• Language Blog

    15 False Friends in Portuguese

    Is anything more frustrating when you are learning a language, than words that *look* exactly like the English word… but it turns out they mean something totally different in your target language? These are called false friends, and there are plenty of them in Portuguese. In this blog post, I’ve rounded up 15 of them so you can make sure they never catch you out again.

    1. Puxe

    This one still gets me. In this word, the x is pronounced “sh” giving us the word push. But it actually means pull. Nice one, Portugal.

    2. Oficina

    So this should mean office. Except it means garage or workshop – i.e. the place you take your car to get serviced. Your office is in fact your escritório.

    3. Sensível

    Usually when words end in “-vel” in Portuguese you can replace it with “-ble” and end up with the English word e.g. horrível = horrible. However sensível does not mean sensible. It actually means sensitive.

    4. Realizar

    This verb does mean “to realise”, but not in the sense that “I realised I forgot my purse”. For that, you need the phrase dar-se conta de. (E.g. Dei-me conta de que me tinha esquecido a carteira). “Realizar” means to accomplish, or to perform e.g. to achieve your objective = realizar o seu objetivo.

    5. Costume

    This has nothing to do with fancy dress, sadly. It comes instead from the word “custom” and refers to a habit. E.g. What’ll it be? The usual, please! = O que vai ser? O costume, se faz favor!

    6. Experimentar

    This has nothing to do with science, this verb instead refers to “experiencing” or “trying something out“. Great for when you want to try an ice cream flavour before you commit to a whole tub. E.g. Can I try the brigadeiro ice cream? = Posso experimentar o gelado de brigadeiro?

    7. Exposição

    Usually you can replace the “-ção” a the end of a Portuguese word with “-tion” to get the English word e.g. sensaçāo = sensation. This word however is not “exposition”, but exhibition.

    8. Êxito

    Not the exit, as one would imagine. This means success, e.g. It was successful in Brazil = teve muito êxito no Brasil.

    9. Esquisito

    It’s weird that this word doesn’t mean “exquisite”. It actually means weird.

    10. Pretender

    “Ele pretende ser astronauta.” While one would logically think this means he pretends to be an astronaut, it actually means he intends to be an astronaut. If he was pretending, we would use the verb fingir.

    11. Particular

    A particularly curious one – this word usually means private. E.g. uma aula particular = a private lesson. It can also be used to refer to something in particular but it’s not as common – “I like this ring in particular” = Eu gosto deste anel em particular.

    12. Exploração

    This means exploration, surely? Like “I’m going to go exploring the Amazon?” Definitely not. A exploração da Amazonia is the exploitation of the Amazon, and you definitely don’t want to go around doing that.

    13. Manifestação

    A manifestation of sorts – but literally this means a protest. And there are plenty going on at the moment…

    14. Constipado

    A blockage, but not of the bowels. This is what you’ll say if you have a cold. E.g. estou constipado/a!

    15. Parentes

    It would make sense if this word referred to your parents, but in fact it means relatives in general. Your parents are your pais.

    Have any others been catching you out? Let me know in the comments! For weekly tips on improving your Portuguese, sign up to my mailing list or register for my next beginners crash course in November.

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  • Reply Bruce Lee Berger October 24, 2019 at 6:20 pm

    A “fun” false friend (“faux ami” in French) is the word “chichi” (pronounced “she-she”). Originally comes from the French word “chic”, and is defined as “attempting stylish elegance but achieving only an overelaborate pretentiousness”.

    The Portuguese homonyme is “xixi” (pee/urine). So if you were to literally translate “Oh! That’s so chichi!”, it would come out (if you’ll pardon the expression 😉 ) *VERY* different in Portuguese. 😀

  • Reply resharma86 October 25, 2019 at 12:14 pm

    Good one Bruce! I didn’t know about this one in French 😉

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