native speakers of English live in the United States....

 sometimes have this problem, which was alluded to in George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

's statement "England and America are two countries separated by a common language". For example, in the UK
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, to "table" a motion means to place it on the agenda (to bring it to the table for consideration), while in the US
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 it means exactly the opposite —"to remove it from consideration" (to lay it aside on the table rather than hold it up for consideration).


From the etymological
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

 point of view, false friends can be created in several ways.

Shared etymology

If Language A borrowed a word from Language B, or both borrowed the word from a third language or inherited it from a common ancestor, and later the word shifted in meaning or acquired additional meanings in at least one of these languages, a native speaker
First language
A first language is the language a person has learned from birth or within the critical period, or that a person speaks the best and so is often the basis for sociolinguistic identity...

 of one language will face a false friend when learning the other. Sometimes, presumably both senses were present in the common ancestor language, but the cognate words got different restricted senses in Language A and Language B.

For example, the words preservative
A preservative is a naturally occurring or synthetically produced substance that is added to products such as foods, pharmaceuticals, paints, biological samples, wood, etc. to prevent decomposition by microbial growth or by undesirable chemical changes....

(English), préservatif (French), Präservativ (German), prezervativ (Romanian, Czech, Croatian), preservativ (Slovenian), preservativo (Italian, Spanish, Portuguese), prezerwatywa (Polish), презерватив "prezervativ" (Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian), prezervatif (Turkish), præservativ (Danish), prezervatyvas (Lithuanian), Prezervatīvs (Latvian) and preservatiu (Catalan
Catalan language
Catalan is a Romance language, the national and only official language of Andorra and a co-official language in the Spanish autonomous communities of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Valencian Community, where it is known as Valencian , as well as in the city of Alghero, on the Italian island...

) are all derived from the Latin word praeservativum. But in all of these languages except English, the predominant meaning of the word is now condom
A condom is a barrier device most commonly used during sexual intercourse to reduce the probability of pregnancy and spreading sexually transmitted diseases . It is put on a man's erect penis and physically blocks ejaculated semen from entering the body of a sexual partner...


Actual, which in English is usually a synonym of "real", has a different meaning in other European languages, in which it means "current" or "up-to-date", and has the logical derivative as a verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

, meaning "to make current" or "to update". "Actualise" (or "actualize") in English means "to make a reality of".

Demand in English and demande in French or domanda in Italian are representative of a particularly treacherous sort of false friend, in which – despite a common origin – the words have differently shaded meanings. The French and Italian homologues simply mean "request", not a forceful requirement. This led to several historic misunderstandings, such as in Canada, the failing of the Meech Lake Accord
Meech Lake Accord
The Meech Lake Accord was a package of proposed amendments to the Constitution of Canada negotiated in 1987 by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and ten provincial premiers. It was intended to persuade the government of the Province of Quebec to endorse the 1982 Canadian Constitution and increase...

 where Quebec constitutional requests were interpreted as demands. In Spanish demandar may mean "to request", but its normal meaning is "to sue".

The word friend itself has cognates in the other Germanic languages; but the Scandinavian ones (like Swedish frände, Danish frænde) predominatly mean "relative" (but may also mean soulmate
A soulmate is believed by some to be the person with whom one has a feeling of deep or natural affinity, similarity, love, intimacy, sexuality, spirituality, or compatibility. A related concept is that of the twin flame or twin soul, which is thought to be the ultimate soulmate...

). The original word had both the meanings "friend" and "relative" but lost various degrees of the "friend" sense in Scandinavian languages, while it mostly lost the sense of "relative" in English. (The plural "friends" still but rarely may be used for "kinsfolk", as in the Scottish proverb Friends agree best at a distance, quoted in 1721.)

The Italian word magazzino, French magasin, Dutch magazijn, and Russian магазин (magazin), is used for a depot, store, or warehouse. In English the word magazine has also the meaning of "periodic publication". The word "magazine" has the same meaning in French. In Serbian, there are two similar words: magacin, representing the former, and magazin representing the latter meaning. To add confusion, there is an extra meaning of magazine (firearms) in several languages (with accordingly different spellings). (Note, however, that the term "powder magazine", a store for gunpowder, as e.g. in the town of Williamsburg, Virginia, restored to its colonial form, would be well understood by current English speakers, though recognized as an archaicism.

Gift originally had the same meaning in English and German. In Old High German and Middle High German Gift was the term for an "object that is given". Although it had always included a euphemistic meaning for "poison" ("being given"), over the following centuries it gradually suffered a full semantic change
Semantic change
Semantic change, also known as semantic shift or semantic progression describes the evolution of word usage — usually to the point that the modern meaning is radically different from the original usage. In diachronic linguistics, semantic change is a change in one of the meanings of a word...

 to the sole present German meaning "poison". It is still reflected in the German term for the English word dowry
A dowry is the money, goods, or estate that a woman brings forth to the marriage. It contrasts with bride price, which is paid to the bride's parents, and dower, which is property settled on the bride herself by the groom at the time of marriage. The same culture may simultaneously practice both...

 = Mitgift, das Mitgegebene, "that which is given" (with the wedding). In Swedish, Norwegian and Danish, gift means "poison" but also "married". In Dutch, "gift" means a gift, but "gif" and "giftig" mean poison and poisonous respectively. The latter two meanings also apply for the Afrikaans language, spoken in Southern Africa, which originated from Old Dutch amongst others.

Cafeteria means "dining hall" in English; but cafetería means "coffeehouse" in Spanish and Portuguese, whereas cafetéria means "fringe benefit" in Hungarian
Hungarian language
Hungarian is a Uralic language, part of the Ugric group. With some 14 million speakers, it is one of the most widely spoken non-Indo-European languages in Europe....

 and cofetărie means "sweetshop" in Romanian
Romanian language
Romanian Romanian Romanian (or Daco-Romanian; obsolete spellings Rumanian, Roumanian; self-designation: română, limba română ("the Romanian language") or românește (lit. "in Romanian") is a Romance language spoken by around 24 to 28 million people, primarily in Romania and Moldova...


Sótano means "cellar" in Spanish, but sótão means "attic" in Portuguese.

Normal in French implies technical conformance (to technical standards), it means "It is as it's supposed to be", while normal in English implies social conformance (to social norms). This is why the now-archaic normal school
Normal school
A normal school is a school created to train high school graduates to be teachers. Its purpose is to establish teaching standards or norms, hence its name...

 (from the French école normale) is so confusing to present-day English speakers; it was a place where people received standardized training in how to teach children, not an institution where social deviants
Deviance (sociology)
Deviance in a sociological context describes actions or behaviors that violate cultural norms including formally-enacted rules as well as informal violations of social norms...

 learned how to behave normally. The same divergence also presented a problem for the International Organization for Standardization
International Organization for Standardization
The International Organization for Standardization , widely known as ISO, is an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standards organizations. Founded on February 23, 1947, the organization promulgates worldwide proprietary, industrial and commercial...

 (Organisation internationale de normalisation) at its founding in 1947; it settled on the short name ISO as a compromise between IOS and OIN.

The Finnish and Estonian languages are both part of the non-Indo-European Uralic languages
Uralic languages
The Uralic languages constitute a language family of some three dozen languages spoken by approximately 25 million people. The healthiest Uralic languages in terms of the number of native speakers are Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, Mari and Udmurt...

; they share a similar grammar as well as several individual words, though sometimes as false friends: e.g. the Finnish word for 'south', etelä is close to the Estonian word edel, but the latter means south-west. However, the Estonian word for south, lõuna, is close to the Finnish word lounas, which means south-west.


In certain cases, false friends evolved separately in the different languages. Words usually change by small shifts in pronunciation accumulated over long periods and sometimes converge by chance on the same pronunciation or look despite having come from different roots.

For example, German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 Rat (= "council
Local government in the United Kingdom
The pattern of local government in England is complex, with the distribution of functions varying according to the local arrangements. Legislation concerning local government in England is decided by the Parliament and Government of the United Kingdom, because England does not have a devolved...

") is cognate with English "read
Reading (process)
Reading is a complex cognitive process of decoding symbols for the intention of constructing or deriving meaning . It is a means of language acquisition, of communication, and of sharing information and ideas...

" and German and Dutch Rede (= "speech", often religious in nature) (hence Æthelred the 'Unready' would not heed the speech of his advisors, and the word 'unready' is cognate with the Dutch word "onraad" meaning trouble, danger), while English and Dutch "rat
Rats are various medium-sized, long-tailed rodents of the superfamily Muroidea. "True rats" are members of the genus Rattus, the most important of which to humans are the black rat, Rattus rattus, and the brown rat, Rattus norvegicus...

" for the rodent has its German cognate Ratte.

In another example, the word bra in the Swedish language
Swedish language
Swedish is a North Germanic language, spoken by approximately 10 million people, predominantly in Sweden and parts of Finland, especially along its coast and on the Åland islands. It is largely mutually intelligible with Norwegian and Danish...

 means "good", as in "a good song", "a good book" or "Good day!" (bra has the same meaning in Norwegian
Norwegian language
Norwegian is a North Germanic language spoken primarily in Norway, where it is the official language. Together with Swedish and Danish, Norwegian forms a continuum of more or less mutually intelligible local and regional variants .These Scandinavian languages together with the Faroese language...

.) In both languages Bara bra (Sw.) or Bare bra (No.) as a response to "How are you?" is very common (likewise Ha det bra as a form of "Good bye"). In English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

, bra
A brassiere is an undergarment that covers, supports, and elevates the breasts. Since the late 19th century, it has replaced the corset as the most widely accepted method for supporting breasts....

is short for the French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

A brassiere is an undergarment that covers, supports, and elevates the breasts. Since the late 19th century, it has replaced the corset as the most widely accepted method for supporting breasts....

, which is an undergarment that supports the breast
The breast is the upper ventral region of the torso of a primate, in left and right sides, which in a female contains the mammary gland that secretes milk used to feed infants.Both men and women develop breasts from the same embryological tissues...

s. The full English spelling, brassiere, is now a false friend in and of itself (the modern French term for brassiere is soutien-gorge).

In Swedish, the word "rolig" means "fun" (as in "It was a fun party"), while in the closely related languages Danish and Norwegian it means "calm" (as in "he was calm despite all the furore around him"). This can lead to confusion with a Swede exclaiming "It'll be fun!" leaving a Dane thinking "How boring!"


For example, Latin
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

 P came to be written like Greek
Greek alphabet
The Greek alphabet is the script that has been used to write the Greek language since at least 730 BC . The alphabet in its classical and modern form consists of 24 letters ordered in sequence from alpha to omega...

Rho (letter)
Rho is the 17th letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals, it has a value of 100. It is derived from Semitic resh "head"...

 (written Ρ but pronounced r), so the Roman letter equivalent to rho was modified to R to keep it distinct.

An Old and Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

 letter has become a false friend in modern English: the letters thorn
Thorn (letter)
Thorn or þorn , is a letter in the Old English, Old Norse, and Icelandic alphabets, as well as some dialects of Middle English. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia, but was later replaced with the digraph th. The letter originated from the rune in the Elder Fuþark, called thorn in the...

 (þ) and eth
Eth is a letter used in Old English, Icelandic, Faroese , and Elfdalian. It was also used in Scandinavia during the Middle Ages, but was subsequently replaced with dh and later d. The capital eth resembles a D with a line through the vertical stroke...

 (ð) were used interchangeably to represent voiced and voiceless dental fricatives now written in English as th (as in "thick" and "the"). Though the thorn character (whose appearance was usually similar to the modern "p") was most common, the eth could equally be used. Due to its similarity to an oblique minuscule "y", an actual "Y" is substituted in modern pseudo-old-fashioned usage as in "Ye Olde Curiositie Shoppe"; the first word means and should be pronounced "the", not "ye" (archaic form of "you").

Homoglyphs occur also by coincidence. For example, Finnish tie means "road"; the pronunciation is [tie], unlike English [tai], which in turn means "or" in Finnish.


Pseudo-anglicisms are words in languages other than English which were borrowed from English but are used in a way native English speakers would not readily recognize or understand. Pseudo-anglicisms often take the form of portmanteau words, combining elements of multiple English words to create a...

s are new words formed from English morpheme
In linguistics, a morpheme is the smallest semantically meaningful unit in a language. The field of study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology. A morpheme is not identical to a word, and the principal difference between the two is that a morpheme may or may not stand alone, whereas a word,...

s independently from an analogous English construct and with a different intended meaning.

For example, in German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

: Oldtimer refers to an old car (or antique aircraft) rather than an old person, while Handy refers to a mobile phone
Mobile phone
A mobile phone is a device which can make and receive telephone calls over a radio link whilst moving around a wide geographic area. It does so by connecting to a cellular network provided by a mobile network operator...

. Beamer refers to a computer projector or video projector rather than a car manufactured by BMW.

Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

 is replete with pseudo-anglicisms, known as wasei-eigo
are Japanese pseudo-Anglicisms: English constructions not used in the English-speaking world or by native English speakers, but that appear in Japanese. This should not be confused for foreign words gairaigo, which generally refer to words from European languages, especially American English...

("Japan-made English").

In the SeSotho group of languages spoken in South Africa pushback refers to a combed back hair style, commonly worn by black women with chemically straightened hair; and stop-nonsense refers to pre-fabricated concrete slabs used as fencing.

Semantic change

In bilingual situations, false friends often result in a semantic change—a real new meaning that is then commonly used in a language. For example, the Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

 humoroso ("capricious") changed its referent in American Portuguese to "humorous", owing to the English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 surface-cognate "humorous."

Corn is the name used in the United States, Canada, and Australia for the grain maize.In much of the English-speaking world, the term "corn" is a generic term for cereal crops, such as* Barley* Oats* Wheat* Rye- Places :...

" was originally the dominant type of grain in a region (indeed "corn" and "grain" are themselves cognate
In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. This learned term derives from the Latin cognatus . Cognates within the same language are called doublets. Strictly speaking, loanwords from another language are usually not meant by the term, e.g...

s from the same Indo-European root). It came to mean usually wheat
Wheat is a cereal grain, originally from the Levant region of the Near East, but now cultivated worldwide. In 2007 world production of wheat was 607 million tons, making it the third most-produced cereal after maize and rice...

 in the British Isles, but maize
Maize known in many English-speaking countries as corn or mielie/mealie, is a grain domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. The leafy stalk produces ears which contain seeds called kernels. Though technically a grain, maize kernels are used in cooking as a vegetable...

 in North America.

The American Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

 fattoria lost its original meaning "farm" in favour of "factory" owing to the phonetically similar surface-cognate English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 "factory" (cf. Standard Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

 fabbrica "factory"). Instead of the original fattoria, the phonetic adaptation American Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

 farma (Weinreich 1963: 49) became the new signifier for "farm"—see "one-to-one correlation between signifiers and referents".

This phenomenon is analysed by Ghil'ad Zuckermann
Ghil'ad Zuckermann
Ghil'ad Zuckermann is an Israeli-Italian-British-Australian linguist, expert of language revival, contact linguistics, lexicology and the study of language, culture and identity...

 as "(incestuous) phono-semantic matching
Phono-semantic matching
Phono-semantic matching is a linguistic term referring to camouflaged borrowing in which a foreign word is matched with a phonetically and semantically similar pre-existent native word/root....



Since English, German and Dutch have many of the same etymological origins, there actually are a great number of words in both languages that are very similar and do have the same meaning (e.g. word/Wort/woord, book/Buch/boek, house/Haus/huis, water/Wasser/water ...). However, similar words with a different meaning are also quite common (e.g., German bekommen means "to get", that is, "to come by", not "to become", and is thus a false friend, which could lead a German English learner to utter an embarrassing sentence like: "I want to become a beefsteak."). Another example is the word gift, which in English and Dutch means a "present" but in German and the Scandinavian languages
North Germanic languages
The North Germanic languages or Scandinavian languages, the languages of Scandinavians, make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages, a sub-family of the Indo-European languages, along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages...

 means "poison" (the Swedish word for "gift" being gåva, related to the verb "to give").

English "knight" and German Knecht are clearly related (though pronounced differently), and originally had also a similar meaning, denoting a person rather low in the social scale. However, the English one underwent a great upward mobility during the Middle Ages, becoming associated with the aristocracy, while its German equivalent retained the humble meaning of "servant". (To make the confusion even greater, where Knecht received a military meaning—in "Landsknecht
Landsknechte were European, predominantly German mercenary pikemen and supporting foot soldiers from the late 15th to the late 16th century, and achieved the reputation for being the universal mercenary of Early modern Europe.-Etymology:The term is from German, Land "land, country" + Knecht...

"—it denoted foot soldiers rather than cavalry). The German word for English "knight" is Ritter, the Swedish ridare, which is the cognate of English "rider" - but which carries vast social implications absent from the English word.

The German word Land is the exact cognate of English land but it carries many political, constitutional, and historical meanings absent from the English term (among other things a constituent state of the German Federal Republic
German Federal Republic
"German Federal Republic" was one of the derogatory terms used by the communist German Democratic Republic to refer to the Federal Republic of Germany from the 1950s until 1968, when they started using the propaganda term "BRD"....

, historically a principality of the Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

, but also "rural" as opposed to "urban", etc. — the Swedish landis equating to "country bumpkin" or "hick" — most of these meanings are borne by the Anglo-Norman
The Anglo-Normans were mainly the descendants of the Normans who ruled England following the Norman conquest by William the Conqueror in 1066. A small number of Normans were already settled in England prior to the conquest...

 word country in English).

The title of the well-known Italian novel Il Gattopardo was rendered in English as "The Leopard
The Leopard
The Leopard is a novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa that chronicles the changes in Sicilian life and society during the Risorgimento...

", in which the translator was led astray by a false friend; Italian gattopardo, while being the cognate of "leopard", in fact refers to other felines (the American ocelot
The ocelot , pronounced /ˈɒsəˌlɒt/, also known as the dwarf leopard or McKenney's wildcat is a wild cat distributed over South and Central America and Mexico, but has been reported as far north as Texas and in Trinidad, in the Caribbean...

, the African serval
The serval , Leptailurus serval or Caracal serval, known in Afrikaans as Tierboskat, "tiger-forest-cat", is a medium-sized African wild cat. DNA studies have shown that the serval is closely related to the African golden cat and the caracal...

 and an extinct type of Italian wildcat).

False friends can be especially confusing when meanings of words in one language are similar to those in another, especially when context cannot help in resolving the confusion. For example, German and Scandinavian "Hund" and Dutch "Hond" are the cognates of English "hound
A hound is a type of dog that assists hunters by tracking or chasing the animal being hunted. It can be contrasted with the gun dog, which assists hunters by identifying the location of prey, and with the retriever, which recovers shot quarry...

", but whereas hund and hond refer to dogs in general, in English the sense has been narrowed to dogs used for hunting. Conversely, the German "Dogge" and French "dogue" refer to a specific kind of dog rather than to dogs in general. And French "librairie" is the cognate of "library
In a traditional sense, a library is a large collection of books, and can refer to the place in which the collection is housed. Today, the term can refer to any collection, including digital sources, resources, and services...

" but refers to a bookshop.

Another Spanish/English false friend is "embarrassed/embarazado". Where "embarrassed" in English means approximately "ashamed", a similar-sounding Spanish word, "embarazada", means "pregnant". Both derive from old Castillan-Portuguese "embarazar", meaning impede, hinder, obstruct. In Spanish it was then used as euphemism for "pregnant" (she was "embarrassed"--hindered—by her pregnancy) and that became the primary meaning. In English, the meaning was taken from being "embarrassed", ill at ease, hindered, by shame. In Portuguese, "embaraçar" has a meaning similar to the English. (In medical English, however, "embarrass" retains a meaning much more general than in the language as a whole: essentially, to diminish.)

In Spanish "substituir" means "replace" so that "substituir A por B" means "replace A with B" or "substitute B for A", the opposite of what it apparently might look like.

Another example is the English pair of words "assist" and "attend", whose meanings in Spanish are just the opposite. So, "attending a course" is "asistir un curso" and "assist someone" is "atender a alguien".

A Spanish/Maltese
Maltese language
Maltese is the national language of Malta, and a co-official language of the country alongside English,while also serving as an official language of the European Union, the only Semitic language so distinguished. Maltese is descended from Siculo-Arabic...

 false friend is guapo/a and gwapp/a respectively. While the former means "handsome", the latter gives an ironic sense of "clumsy", akin to the English "That was clever!"

The Latin root of concur has several meanings; "to meet (in battle)" and "to meet (in agreement)". In many European languages, words derived from this root take after the first meaning—English being a notable exception (e.g. French and Dutch concurrent and Russian konkurent translate as "competitor" in English). Additionally, in some languages a "concourse
A concourse is a place where pathways or roads meet, such as in a hotel, a convention center, a railway station, an airport terminal, a hall, or other space.-Examples:Examples of concourses include:* Meeting halls* Universities* Railway stations...

" (Swedish konkurs, Finnish konkurssi) takes its meaning from "concourse of debtors"; that is, it means bankruptcy
Bankruptcy is a legal status of an insolvent person or an organisation, that is, one that cannot repay the debts owed to creditors. In most jurisdictions bankruptcy is imposed by a court order, often initiated by the debtor....

, while in Russian конкурс takes one more meaning and refers to contest
A contest is an event in which at least two teams or individuals compete. There may be an award to a winner or awards for multiple top performers, but a contest may be imposed for training...


The French verb attendre means "to wait", yet an English speaker learning French might expect the English equivalent to be "attend", which means "to participate in" or "to go to". However, the verb "attend" in English is translated as assister in French and asistir in Spanish, both of which could be further misinterpreted as equivalent to the English "assist", which means "to help" (which is also another meaning of the Spanish's asistir). In Catholic literature in English, the term "assist at Mass" has been used to mean "to attend Mass" due to a mistranslation of the French "assister à la messe" which means "to attend Mass". Despite the above, the noun form in English ("attendant") is someone who waits on another, generally with menial tasks and in a temporary fashion, as on an airplane or hotel; whereas 'assistant' implies a longer-term, higher level, and often contractual (=employment), relationship.

Rare in English means "uncommon", while raar in Dutch means "strange" and rar in Swedish "nice", "cute", "dear" or "sweet". On the other hand, the Dutch word for "uncommon" is zeldzaam, while the German word seltsam (Swedish sällsam) means "strange".

Dutch in English refers to the language spoken in the Netherlands and Flanders. Duits in Dutch refers to the language spoken in Germany ("Duitsland").

Use by Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Miller Hemingway was an American author and journalist. His economic and understated style had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations. Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the...

 in For Whom the Bell Tolls
For Whom the Bell Tolls
For Whom the Bell Tolls is a novel by Ernest Hemingway published in 1940. It tells the story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to a republican guerrilla unit during the Spanish Civil War. As an expert in the use of explosives, he is assigned to blow up a...

made deliberate use of false friends as one of the devices intended to convey to the reader that English conversations in the book in fact represent Spanish. Thus, he used "rare" rather than "strange" to represent the Spanish "raro", and
"syndicate" rather than "trade union" for the Spanish "sindicato".

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.