Quick English: False Friends

False friends are pairs of words in two different languages that look the same but have different meanings.

There are lots of false friends with English, and many of them are found in Latin-based languages. However, this does not mean that they are only in those languages.

Watch out for these words, as you could end up saying some very confusing or embarrassing things!

Here are common false friends:



  • achever  (French): finish (or to finish off… someone)
  • achieve (English): to accomplish something, to be successful at something


  • coin (French) : corner
    Coin Coin : quack-quack
  • coin (English): a round, metal disk used as currency



  • Chef (German): boss
  •  chef (English): professional cook


  • Gift (German): poison
  • gift (English): a present, something given to someone



  • camera (Italian): room
  • camera (English): a device for taking photographs


  • confrontare (Italian): to compare
  • confront (English): to oppose or challenge someone



  • atender (Portuguese): to help, to answer
  • attend (English): to be present somewhere


  • argumento (Portuguese): a point of view, opinion
  • argument (English): a verbal fight



  • divertir (Spanish): to have a good time
  • divert (English): to change the direction of something


  • embarazada (Spanish): to be pregnant
  • embarrass (English): to make someone look foolish in front of others

Common False Friends Across Different Languages:

These are false friends that exist in several languages, but mean something different in English

  • magazijn (Dutch); magasin (French); magazzino (Italian);  магазин (Russian):  shop, warehouse
  • magazine (English): a publication that is released regularly
  • café (French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish): coffee
  • café (English): coffeeshop, place to purchase coffee
  • gentil (French, Portuguese, Spanish): polite, kind
  • gentle (English): delicate, soft
  • actuel (French); aktuell (German); attualmente (Italian); aktualny (Polish); actualmente (Spanish): in the moment
  • actual (English): real, existing

There are many more false friends to beware of. Keep reading the Kaplan Blog for more false friends in a future post! Are there any word pairs that are difficult for you? What are the false friends from your native language?

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