False Friends / False Cognates

July 22, 2008 at 11:51 am 2 comments

What is a false friend? What is a false cognate?

They are the same thing. False Cognates are basically words which look and maybe sound the same in Brazilian Portuguese as in English but actually have a different meaning. An example – you’ve just arrived in Brazil and are walking around Rio. You’re hungry and see a small restaurant which has “lanche” in the window. You assume this means lunch and walk in and try and order to meal, only to find they only have a small collection of crisps, take-away pastries and soft-drinks. You’ve fallen victim to the false cognate “lanche” which doesn’t mean lunch, it means snack.

Another example, one which personally baffled me for quite a while, is the word “compromisso”. Surely, I erroneously thought, this must mean “compromise”. In actual fact, compromisso means commitment. See the advert above. A quick glance and a direct translation might lead you to believe that Rossi, a construction company, have the slogan “Compromise with projects of life”. That sounds risky! Of course, what they’re saying is “Commitment with projects of life”.


There are many false cognates and I’ll just keep adding them to this post as I find the most common ones. But, a good place to start is to copy the list I found in the book edited by Michael Swan & Bernard Smith called Learner English. The book looks at how the rules and patterns of the mother tongue of learners of English creates interference. The book has sections on many different languages and this is from the chapter on Portuguese learners of English. In other words, these are words that Brazilians always get wrong in English – and, therefore, words that English people frequently get wrong in Portuguese.

abuse / abusar = use frequently, has less of the negative connotations of the English word
actual(ly) / atual(mente) = current, nowadays, at the moment. Use “na verdade” or “no fato” to express the idea of the English word.
cigar / cigarro = cigarette
cobra / cobra = snake, all kinds.
compromise / compromisso = commitment. Use “compromater” to express the idea of the English words.
costume / costume = custom
disgrace / desgraça = accident, misfortune
disgust / desgaste = worn-out
distracted / distraido = absent-minded
educated / educado = polite, well-mannered
expect / esperar = to hope, to wait
expert / esperto = intelligent, sly
facilities / facilidades = proficiency
familiar / familiar = decent, respectable or to do with family
impressive / impressionante = impressive, but in either positive or negative terms whereas in English it has only a positive connotation.
intend / entender = understand
library / livraria = bookshop
local / local = place, as in location
lunch / lanche = snack
ordinary / ordinário = base, vulgar
parents / parentes = relatives
presently / presentemente = at the moment, right now
pretend / pretender = to intend, to plan
primarily / primeiramente = first
push / puxe = pull
rat / rato = mouse
real / real = royal, sure
revere / rever = to see again, to check, to revise.
sensible / sensivel = sensitive. Use the word sensato to describe somebody as sensible
vulgar / vulgar = ordinary


Entry filed under: False Cognates, Grammar, Other stuff, Vocabulary. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • […] are close English-Portuguese cognates (words which are the same are similar in two languages) – not false cognates. In other words, learning Portuguese is a whole lot easier when the words you have to learn are the […]

  • 2. Babi  |  August 30, 2008 at 8:16 am

    Hey dave, costume could be a men’s clothe – the same as “terno”.
    and sensato is not sensible person is maybe a wise person, someone who thinks before doing something.

    the word lunch makes sofia confuse sometimes.


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