Spanish, Translation

False friends beginning with A (Spanish-English)

False friends are cognates that share the same linguistic root but have differing meanings or implications. For instance, one of the crazy things about English and Spanish is that we say “assist” for atender and “attend” for asistir.

I recently learned that the word abismal means “huge,” without the negative connotations of its English cognate “abysmal”: Los Leones realizan perforaciones y pozos para generar un cambio abismal en beneficio de los pobladores de Mali. In this example, the “abysmal change” is entirely positive and is better translated this way: “Lions (Club members) drill boreholes and wells to make a world of difference for villagers in Mali.”

Here is a table of false friends beginning with A. Spanish terms are in italics.

Abismal:  “enormous”
Abysmal: “extremely bad, appalling”

Acción: “action; share, stock”
Action: “doing something; a thing done”

Actual: “current, at this time”
Actual: “existing in fact”

Advertir: “warn”
Advertise: “announce items or services for sale; promote items or services”

Apología: “defense, justification; eulogy”
Apology: “regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure”

Argumento: “reasoning, plot of a story”
Argument: “exchange of diverging views”

Asesor: “advisor”
Assessor: “one who evaluates; tax collector”

Asistir: “attend”
Assist: “help, aid”

Atender: “assist”
Attend: “be present at”

*Some information and examples are from the following websites:;;;;;;


11 thoughts on “False friends beginning with A (Spanish-English)

    • I wrote a whole series of these for an internal publication at work. Since I can’t get inspired to post anything original, I’m copying them over here and translating them to English. Not very interesting for someone who’s not in the language business, I’m afraid.

  1. Abi says:

    You left out advertir and advertise!

    Also, many times the English words do have secondary or somewhat archaic meanings that are closer to the Spanish ones. For example, to attend to a person is to serve or assist them. An apology can be an argument in defense of a particular point of view.

    I think what I personally find trickier is how Spanish often separates the nuances into different versions of what in English is the same word: cargo/carga, respeto/respecto, etc.

    • Yeah, “attend to” works, but you don’t “assist” a class. The “apology” examply is more pertinent going from English to Spanish. I oversimplified in many instances, but with each pair there is a potential problem.

      The examples you give of cargo/carga and respecto/respeto are interesting. Alicia uses “aretes” for small earrings and “aretas” for dangly ones. I should do some research on the phenomenon.

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