Improve Your Vocabulary: False Friends

As you know, there are thousands of different languages in the world. And inevitably, some words from these languages look the same as some English words — only they have very different meanings!

Tip: If you are serious about improving your vocabulary, then Troy and I highly recommend you try the popular vocabulary program, Ultimate Vocabulary. Click Ultimate Vocabulary for further information.*

These confusing words are often called "false friends" (as they can cause problems for people learning one of the languages).

Here is a list of some notable ones:

Affluence means "a crowd of people" and "an abundance of something" in French

Angina means "sore throat" in German

Assistance means "audience" (and "help", as in English) in French

Bad means "bath" in Swedish and German

Bald means "soon" in German

Ballot means "a small bundle or package" and "a naive or clumsy person" (slang) in French

Bang means "frightened" in German

Bash means "head" in Zulu

Bless means "goodbye" in Icelandic

Bog means "god" in Russian

Bond means "a jump or leap" in French

Bra means "good" in Swedish

Bras means "an arm" in French

Cafeteria means "fringe benefit" in Hungarian

Camera means "a room" in Italian

Confetti means "sugar-coated almonds" in Italian

Delight means "a minor crime" (Delito) in Spanish

Demand means "request" (Demande) in French (which has led to some political misunderstandings!)

Exit means "a hit or success" (Exito) in Spanish

Fall means "bad" in Breton

Fart means "speed" in Swedish

Fast means "almost" in German

Fatal means "annoying" in German

Finger means "toe" in Yiddish

Futile means "trivial or insignificant" (Fútil) in Spanish

Gift means "poison" in German

Gymnasium means "secondary school" in German

Habits means "clothes" in French

Herb means "dry, tart, bitter" in German

Kind means "cheek" in Swedish

Labor means "laboratory" in German

Largo means "long" in Spanish

List means "border, strip" in Swedish

Magazine means "depot, store" in Dutch and Russian

Marmelade means "jam" in German

Mist means "manure, dung" in German

No means "correct" in Andean Sabela

Normal means "conformance (to technical standards)" in French (although it's most common usage does mean "normal" as in English)

Once means "eleven" in Spanish

Or means "gold" or "now, whereas" in French

Original means "eccentric" in Swedish

Parole means "motto, password" in German

Preservative means "condom" in many European languages

Puff means "bordello" in German

Punk means "flat tyre" in Japanese

Purr means "to headbutt" in Scottish Gaelic

Qualm means "smoke" in German

Rat means "advice, counsel" in German

Rower means "bicycle" in Polish

Sale means "dirty" in French

Seize means "sixteen" in French

Slip means "briefs, underwear" in German

Slips means "tie" in Swedish

Slut means "end" in Swedish

Smoking means "tuxedo" in German

Soap means "soup" (Sopa) in Spanish

Sofa means "sleep" in Icelandic

Stadium means "stage, level" in German

Thumb means "teat" in Albanian

Transparent means "banner, placard" in German

Tuna means "an edible cactus" in Spanish

Wand means "wall" in German

So you might want to be careful about saying "Bless you" to an Icelandic friend, asking for soap in your Spanish hotel, or telling your German friend you were blinded in the mist!

We are not experts in these other languages, so if you are, and you see that we've made a blunder here, please let us know and we'll correct it right away!

*Troy and I recommend only products that we have tried and tested. These include Ultimate Vocabulary. We have agreed to receive a commission from some sales of Ultimate Vocabulary software because we are happy to endorse that software.


Last modified on Tuesday, 17 November 2015 10:12
English Language Skills (Denise)

English Language Skills (Denise)

I'm a syndicated puzzle writer, with 8 puzzle books to my name, including Word Searches for Dummies and Cracking Codes and Cryptograms for Dummies (with Mark Koltko-Rivera). I have a background in science and graphic design, and am a trained indexer. My favourite puzzles are cryptic crosswords. and my favourite books are murder mysteries and cookbooks. I am also a very keen knitter.

I write a blog all about puzzles, called Puzzling.

Website: E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
You are here: Improve Your Vocabulary Improve Your Vocabulary: False Friends