What are false friends? They are essentially tricky words or phrases that you need to look out for when translating from English into another language. Below are some English words that may deceive you due to their resemblance to Italian words. But watch out, they have very different meanings!

False friends: what are they and how can you avoid them?

What are false friends

The main reason translators make mistakes in English-to-Italian translations is a lack of time, which often forces them to use more instinctive, superficial skills rather than their learned language skills.

Most native Italian speakers will have come across a few false friends in middle school and will have undoubtedly made a few mistakes in English (which are to be expected, especially when you’re a beginner.) However, this kind of ‘distracting’ mistake becomes much more serious when you start translating professionally.

In addition to translating carefully and attentively, the best way to avoid falling prey to a false friend is to consult a list of common false friend examples.

  • Parents: it will have happened to most native Italian speakers at least once. We’re often tempted to use this word to mean ‘relatives.’ Too bad it actually means ‘parents!’
  • Estate: this word has nothing to do with the Italian summer season and everything to do with real estate.
  • Library: oh, the hardships faced by Italian middle school students. This word does not mean ‘bookcase’ or ‘book shop,’ as you might think.
  • Notice: you cannot use this word to mean ‘news,’ (despite its similarity to ‘notizie’ in Italian), it’s actually the word for an important piece of information or a warning.
  • Rumour: as gossip experts will certainly be aware – given that this term has recently entered common Italian usage – this word does not mean ‘noise’ (despite looking like the Italian word ‘rumore’).
  • Annoy: rumours could be described as somewhat ‘annoying,’ however, Italians need to watch out! ‘Annoiare’ means to get bored, ‘fastidioso is a better match for the word ‘annoying.’
  • Brave: as Braveheart and Brave (the Disney animated film) once taught us, this word does not in fact mean ‘good’ (despite its resemblance to the Italian word ‘bravo’).
  • Sympathy: this word comes directly from ancient Greek and has remained practically unchanged in the English language, where it has retained its original meaning of ‘compassion.’ For Italian speakers, however, the very similar word ‘simpatia’ is used to describe a sense of congeniality.
  • Agenda: this is a Latin word that has kept its meaning in English. For Italians, the word is used to describe a diary or planner, while in British English, it’s used to describe a list of things to be discussed at a meeting.
  • Cold: a hilarious coincidence. This word does not mean hot (or ‘caldo’ in Italian) but in fact, its exact opposite.
  • Terrific: a common exclamation that tends to be used in British English. This adjective is not synonymous with the word ‘terrifying’ as you might think, but is instead used to describe something that is exceptional or amazing.
  • Preservatives: for English speakers, this has nothing to do with promoting safe sex or preventing STIs and everything to do with jam and marmalade!
  • Abuse: this verb often means ‘to take advantage of.’ In this particular instance, the English word and its Italian false friend have similar but not entirely overlapping meanings.
  • Eventually: this is a tricky one for native Italian speakers. Watch out, ‘eventually’ never means ‘possibly!’

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