Cognates and false friends

cognates and false friends

So similar …but so different!

As we all know, learning a foreign language is always difficult but things can get even more complicated when encountering some similarities in the vocabulary. Wondering why something that should make your life easier – such a similarity between two languages – is actually there to confuse you?

Unfortunately not all the words that might look similar have the same meaning and most of them are actually wolves in sheep’s clothing of language learning.

Do not be afraid, even people who speak almost fluently a foreign language sometimes can fall into the trap of these wolves in sheep’s clothing. Making mistakes is normal – sbagliando si impara! With time and practice you will learn how to recognise these tricky words as well as how to use them correctly.

What are exactly Cognates and False friends?

All the words that look and sound similar in two different languages can be divided and identified into two main groups: cognates and false friends.The expression cognate is used to define a word that is present in two different languages, with a similar spelling and the exact same meaning.This type of words is generally pronounced in the same way or very similarly in both languages and the spelling tends to be similar too.

Most importantly, these similar words in the two different languages have the same basic definition. This is because the words may be from different languages, but if you go back far enough to get to their historic origin, you will find out that they actually share the same linguistic root.

Hence, they derive from the same original word. In our specific case, bear in mind that English and Italian share the same linguistic root of the Vulgar Latin.

Cognates are usually easy to recognise, learn and remember: you can definitely consider them as really true friends!


Fork  → Forchetta  

Table → Tavolo

Aria → Air  

Animale → Animal

False friends, on the other hand, make learning a new language a bit more tricky. A false friend is a word in a specific language that even if spelled and pronounced in a similar way to a word in another language, unfortunately has a totally different meaning.

As already mentioned, Italian and English share the same linguistic origin, reason why there are a lot of words in both languages that having a common Latin root, look and sound very similar.

Not only English and Italian share a lot of cognates, but they also share quite a number of false friends.


Most common false friends between Italian and English

I have put together a comprehensive (and pretty long) list of some of the most common false friends to watch out for:

Argomento vs Argument

argomento = topicsubjectthemeevidence
argument = discussionelitigio

Fabbrica vs Fabric

fabbrica = factory
fabric = stoffa

Fattoria vs Factory

fattoria = farm
factory = fabbrica

Attualmente vs Actually

attualmente = currently
actually = in realtà

Accidente vs Accident

accidente = coincidence, misfortune, sickness
accident = incidenteinfortunio

Educato vs Educated

educato = polite
educated = istruito, erudito

Pretendere vs Pretend

pretendere = to demand
to pretend = fare finta di, fingere

Libreria vs Library

libreria = bookshop
library = biblioteca

Confrontare vs confront

confrontare = to compare
to confront = affrontare

Sensibile vs Sensible

sensibile = sensitive
sensible = sensato, adatto

Conveniente vs convenient

conveniente = good value
convenient = comodo

Largo vs Large

largo = wide
large = grande

Delusione vs Delusion

delusione = disappointment
delusion = illusione, allucinazione

Morbido vs Morbid

morbido = soft
morbid = morboso

Lettura vs Lecture

lettura = reading
lecture = lezione, conferenza, ramanzina

Eventualmente vs eventually

eventualmente = possibly, if need be
eventually = finalmente, prima o poi

Pavimento vs pavement

pavimento = floor
pavement = marciapiede, strada asfaltata

Finalmente vs Finally

finalmente = about time
finally = alla fine

Libreria vs library

libreria = bookshop
library = biblioteca

Discussione vs discussion

discussione = litigio (argument)
discussion = exchange of opinions, conversation

Magazzino vs magazine

magazzino = warehouse
magazine = periodico, rivista

Confidenza vs Confidence

confdenza = intimacy, familiarity
confidence = sicurezza, fiducia in se stesso

Marmellata vs Marmalade

marmellata = jam
marmalade = marmellata di agrumi

Parenti vs Parents

parenti = relatives
parents = genitori

Preservativo vs Preservative

preservativo = contraceptive, condom
preservative = conservante

Ricordo vs Record

ricordo = memoryrecollection
record = nota, documento, discovinile

Romanzo vs Romance

romanzo = novel
romance = storia d’amore

Rumore vs Rumour

rumore = noise, sound
rumour = pettegolezzo, voce diffusa

Stampa vs Stamp

stampa = press, print, printing
stamp = francobollo

Terrificante vs Terrific

terrificante = terrifying
terrific = fantastico, eccezionale

Cesto vs Chest

cesto = basket
chest = petto

Crudo vs Crude

crudo = raw
crude (vulgar) = volgare, rozzo

Caldo vs Cold

caldo = hot
cold = freddo

Annoiare vs Annoy

Annoiare = to bore
to annoy = infastidire

Noioso vs Noisy

noioso = boring
noisy = rumoroso

Aggiustare vs Adjust

aggiustare = to fix, to repair
to adjust = adattare

Agenda vs Agenda

agenda = diary
agenda = ordine del giorno

Camera vs Camera

camera = room
camera = fotocamera, macchina fotografica


False friends in food vocabulary



As one of my favourite topics is food – or better saying Italian food, let’s point out some very common false friends related to the food vocabulary. I think that the following list will be extremely useful if you are planning to visit Italy or just even to dine in a traditional Italian restaurant.

Knowing these words will save you from bad surprises or embarrassing moments. However, don’t worry, in the event, please just fatevi una bella risata (have a laugh) with the waiter and order something else! As you know, everything is always delicious. 😋


Cocomero vs Cucumber

cocomero (anguria) = watermelon
cucumber = cetriolo

Crema vs Cream

crema = custard
cream = panna

Peperoni vs Pepperoni

peperoni = peppers
pepperoni = salame piccante (spicy salame)

Maccheroni vs Macaroni

maccheroni = specific type of pasta that can be prepared with
different kind of sauces

macaroni = mac and cheese

Latte vs Latte

latte = milk
latte = caffè latte (milky coffee)

Scaloppine vs scallops

scaloppine = sliced meat dish
scallops = capesante

Panini vs Panini

panini (plural of panino) = cold or toasted sandwich, bread roll
panini = toasted sandwich

Al fresco vs Al fresco

al fresco – stare al fresco = to stay in a chilly / breezy place
al fresco – to eat al fresco = mangiare fuori, all’aperto 


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Grazie mille!