11 Spanish Words That Will Trick You

English and Spanish have a long history together. Today, more people than ever are sitting down in the U.S. to learn Spanish in schools and casually. But things are not as simple as they might seem. The Spanish language is full of false cognates that can easily trick you if you don’t look closely enough. We’ve got some of the trickiest Spanish words to use as an English-speaker together here. You might want to keep this before your next slip up!

11. Embarazada

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What it sounds like: Embarrassed

What it actually means: Pregnant

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There you are in Spanish class, reading from some written exercise your teacher assigned you, and you stumble. You describe being embarrassed at something your mother said or did in public, but instead, the classroom hears something else: you became pregnant. Don’t let the way the word sounds fool you: the real word you should use is “avergonzada” if you want people to know you were embarrassed. And of course, you’ll have plenty of chances to use the word to describe how you feel in the near future.

10. Éxito

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What it sounds like: Exit

What it actually means: Success

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Sure, sometimes getting out of something is a form of success, but we’re guessing that’s not always what you mean to say. Having great “éxito” in your Spanish language journey will require knowing the difference. The word you really want is “salida.” You’ll need to find that shortly.

9. Excitado

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What it sounds like: Excited

What it actually means: Aroused

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You might be very excited to see someone, but you very much do not want to sound like you’re that kind of excited to see them. The word you are looking for is “animado” to describe your feelings of excitement that are distinctly not sexy. 

8. Actualmente

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What it sounds like: Actually

What it actually means: Currently

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We all know someone who loves to start their sentences with “Actually – ” before launching into a definition or factoid that we didn’t know. Now it’s our turn. Actually – “actualmente” does not mean actually, it means currently. The phrase you are actually looking for is “en realidad,” which roughly translates back to “in reality.” 

7. Decepción

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What you think it means: Deception

What it actually means: Disappointment

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It’s easy to feel deceived by this false cognate. Deceptive as it might be, the word you are looking for is “engañar.” It’s a standard mishap but you’ve got this – and we’ll make sure you remember especially since you’ll be really disappointed with the response you get from Spanish speakers if you keep misusing this tricky word.

6. Constipación

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What you think it means: Constipation

What it actually means: A cold

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Now trying to explain to your doctor why you’ve had a cold for several days while he asks if you are sure that’s the word you mean to use may sound funny, but it probably won’t be when you realize you’re getting more vapor rub instead of prune juice. If you really find you’re stuck, the word you’re looking for is “estreñimiento.”

5. Fábrica

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What you think it means: Fabric

What it actually means: Factory

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One of these is where the fabric is created, and the other is the fabric itself. Why must these words sound so similar? You’ll be able to keep them separate in your head by remembering that the Spanish word that you’re looking for is “tela,” which is (somewhat) closer to the English word for textile. If you’re still feeling stuck, just remember you often find yourself wrapped in fabric (if you get dressed regularly) but might not want to be in a factory every day.

4. Delito

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What you think it means: Delete

What it actually means: Felony

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Trying to undo something you didn’t mean to type isn’t that complicated, but if you find yourself surrounded by people shaking their heads and looking frightened when you talk about how you deleted something last week and need help, it might be because everyone thinks you just told them you committed a felony. Save yourself the awkwardness and learn the word for “erase” which is pretty close to the English word “delete”: “borrar.”

3. Molestar

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What you think it means: To molest

What it actually means: To bother

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Imagine this:

You approach a cashier at a store and say “sorry to bother you, but does this store carry paperclips?” The cashier stares at you and shakes their head asking you to leave them alone. What’s the matter? Is it not okay to ask for paperclips? Oh wait, maybe you just suggested that you were molesting the cashier and they handwaved you away because they’re not getting paid enough to do all that. Bothering someone is infinitely less serious. If you really want to describe something as serious, the word you are looking for is “abusar.”

2. Pisar

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What you think it means: To piss

What it actually means: To step

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Step right up and learn the difference! Taking yourself to the bathroom? The word you are looking for is “mear.” “Pisar” is to pace or step on something, like a floor. It’ll be a huge difference to the owner of the floor you are talking about, especially if they don’t want pee on their carpet.

1. Esposas

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What you think it means: Wives

What it also means: Handcuffs

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This one is especially frustrating because it’s not even a false cognate. Esposa is wife. Esposas? Many wives. But esposas are also handcuffs, and handcuffing someone is “esposando.” So the guy who thought just got “wifed up”? Yeah he got arrested. Better make sure you get to county jail before you head to the chapel if you think you got it wrong.

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