The definition of false friends according to Wikipedia is “a pairs of words or phrases in two languages or dialects that look or sound similar, but differ significantly in meaning.” Here I will show you two examples of false friend Spanish words that can confuse English speakers: asistir and atender, and sensible and sensato.
English to Spanish False Friends: asistir vs atender
Asistir and atender are both what we call false friends. Looking at them, you might guess that asistir means to assist and atender means to attend. That seems logical, right? It is logical. Yet, it’s wrong. These words are not what they seem. So although they appear easy to translate, those easy translations are incorrect.
Asistir actually means to attend, as in, a meeting or event. It can be a synonym of the verb ir. Examples:
Mi papá asiste a muchos partidos de fútbol.
Mi papá va a muchos partidos de fútbol.
My dad attends a lot of soccer games.
Tengo que asistir a la reunión.
Tengo que ir a la reunión.
I have to attend the meeting.
Atender translates “pay attention to.” Examples:
Si quieres entender bien la lección, hay que atender a la maestra.
If you want to understand the lesson, you must pay attention to the teacher.
Perdóname, no te estaba atendiento. ¿Puedes repetirlo nuevamente?
I am sorry, I was not paying attention. Can you repeat that again?
English to Spanish False friends: sensible and sensato
Sensible is one of the many false friend Spanish words. One would think that since it is spelled exactly like “sensible” in English, it probably means sensible. Sorry, Spanish isn’t that easy.
The correct word for “sensible” is actually sensato or sensata. This word means sensible and/or reasonable. Examples:
¿Te parece sensato gastar tanto dinero? ¡No tienes trabajo!
Does it seem reasonable to spend so much money? You don’t have a job!
Ella es una persona muy sensata y responsible.
She is a very sensible and responsible person.
Sensible, on the other hand, actually means “sensitive.” Examples:
¡Es una broma, no seas tan sensible!
It’s a joke, don’t be so sensitive.
Hay que tener cuidado con lo que dices a Maria, ella es muy sensible.
You have to be careful with what you say to Maria, she is very sensitive.
Esa crema es para piel sensible.
That cream is for sensitive skin.
There are tons of false friends in Spanish. What other examples can you add?
Check out these other articles about Spanish English.