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false friend (plural false friends)

  1. (linguistics, idiomatic) A word in a language that bears a deceptive resemblance to a word in another language but in fact has a different meaning. The words in question may well be etymologically related, but in such cases semantic shifts have made them drift apart.

Usage notesEdit

  • Examples:
    • The French verb demander means "to ask", but to English-speakers it sounds like "to demand", which could turn negotiation into confrontation.
    • The Spanish adjective embarazado (more often used in the feminine form, embarazada) means pregnant, not embarrassed — "estoy embarazada" means "I am pregnant", not "I am embarrassed".
    • The Spanish verb molestar means "to annoy", not "to molest".
    • The German verb will means "to want", and is not a future tense marker — "Ich will gehen" means "I want to go", not "I will go".
      • Similarly, the word wil in Dutch and Afrikaans means "to want": "Ik wil gaan" (Dutch) and "Ek wil gaan" (Afrikaans) mean "I want to go".
    • The Italian adjective triviale means vulgar, not trivial, though the two words do share a common Latin root (trivium that in Latin means crossroad); "Questo è triviale" means "This is in bad taste", not "This is obvious".
    • The Danish and Swedish noun gift means poison, not something given.
    • The Chinese 手紙手纸 (shǒuzhǐ) means "toilet paper", but to Japanese-speakers it may be mistaken for the Kanji word made up of the same characters which is pronounced as tegami and means "letter".
    • The Hindi बनाना (banānā) means "to make", but sounds like English banana.



See alsoEdit