Cognates & false friends

Hi all,

Just wondering if you have any good examples of cognates and/or false friends in the languages you know. My podcast co-host and I are planning an episode about it soon and we’d love to include more languages than just the ones we know.

Thank you/Merci/Gracias/Dziękujemy/Danke/Arigatou/Kamsahamnida/Toda,
Heather and @Maly


There can’t be many Chinese/English false friends given how different the languages are, but I can think of one - “餐厅” (cāntīng / “tsan-teen”) shouldn’t be confused with the similar-sounding canteen in “English” - they both mean places to eat but the Chinese version usually means quite a high-class restaurant, whereas the latter, at least in the UK, is where you’d eat at work or at school.

I had to suppress a laugh recently when someone in a French group I go to said they tried to buy “nourriture sans présevatifs” :rofl: but since French is a language on your list, I imagine you’ve come across that one before!


Well, I was looking for Poetry about the subject, and I did find a middle age Poem in Arabic that talk about True friends, fake friends and enemies
The author is Al-Mutanabi:
وَالذّلّ يُظْهِرُ في الذّليلِ مَوَدّةً … وَأوَدُّ مِنْهُ لِمَنْ يَوَدّ الأرْقَمُ

وَمِنَ العَداوَةِ ما يَنَالُكَ نَفْعُهُ … وَمِنَ الصّداقَةِ ما يَضُرّ وَيُؤلِمُ

I will translate myself, but you have to be aware this is not modern arabic. So take my translation with a bit of salt
The shame appear on the shameful as mercy … And more merciful for those seek mercy from Numbers
From Enemies there is some utility … and From Friendship there is what hurt and make you feel in pain.


Hmmm right now I can only think of these:

English “travel” and French “travailler” … The first one meaning to go on a journey and the second one means “to work” in English…


A false friend between español and română is:
La carta(the letter in español) & cartea(the book in română)
An example between English and deutsch is:
Gift (present in English/ regalo en español)
(Poison in deutsch)



You know what, I never thought of it as in Arabic vs English until now. Normally, I do that with other languages.

Anyway, here you go:

Bar vs بار
The Arabic word بار -pronounced as bar- doesn’t mean counter/bar as in english but:

  1. Adj: dutiful; faithful; loyal; pious.
  2. Verb (past tense): destroyed; ruined; useless; inactive.

Jar vs جار
The Arabic word جار -pronounced as jar but with stressed R or jar-on- doesn’t mean container as in english but:

  1. Noun: neighbor.

Fat vs فات
The Arabic word فات -pronounced as fat or fa-ta- doesn’t mean greasy substance or someone with weight as in english but:

  1. Verb (past tense): leave behind; go past; exceed.

Oh, I think I did misunderstand your question.
Because when I translate cognate/ false friends I literary thought you are talking about false friends.
In Ukrainian there is a word that means cloud Хмара (Khmara) while in arabic there is the word حمارة (himara) which means the female Donkey.
There is a Russian word Хмурный (Khmurni) which mean frowning while in arabic there the word (Khamurji)خمورجي which mean Drunkard.
Also in Ukrainian, Смак (Smak) it’s mean the taste, while in Moroccan Arabic, Smak means Deaf.
In the Old french there is the word brelle which mean a piece of wood for boat or in a more familiar means Somebody who is useless, in Arabic there literally that word بغل baghl or Bghel depending on how you pronounce it which mean a Mule. There is also the famous Belgian Singer Jacques Brel which I don’t know where the root of his name came from.
بابا or baba, in Arabic means daddy, which in familiar Russian баба means a woman or lady.
In Ukrainian Бабак (babak) means the squirrel while in Moroccan Arabic it’s mean your dad (باباك) (Babak).
In German I know that Volk means the people while a similar word in Russian Волк (Volk) means the Wolf.
There the German words Wagen(pounced to English speaker as Vagen) means the car, while in French la Vague means the wave.

In Moroccan arabic there is the word Kumira(كوميرا) which mean the french baguette breads while there a similar Russian word Кумир Kumir which mean the idol.

Also, the word Wagen(German word that I already did mention) and Vegan sound similar.


I just remembered a fun false cognate I heard about from my client, whose husband is Georgian.
In Georgian
Mama(მამა) = father
Deda(დედა) = mother


Thank you all so much! I love reading through these and learning more. Feel free to compare other languages (like Arabic to French) and not just X to English. We’re open to it all :blush:

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Whoa, this one would trip me up so much!

the 餐厅 in canada are pretty cheap style, i think that word only changed meaning in hong kong.

It might well vary in meaning in different parts of China or, as you say, outside China, but someone in north/central PR China told me that it meant somewhere quite expensive. I haven’t got any first-hand evidence to back that up though.

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Between Swedish and English there are a few like
Vrist (=ankle) is close to a wrist
Kock (=chef) not you know what :laughing:
Barn (=child) is not a barn
Vill (=want) and not Will
Puss in Swedish translate as Kiss in English
but Kiss in Swedish means pee :joy:

Between german and french, i just started so I don’t know a lot
Salopp (décontracté) and not the swear word in french
Der Rat (= le conseil) et non l’animal
Gymnasium (= lycée) et non le gymnase où l’on fait du sport
Hier (=ici) et non hier (Yesterday) in french


This is such a fun topic.
From Romanian to English
Șolduri(pronouced like the English word shoulder) = hips
Desert = dessert


Deda in familiar Russian means grandfather.

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There are a lot of false congnates between Bahasa Melayu (used in Malaysia/Singapore/Brunei) and Bahasa Indonesia (used in Indonesia). Here are a few of the interesting ones :

Berbual : to chat (M) / to lie (I)
Budak : child (M) / slave (I)
Kesal : to regret (M) / to be annoyed (I)
Pajak : to pawn (M) / tax (I)
Bandar : city (M) / port (I)
Senang : easy (M) / relax (I)
Tandas : toilet (M) / to explain (I)


The word “armbend” in Swedish is a bracelet. For “armbend” in English, in Swedish is “armbindel”.

Between Spanish and Portuguese, we have, for example:

cutlery  = cubiertos (esp.) -> talheres (port.)
workshop = taller (esp.) -> oficina (port.)
office   = oficina (esp.) -> escritório (port.)
desktop  = escritorio (esp.) -> escrivaninha (port.)
notary   = escribanía (esp.) -> cartório (port.) (1)
ham      = jamón (esp.) -> presunto (port.)
alleged  = presunto (esp.) -> alegado (port.) (2)
rat      = rata (esp.) -> rato (port.)
moment   = rato (esp.) -> momento (port.)

(1) also “notaría” in peninsular Spanish.
(2) also “alegado” in Spanish.


journey versus journée is another one in English /French :travel versus Day


thinking of the word gift in English German & Swedish and Salir in French & Spanish (à vos dicos)