False friends in language learning are cool but somewhat frustrating.
Learning Spanish from English is fantastic because it means that before you even start you will already know thousands of Spanish words.
But, if you run into Spanish false friends, also known as false cognates, when you try to guess the meaning of these words, you may get into trouble.
One of the most well-known false cognates is embarazada, which doesn’t mean ’embarrassed’, but instead means ‘pregnant’.
So, with the potential confusion and, ironically, embarrassment that could come with making a mistake with one of these false cognates, it’s worth taking the time to take a closer look at these words.
And specifically, I can’t think of another area in Spanish that has more false friends between Spanish and English than emotions.
Maybe it’s because emotions are so hard to describe. Or, maybe it’s because cultures view ideas such as love, excitement and shame very differently. Or, maybe it is difficult to maintain the essence of these types of words when they are translated.
Either way, you should study these words closely to avoid any awkward ‘lost in translation’ moments in the future.
15 Spanish false friends about emotion
I’m going to present the false friends around emotion in a table that I probably spent too much time thinking about.
I was thinking about how you’ll most likely to come across these words for the first time and how you should best learn them.
So, I have created the table with the intention that as you read left to right you can draw a connection as quickly as possible to the actual word in Spanish and then review the false friend and its definition later.
Therefore the table of false cognates looks as follows:
Note, the last example, ‘molest’ carries so much weight in English, and is really a horrible word. In contrast, the word molesto in Spanish is fairly moderate in its everyday usage.
By all means, this isn’t an exhaustive list. But it is a list based on common use, which means you’ll likely to run into these words when you are practising.
Here are some examples to demonstrate the use of each of these Spanish false friends.
1. Emocionado – Excited
It feels unusual to use this word as excited and not emotional but like all of the words in this post, it’s simply something you going to have to get used to.
English: She is very excited to meet you.
Español: Ella está muy emocionada de conocerte.
English: I was very excited to see you, the other day.
Español: Estuve muy emocionado de verte, el otro día.
2. Excitado – Aroused
Excitado could mean aroused sexually, but you can use it in neutral contexts as well.
English: The boy was (over) aroused by the sugar in the soft drinks.
Español: El niño estaba excitado por el azúcar de las bebidas refrescantes.
English: In this situation, it is impossible to be aroused.
Español: En esta situación, es imposible estar excitado.
3. Sentimental – Emotional
If you need to describe someone that tends to be very emotional, sentimental is the perfect word.
English: When he was young he was very emotional but now he is much more mature.
Español: Cuando era joven era muy sentimental, pero ahora es más maduro.
English: She received an emotional message from her friend.
Español: Ella recibió un mensaje sentimental de su amiga.
4. Afectivo – Sentimental
In the context of a memory or a possession that brings back memories, you can use the word afectivo.
English: This photograph has sentimental value.
Español: Esta fotografía tiene un valor afectivo.
English: The car is not worth much but holds a lot of sentimental value.
Español: El coche no vale mucho pero guarda un gran valor afectivo.
5. Sensato – Sensible
Use sensato in the context of someone that is rational and makes sensible decisions.
English: My mum is a sensible person, she always makes the right decision.
Español: Mi madre es una persona sensata, siempre toma la decisión correcta.
English: It is rare, but he is a sensible politician.
Español: Es raro, pero él es un político sensato.
6. Sensible – Sensitive
Similar to sentimental, sensible can be used to describe sensitive reactions or sensitivity around sensation such as a sense of smell or touch.
English: I’m so sensitive (easily offended) when I’m tired.
Español: Soy tan sensible cuando estoy cansado.
English: A dog’s sense of smell is very sensitive.
Español: El sentido del olfato de un perro es muy sensible.
7. Sensitivo – Sentient (sensory)
Sensitivo is used for someone who is very tuned in to peoples emotions. You could also use this word to describe someone that is perceptive.
English: They have created a sensory experience.
Español: Ellos han creado una experiencia sensitiva.
English: You can’t lie to her, she is very perceptive.
Español: No se puede mentir a ella, ella es muy sensitiva.
8. Avergonzado – Embarrassed
The use of avergonzado is straightforward, the challenge is remembering that embarazada means something completely different.
English: He was embarrassed by his mistake.
Español: Estuvo avergonzado por su error.
English: I am embarrassed by the actions of my family.
Español: Me siento avergonzado por las acciones de mi familia.
9. Decepción – Disappointment
Here are two examples for the idea of disappointment in Spanish translated as a noun (decepción) and an adjective (decepcionado).
English: The result of the match was a disappointment.
Español: El resultado del partido fue una decepción.
English: My dad is disappointed with me.
Español: Mi padre está decepcionado conmigo.
10. Placer – Delight
You can translate ‘delight’ as placer or encantado/a. These two examples are simple but very useful.
English: It’s a pleasure to meet you.
Español: Es un placer conocerte.
English: Delighted to meet you.
Español: Encantado de conocerte.
11. Deshonra – Disgrace
Of all of the false friends in this article, deshonra makes a lot of sense in the translation of ‘dishonour’ vs ‘disgrace’. But, you need to remember to be careful with the next example, desgracia in Spanish.
English: His behaviour was a disgrace.
Español: Su comportamiento fue una deshonra.
English: This type of work is not a disgrace (dishonour).
Español: Este tipo de trabajo no es una deshonra.
12. Desgracia – Misfortune
English: Misfortune follows me.
Español: La desgracia me persigue.
English: He suffered greatly from his misfortune.
Español: Sufrió mucho de su desgracia.
13. Cortés – Gracious
English: He is very gracious and always opens the door for me.
Español: Él es muy cortés y siempre abre la puerta para mí.
English: These days it is difficult to find a courteous man.
Español: Hoy en día es difícil encontrar un hombre cortés.
14. Gracioso – Funny
English: This comedian is very funny.
Español: Este cómico es muy divertido.
English: Your joke isn’t funny.
Español: Tu broma no es graciosa.
15. Molesto – Annoying
As you can see with these two examples, molesto is a word that carries far less weight than the false friend in English. You can use it to talk about an annoying friend, boss, song or something such as street noise or a barking dog.
English: Is your boss annoying?
Español: ¿Es molesto tu jefe?
English: The street noise at night annoys me.
Español: Me molesta el ruido de la calle por la noche.
As I mentioned earlier false friends are fun but they are also a challenge. If you do find yourself complaining or getting frustrated by these words just think of all of the words that Spanish and English have in common.
How else can you use the false friends from this post in a Spanish sentence? What other Spanish false friends about emotion do you know?