Spanish-English false friends are the warhorse of many students at Spanishviaskype. It’s absolutely normal that beginners try to guess Spanish words using terms that sound similar in their own language; they might have a very different meaning, though. That’s what we call ‘false friends’.

However, this is not exclusively a matter of beginners; even advanced students can make mistakes of this kind. That’s why we’re going to learn more about three of the most popular Spanish-English false friends: actualmente, realizar and sensible.

Spanish-English false friends: ‘actualmente’ is ‘really’ confusing

Actualmente is an adverb of time that set the action of the verb at present. The term ‘currently’ is maybe the best translation. So, what’s the problem with this word? Obviously, its cognate ‘actually’. In English, this adverb expresses that the action of the verb is a fact, is real. In consequence, the best translation in Spanish should be realmente or en realidad.

The origin of these Spanish-English false friends is the same, the Latin verb ‘agere’ (to accomplish, to move forward). The supine form of this verb was ‘actum’, that generated many words in both languages, such as act-actuar or active-activo. The English language focused on the meaning of ‘accomplished, done’. So, something that is done is also real, a fact. Nevertheless, in the Spanish language it evolved into ‘something related to the act, to the present’.

Actualmente, estoy preparando el examen DELE, pero, realmente lo que quiero es hablar bien español.


Realize vs Realizar: two real false friends

Realizar is a common verb in Spanish, that is mainly used as a synonym of hacer (to do or to make). In addition to this, it’s also fixed to many nouns: realizar un sueño (make a dream come true) or realizar un proyecto (to accomplish a project). On the other hand, the verb ‘to realize’ in English indicates the action of being aware of something (darse cuenta de algo in Spanish).

The etymology of this term dates back to Latin times. The root realis (real) is modified with the suffix ‘-izare’ (to put in practice or to turn into). The Spanish language took this meaning: to make something be real. However, the English language chose a more metaphorical sense: to make real in the mind or, in other words, to understand clearly.

Me he dado cuenta de que si quiero realizar mi sueño de hablar como un español, tengo que reservar clases de conversación.

Spanish-English false friends: ‘sensible’ vs ‘sensitive’

Sensible is one of the most confusing Spanish-English false friends. Among other meanings in Spanish, it describes a person who is too emotional and can easily feel offended. In English, the most accurate word for that concept is ‘sensitive’, though. However, sensitivo in Spanish has nothing to do with that sense; it’s just a person who can perceive someone’s emotions. The word ‘sensible’ in English is a positive adjective; it shows a person who has common sense and it’s reasonable: sensato in Spanish.

All of these words come from the Latin noun sensus (sense). The suffix -ible (able to), -ivo (active-passive relation) and -ato (recipient of the action) modify that meaning, of course.

No seas tan sensible ante las críticas; tu profesor es muy sensato y si las hace, es por tu bien.

As you can see, the Latin language was dispersed all over the world and created many Spanish-English false friends. If you want to learn more of these, reserve some lessons with us. But if you want to try a trial lesson first, be our guest! We’ll be ‘true friends’.