5 Commonly Mistaken Spanish Words and What to Say Instead

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It’s always a frustrating conversation when someone has been using mistaken Spanish words. You think you understand them but it turns out you’re talking about different topics. You’re getting more and more lost in the conversation and you’re not sure which Spanish words to use. You want explain how embarrassed you’re feeling right now but be careful what you say next. Embarazada is one of the most mistaken Spanish words on our list, so read on (carefully) and stop the conversational mix-ups!

False Cognates in Spanish and English

A false cognate is a term in grammar that applies to two words in different languages that seem similar but actually have different meanings and origins. For example, vacación and “vacation” are true cognates that sound similar and mean the same thing. Most language learners use false cognates when starting out, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you make these mistakes in Spanish, too. Take notes on our list of the most mistaken Spanish words below and you’ll skip the awkward stares.

mistaken spanish words
What’s the correct Spanish word for what these scientists are doing, realizar or darse cuenta?

Realizar doesn’t mean “to realize.” Use darse cuenta instead.

This is one of the hardest verbs to learn in Spanish because these false friends sound incredibly similar. Realizar seems like an exact translation of the verb “realize” but unfortunately this is not the case. Take the following sentence for example: “El científico realiza pruebas científicas que son revolucionarias.” You may think this says the scientist has realized that the tests were revolutionary, but the verb realizar means “actualize.” The real meaning of the sentence is that the scientist has actualized or made real his tests and they were revolutionary. To say ‘realize’ as in notice, use the Spanish verb darse cuenta.

Carpeta doesn’t mean “carpet.” Use alfombra instead.

Some Spanish learners think you can take any English word and stick an -a on the end to speak Spanish. Spanish is an easy language to learn (especially if you practice Spanish using apps) but that method is just too simple! Using carpeta to mean “carpet” is proof that this method doesn’t work, as “carpet” in Spanish is alfombra. However, it won’t take long to remember that carpeta means “folder” when you’re stuffing your carpeta full of lessons from your language school in Spain. With enough practice, you’ll never make the mistake in Spanish of asking guests to wipe their feet on your folder!

Embarazada doesn’t mean “embarrassed!” Use avergonzado/a instead.

This false cognate is one of the most embarrassing Spanish mistakes you can make! Your Spanish level is growing but you still feel embarrassed by your clumsy Spanish. You admit you feel “embarazada” to your class. Your classmates stare strangely at you, looking amused. You just announced to the class that you’re pregnant! Clearly, this Spanish mistranslation can create a lot of confusion. Use the word avergonzado/a to correctly say you’re embarrassed. It will come in handy after you realize you’ve accidentally claimed to be pregnant!

mistaken spanish words
Don’t feel too embarrassed for mistaking the word embarazada!

Largo doesn’t mean “large.” Use grande instead.

This false friend to the English word ‘large’ is so similar that it’s almost not fair. After all, there’s only a one letter difference between “largo” and “large” and both are size adjectives. The difference is that largo means “long” and the English large translates to “grande.” A good way to remember is to visit some of Spain’s food markets and check out the “arroz largo.” You’ll see that this popular rice is long, not big.

Ultimamente doesn’t mean “ultimately.” Use al final instead.

This is one of the hardest false cognates to remember. Imagine you’re recounting the story of a night out in Spain. Your Spanish is flawless and you begin telling your friend how it ended. Ultimamente seems like the perfect translation for “ultimately” and pops into your head first. However, you’d be explaining what’s happening lately instead of what happened in the end. In Spanish, al final translates to finally or ultimately. Al final is a true cognate and translation of “finally.”

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