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What do you mean by "false friends" in translation?
Thread poster: Ruxi

German to Romanian
+ ...
Nov 28, 2006

I have encountered this notion in some fora here and would like to understand what you mean about false friends related to the translation field.
Is it about some sort of terms which produce confusion in a language?


gianfranco  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:21
Member (2001)
English to Italian
+ ...
A starting point Nov 28, 2006

Hi Ruxi,

you may start from this Wikipedia entry and then progress with some specific reference books in your languages.



Adrián Morgollón
Local time: 21:21
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
False friends Nov 28, 2006

They are words in the source language that are very similar to words in the final language. For instance, in Enlgish you have "library" which is very similar to the Spanish "libreria" but which really means "biblioteca". I hope I helped you. icon_smile.gif


avsie (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:21
English to French
+ ...
More Nov 28, 2006

They are words in the source language that are very similar to words in the final language.

Yes, but even though they are very similar in the way they are written, their meaning is completely different. And that is what false friends are all about!


Hipyan Nopri  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:21
Member (2005)
English to Indonesian
+ ...
Thanks for Introducing the Term Nov 28, 2006

Actually, I have never heard this term before even though I graduated from English department.

Thanks Ruxi for introducing the term 'false friends.' However, I am sure that we all here are 'true friends.'icon_smile.gif


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:21
Flemish to English
+ ...
Faux amis Nov 28, 2006

are words that sound the same in the target language but have a different meaning. At translation tests, this is one of the classical mistakes, especially if languages belong to the same language group, as is the case with Roumanian/Spanish and say French.
Use of the same syntax/thought-pattern in the target-language is another typical mistake.

[Edited at 2006-11-28 13:40]


Claudia Krysztofiak  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:21
English to German
+ ...
It is just like in real life ... Nov 28, 2006

False friends

You think you know and understand them
but then they mean something completely different.



sylvie malich
Local time: 21:21
German to English
FOR EXAMPLE Nov 28, 2006

"Sympathisch" in German does not mean sympathetic in English but likeable.

"After" in German means rectum in English.

"Aktuell" in German does not mean actual in English but current.

"Also" in German means thus in English.

etc. etc.

(@ Marie-Helene: no problem! (C: )

[Edited at 2006-11-28 14:44]


Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:21
Italian to English
+ ...
false friends also become old friends... Nov 28, 2006

you meet them time after time. You start seeing them in other language combinations, too: I don't know what the German word for "currently" is, but after seeing native Germans writing in English in these forums I'm pretty sure it's a false friend with "actually" - as is the Italian "attualmente".

And after a while, you may even start using them yourself in back translations!icon_eek.gif

edits: thanks Sylvie, now I do know what the German word for "currently" is!icon_wink.gif

[Edited at 2006-11-28 14:41]


Erik Hansson  Identity Verified
Member (2002)
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More a language issue than a translation issue. Nov 28, 2006

In addition to what Sylvie just posted, you can find false friends between most languages, e.g.

German "eventuell" has nothing to do with English "eventually"

German "bekommen" has nothing to do with English "become" and so on.

The phenomenon with false friend often occurs when the two languages are quite close and in the same family, e.g. the word for policeman in Danish (betjent) sounds almost like the Swedish word "betjänt", but that's the word for a butler.

You can find the same situation between the many Slavonic languages as well. See here:


[Bearbeitet am 2006-11-28 17:57]


Heidi C  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:21
English to Spanish
+ ...
False cognates Nov 28, 2006

Hipyan Nopri wrote:

Actually, I have never heard this term before even though I graduated from English department.

Another name for the term is "false cognates".

I learned the term when preparing as a language teacher and in my translation studies.

I quote this, from the Foreword of NTC's Dictionary of Spanish False Cognates by Marcial Prado (which adds on the cover page: A dictionary of words in Spanish that look like English words but whose meanings are quite different).
Though it concentrates on English and Spanish, the principle is the same between other languages...

"The study of false cognates is not as simple as pointing out that "asistir" is not exactly the equivalent of "to assist". Although English and Spanish derive a considerable part of their vocabulary from common Latin or Indo-European roots, the two languages have followed such divergent paths of semantic development that meanings of seemingly identical words are often completely different..."

According to this foreword, there are 3 kinds of false congates

a) the truly deceptive congnates which have a significantly different meaning, such as "bigot" (fanático) and "bigote" (mustache) or "embarazada" (pregnant) and "embarassed" (avergonzado). Usually this one is not too treacherous, as a bilingual dictionary will clarify it

b) semideceptive cognates, words that may be translated by their cognates in the other language but also have one or more other meanings. for example: "consentir" means "to consent", but also "to spoil" or "pamper" people. Or "vicious", which not only means "vicioso", but also "cruel, depravado". And usually, bilingual dicitionaries will not explain that "vicioso" applies only to people, whereas "vicious" is used for people, animals, concepts and ideas.

c) a group of false congnates which we may call "unclear" cognates becasue they have acquired divergent meanings in the two languages, but they are clossely and delicately related. "Conveniente" in "no me es conveniente ir mañana" is not the same as "convenient" in "It isn't convenient for me to go tomorrow". The shades of difference between "conveninet" and "suitable", "advisable" or "appropriate" are difficult to convey as "cómodo", "útil" "práctico". And the ability to make such distinctions is a valuable part of understanding a foreign language.

Hope this is interesting!!

(can you notice how skillfully I've managed to procrastinate and not start doing what I should REALLY be doing....icon_smile.gif ?

excuse all the typos...

[Edited at 2006-11-28 15:20]


Erik Hansson  Identity Verified
Member (2002)
+ ...
Critical word constructions with false friends Nov 28, 2006

This topic about the false friend reminds me of a fellow who once visited my English course at an evening school some years ago. He was an owner of a fitness studio in the small city where the course was held - and the name of the fitness studio was something I had never heard before: Big Ass

This is by no means something below the belt, and has to be understood as a mix between English and German, with the first word in English and the second one in German, as German "Ass" is for English "ace". The intention with this name was to make some kind of a positive association with something really good and persuade any prospective visitors to come visit his studio.

He had put up these big signs for his studio along the major roads to this city so every week when I went to school I saw this funny word construction which really made me freak outicon_wink.gif In my role as an English teacher, I did explain the whole story to this student and all of a sudden all signs had been taken down.

This is a true story about false friends in the German province!


sylvie malich
Local time: 21:21
German to English
ERIK!!! You made my day! Nov 28, 2006



Patricia Rosas  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:21
Spanish to English
+ ...
for Spanish-English, false friends abound! Nov 28, 2006

I regularly turn to Hamel's Spanish False Cognates/Gran Diccionario de Falsos Amigos del Inglés (published by Bilingual Book Press). It is over 500 pages long--that's a lot of "friends"!

Even when I'm not researching a specific term, I find it eye-opening to see how one term can be translated into several (or many) possible terms in Spanish, each depending on the specific context or nuance. It gets one to thinking not just about the target language, but the source language, too.


Vito Smolej
Local time: 21:21
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
Given the fact that Iberic peninsula... Nov 28, 2006

played such an important role in the oecoumene during Roman times (Hadrian etc), the issue of false friends on the Spanish-English line just shows that all the visits by Roman Caesars to Britain, for instance by Claudius and again by that dude Hadrian natu Ibericus(who built the wall to keep Picts from playing on English football fields). have simply not lasted long enough to teach the ... aborigines? ... proper Latin.



[Edited at 2006-11-28 23:21]

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