"False Friends" in Portuguese

Guest blog post by Jhenifer L.

Trying to understand what is being said in a new language can feel like trying to put together a piece of furniture without tools. When confused by speech, one of the best strategies is to use what we have in front of us– and that would mainly be our mother tongues.

Being able to compare our own language to the one we are learning is an essential practice. Finding similarities between them helps us decipher what is being said as well as to start grasping how our target language works.  

Due to historical factors and globalization, countless English words have been incorporated into languages all around the world, and Portuguese is no exception. Vice versa is also true as Portuguese can be closely linked to Latin, the root of many English words.

Words that look and/or sound similar (or sometimes, even the same!) between two languages often derive from the same roots. These are called "cognates" and they are the easiest ones to spot in our hunt for something that makes sense in a foreign text. We sigh in relief at the sight of an ideia (idea), dança (dance), hora (hour) and chocolate (do we even need to give you the English translation for this one?).  

However, some words that look or sound like words we know in our language might have a completely different meaning. The feeling of betrayal when we realize they don’t mean what we first thought they did gives them the name of "false friends."

But don’t worry! Finding differences between the two languages also helps us learn. To make that bit easier for you, we have made a list of the seven most common "false friends" in Portuguese.

library interior
A bookstore, not a library: you have to pay for these! Photo by Clay Banks / Unsplash


At the top of our list is the nightmare of both English speakers who learn Portuguese and Portuguese speakers who learn English. As we learn that the ending "-ly" is often translated as "- mente", just like "finally" becomes "finalmente," we automatically think that “atualmente” means "actually" when it ‘actually’ means "lately". Example: Atualmente, eu estou estudando português (Lately, I have been studying Portuguese.)


Although it sounds like the English word "library," it means "bookstore." So you go to the livraria to buy your books and then head to the biblioteca to study. Example: Ele sempre compra livros na livraria local (He always buys books in the local bookstore).  


You might want to have a "discussion" in Portuguese, but maybe not a discussão. Even though they sound and look very similar, believe it or not, discussão means "argument". Example: Meus irmãos tiveram uma discussão pelo controle remoto (My brothers had an argument over the remote). 


This one can get a little confusing, but instead of "to pretend" it actually means "to intend." If you want to say "to pretend," it’s better to use fingir instead. Example: Eu pretendo ser um médico (I intend to be a doctor).  

brown cupcakes on silver tray
A snack, not a healthy lunch. Photo by Nick Fewings / Unsplash


Lanche is just a small "snack" you have throughout the day. If you want to say "lunch," you will have to say almoço. Example: O almoço hoje estava delicioso (Lunch today was delicious.)


"Fabric," its sound-alike word in English, translates to “tecido.” Fábrica is the word for "factory." Example: A fábrica de chocolate é gigante (The chocolate factory is gigantic).


By now, you already know this word doesn’t actually mean "journal." Can you try and guess what it really is? It most often means "newspaper." Example: Hoje, as pessoas não leem mais o jornal. (People nowadays don’t read the newspaper anymore.)  

Do you want to continue learning other cognates? Sign up today for virtual Portuguese lessons with Cricket eLearning (or for the 10 other languages we offer!). We can’t wait to give you the tools you need to help you build up your language skills!