Spanish and Portuguese False Friends

11 Jan 2017

false friends Spanish Portuguese



Portugal and Spain, as being in the south of Europe, share a certain way of living, customs and habits; the same similarity we find when it comes to Portuguese and Spanish language.  However, Portugal has been maintaining its own identity for a long time. Since 1143, to be exact, when it was separated from “Spain”, the Kingdom of Portugal was established, and some years later when the University of Lisbon was created, Portuguese was recognised as the official, independent language.


Portuguese and Spanish, although closely related sibling languages (also known as sister languages or brother languages), differ in many details of their phonology, grammar, and lexicon. Both are part of a language group known as West Iberian Romance and evolved from Latin.


The most obvious differences are in pronunciation. Mutually intelligible to some degree (mostly in writing), Spanish and Portuguese have about 89% lexical overlap, so many words are shared or similar between those two languages. Most of the frequent words share a common origin in Latin, but several of them differ, in that they have a broader or narrower meaning in one language than in the other, or their meanings are entirely different. On this basis they are called “false friends” –  pairs of words in two different languages that look or sound the same or very similar but have different meanings.

falsos amigos español portugues





Minor or major changes in the meaning of words that one shared the same origin might have many reasons;  immigration, literature and traditions among them. If you are using your knowledge of one language to help learn the other, watch out for the false friends – there is a long list of them, we are presenting only a few.

Embaraçada and Embarazada

The Portuguese embaraçada means “embarrassed,” as you might expect. The Spanish embarazada, however, means “pregnant.” Confusing these words could indeed cause an embarrassing situation. The Portugese word for pregnant is grávida, and the Spanish word for embarrassed is avergonzado(a).

Esquisita and Exquisita

These nearly identical words have completely different meanings. The Portuguese esquisita means “weird.” The Spanish exquisita, on the other hand, means “exquisite, excellent, delicious, delightful,” and so on.

Oficina and escritorio

In Spanish, oficina means “office.” In Portuguese, this word refers to a “workshop.” The Portuguese word for office is escritório. Spanish escritorio in turn, means „desk” or „computer desktop”

goma y borrachaPolvo

This is the Portuguese word for “octopus” (a frequent one, as it is commonly eaten in both counties). In Spanish it is pulpo and the meaning of polvo is „dust” (in Spain it also can have sexual connotations). „Dust„ in Portuguese is simply pó.


Calling someone borracha (fem. borracha,  masc. borracho) would indicate she has had too many alcoholic drinks and you can easily see its influence.  Borracha in Portuguese has nothing to do with drinking and simply means a rubber. Drunk in Portuguese is bêbado or embriagado and rubber in Spanish is goma.


Cena in Spain is „supper”, so the last meal of the day, usually eaten around 21.00h – 22.00h or even later. In Portugal cena is a „scene”, so for example „violent scenes” are cenas de violência not „suppers full of violence” as could be thought of in Spain. Have supper in Portuguese is jantar.


Some more examples of Portuguese-Spanish false friends:

portuguese spanish false friends

Doce: twelve (Sp); sweet (Pt);

Salsa: Sauce (Sp); Parsley (Pt);

Grasa/Graça: Grease (Sp); Grace (Pt);

Suceso/Sucesso: Event (Sp); Success (Pt);

Tripa: Belly (Sp); Piece of Intestine (Pt);

Cana: White hair (Sp); Sugar cane (Pt);

Propina: Tip (Sp); Bribery/Tuition (Pt);


These examples are not a full list of Portuguese-Spanish false friends, which is a lot longer.  False friends can be fixed and corrected thanks to the context. However we should also take into consideration cultural predisposition and background of the learner. Therefore I would suggest you to keep attention always to the context and not to trust in false friends.


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