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  • Learn Common False Cognates Between Portuguese and English

    English and Portuguese contain a lot of false cognates, also known as false friends. These are words that look like they should have the same meaning, but don’t. Often times this can lead to funny or embarrassing situations, so it’s good to know them. Below we’ve created a list of some of the most common false cognates.

    Please tell us in comments if you think we’ve missed any, and we’ll add them. Also, you can try our Portuguese-English False Cognate Quiz here.

    False Cognates English-Potuguese

    Atualmente – Actually.

    In English actually means an existing fact. Example: I actually just arrived from the office. If you want to say atualmente you can use the words todaycurrently, or nowadays. For example, The United States is currently recovering from a recession.

    Assistir – Assist.

    In English assist means to help or give support to someone or something. Example: I assisted the medics with the rescue of the woman. If you want to say assistir you can use the words attend, watch, or participate. Example: I attended the parents and teachers meeting last Saturday.

    Balcão – Balcony.

    In English balcony is the outside viewing area that is attached to an apartment or home. Example: Our balcony is off our living room and overlooks the park. If you want to say balcão you can use the word counter. Example: The plates on the counter are clean.

    Costume – Costume.

    In English costume is a disguise worn on the stage or at parties or for special occasions. Example: I’m wearing a clown costume for Halloween. If you want to say costume with the Portuguese meaning, you can use the word ‘custom or tradition’ Example: We have lost many of our customs in the United States.

    Data – Data.

    In English data means a collection of information and facts. Example: I need all the data on the case before I make a judgement. If you want to say data with the Portuguese meaning, you can use the word date. (note: the ‘e’ is silent and the ‘a’ is long. It sounds like ‘day’t’) Example: Our wedding date is October 5th.

    Designar – Design.

    In English design as a verb means to plan the form and structure of something. As a noun, it refers to the plan for something. Example: I love the design of Apple’s phones. If you want to say designar, use the word designate. Example: She was designated as the new President of the company. 

    Educado – Educated.

    In English educated can be used as a verb to describe giving knowledge or schooling. Example: I was educated in a private school. Or it can be used to describe someone that has some schooling, can read, write, do math or has some special knowledge in specific areas. Example: Mike is a Harvard educated lawyer. If you want to use the word educado you can say, polite.  Example: Mary seems really polite, she always says ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’

    Enrolar – Enroll.

    In English enroll means to register or to put on a record/list (see assistir). Example: I enrolled in my college classes yesterday. If you want to use enrolar, you can say to wind up, to roll up, or to curl up. Example: Please wind up the cord and put it in the bag.

    Êxito – Exit.

    In English exit is the way or passage out of a building, plane, bus, etc. Example: It is important to know where the exits are in a plane, in case of an emergency. If you want to use the word êxito you can say success. Example: Success comes from a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck.

    Esquisito – Exquisite.

    These two are very different! In English we use exquisite to describe something that is very beautiful and and often delicate. Example: This wine glass is exquisite. If you want to say esquisito, say weird, strange or unusual. For example: The book has many really weird characters that do bizarre things and make it quite an interesting story.

    Esperto – Expert.

    In English an expert is a person who has special skills or knowledge. Example: They needed an expert in hydro-geology to understand when the river could flood. If you want to use the word esperto you can say clever or smart. Example: She is a very clever person, she always has a solution and something witty to say.

    Fábrica – Fabric.

    In English fabric is the general word for a cloth made by weaving or knitting. Example: I didn’t buy the shirt because I don’t like synthetic fabric. If you want to use the word fábrica you can say plant or factory. Example: Many car factories have left the United States and moved to other countries where labor is cheaper.

    Gripe – Grip – Gripe.

    In English grip is grabbing something with your hands tightly in a strong way. Example: Help, my grip is slipping, I can’t hold on to the rope, I’m going to fall!  We also have the word gripe (pronounced like ripe). It means a complaint. For example: He has a lot of gripes about the service quality of our restaurant. If you want to use gripe you can say cold or flu. For example, “I’ve had a terrible cold for 5 days now.”

    Injúria – Injury.

    In English ‘injury’ is when a body is harmed or damaged by something. For example, “The football player had a knee injury and couldn’t play in the world cup.”  If you want to use the word injúria you can say insult. Example: She cried after she heard the man’s insult.

    Legenda – Legend.

    In English, a legend is a traditional story whose facts are unverified. Example: Greek legends have been influential in literature for a long time. If you want to say legenda, you’ll want to use the word subtitle. For example: It is a really good way to practice your English to watch a movie in English with English subtitles.

    Livraria – Library.

    We use library in English to describe a place, usually ran by a government or a university, where you can borrow books for a short time at no charge (biblioteca in Portuguese). For example: We go to the library every week with our daughter to check-out books. We use book store for livraria. For Example: I don’t go to the book store often because I read most books on my e-reader.

    Lanche – Lunch.

    The English word lunch is used to describe the mid-day meal (almoço in Portuguese). For example: I always have lunch at noon. We use snack to say lanche. For example: I’m hungry lets get a snack before the meeting, maybe some fruit would be good.

    Novela – Novel.

    We use novel as a noun to describe fictional books, and as an adjective to describe something new or unusual Example: The novel had a novel character. If you want to say novela in English, use soap opera.

    Parentes – Parents.

    In English we use parents to refer to our mother or father, as a group or without referencing gender. Example: My parents live in St. Louis. A parent needs to give permission for a child to leave the country. You want to say parentes use the word relatives. For example: I have relatives in Brazil, a couple cousins and my aunt and uncle.

    Particular – Particular.

    Exact same word, two meanings! In English, we use it to talk about a very specific part of a group. Example: The law was designed to punish a particular group of people. We also use it to describe something with extra emphasis Example: The ball hit him in a particularly painful place. If you want to say particular with the Portuguese meaning, use personal, or private. For example: Infidelity is a private matter even if the people involved are famous.

    Preservativo – Preservative.

    This one has the potential to lead to some funny/embarrassing situations! In English we use preservative to describe food additives that help prevent spoilage. If you want to say preservativo in English, use condom. We wrote a longer blog post about this one here.

    Push – Puxe.

    Similar sound, opposite meanings! Push means to use force to move something away from you. We use pull to describe puxe the opposite motion – using force to bring something to you.

    Pull – Pular.

    As if the last one wasn’t confusing enough! Pull is also a false cognate. You can see it’s English meaning above. If you want to say pular, use jump.

    Recordar – Record.

    In English, record has a lot of different meanings, none of which are the same as Recordar. As a noun, it can describe something used to save information. Example: There is a record of our conversation stored in the courthouse.  It can also mean the highest achievement for something. Example: Usain Bolt holds the record for the 100 meters. It can also be used as a verb to describe the process of saving information, especially in audio or video form. Example: We recorded our daughters first words on video. To say recordar, use remember or recall. For example: I remember a lot of things from my childhood.

    Refrigerante – Refrigerant.

    If you ask for a refrigerant in English, most likely you’ll get a strange look. It’s a word not often used in everyday speech to describe chemicals used to cool things. If you want to say ‘refrigerante‘ use ‘soda‘ ‘pop‘ or ‘soft drink.’

    Resumir – Resume.

    We use resume in English in the same way we use continue. Example: After I fell, I got up and resumed running. If you want to say resumir try summarize.

    Estrangeiro – Stranger.

    In English, a stranger is a person who is unknown. Example: We instructed the school children not to talk to strangers. If you want to say estrangeiro, use the word foreigner.

    Taxa – Tax.

    A sum of money demanded by a government (sometimes a very large sum, if you’ve been making a lot of money!). Example: In my state, there is no sales tax. If you want to say taxa, use rate or fee.

    Ok, that’s all for now! Again if you know any more, tell us in comments. And don’t for get to try the quiz here!