Brasilmagic\’s Weblog

Venting to the World

False Friends

No, this is not a post about backstabbing friends and how to avoid them/watch out for signs. Although I could talk about that too..let’s say, a friend who is never happy for you when you accomplish something, never compliments you and seems to like you better when you are down.

This is a post about words that sound similar in different languages and have the same roots but have distinct meanings. Hey, distinct is one of them :).

Also called Colour Words, these words cause a lot of confusion for Brazilians living in the U.S. and Americans living in Brazil. It’s funny listening to my Brazilian friends when visiting; they are not aware of some different meanings because they haven’t really lived in America or spent significant time here to learn all of them.

Here is a website with False Friends in Portuguese and English:

That list is very short though. There are many others, more than I can think of now, and I invite my fellow Brazilians who come across this blog to add some more:

ENGLISH                                    PORTUGUESE

1. Compromise (to setttle)-Compromisso (a date, appointment, commitment)

2. Assist (to help)-Assistir (to watch)

3. Absolutely (totally, yes)-Absolutamente (No!, completely)

4.Office (workplace)-Ofício (profession)

5. Condone (to agree with something someone did)-condenar (to find guilty, to disagree)

6. Academy (Learning Institution)-Academia (gym!)

7. Gymnastics (Olympic sport)-Ginãstica (any kind of exercise)

8. Preservative (chemicals added to foods)-Preservativo (condom!)

9. Push (to push!!)-Puxe (to pull!)-this is a source of great confusion for both Americans and Brazilians

10. Distraction (something that takes your attention)-Distração (also entertainment)

11. Distinct (different)-Distinto (Honorable)

Anyhow, False Friends can add to the stress of living in a different country (Germans, French, etc, all have colour words with English) as well as cause some communication problems for Brazilian-American couples.

One of them is the word sleepy. For us Brazilians, sleepy means wanting to sleep.  Americans say “tired”.  In Portuguese, you can be tired without wanting to sleep. You can be tired after a game of tennis and not want to sleep. And you can feel like sleeping without being tired. In Brazil tired is after some strenuous exercise…it took some time for  my husband and I to understand each other on this 🙂


September 23, 2009 Posted by | Difference between cultures | 6 Comments