false friend

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Calque of French faux-ami, from the longer phrase faux amis du traducteur (false friends of a translator), first used by Maxime Kœssler and Jules Derocquigny in 1928 in their book Les Faux Amis ou les trahisons du vocabulaire anglais (False Friends, or the Pitfalls of the English Vocabulary).[1]



false friend (plural false friends)

  1. (linguistics, translation studies, lexicography) A word in a language that bears a deceptive resemblance to a word in another language but in fact has a different meaning. The words in question may well be etymologically related, but in such cases semantic shifts have made them drift apart.
    Synonym: faux ami
  2. Used other than with a figurative or idiomatic meaning: see false,‎ friend.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Examples:
    • The English word actual means real, but in many languages (e.g. French, Italian and Spanish, with varied spellings) it means current.
    • In English benzene refers to a specific chemical, C6H6, but in many languages (e.g. Dutch, Polish) it means gasolene/petrol.
    • The French verb demander means "to ask", but to English-speakers it sounds like "to demand", which could turn negotiation into confrontation.
    • The Spanish adjective embarazado (more often used in the feminine form, embarazada) means pregnant, not embarrassed — "estoy embarazada" means "I am pregnant", not "I am embarrassed".
    • The Spanish verb molestar means "to annoy", not "to molest". Similarly, the Italian verb molestare means "to annoy".
    • The German verb will means "to want", and is not a future tense marker — "Ich will gehen" means "I want to go", not "I will go". Similarly, the word wil in Dutch and Afrikaans means "to want": "Ik wil gaan" (Dutch) and "Ek wil gaan" (Afrikaans) mean "I want to go". (although, to be more accurate, English will, German will and Dutch and Afrikaans wil are actually only partial false friends, because will does occasionally have the same [or a very similar] meaning in English as in German, such as in the phrase "If you will it to be so", or in "God willing").
    • The Italian adjective triviale means vulgar, not trivial, though the two words do share a common Latin root (trivium that in Latin means crossroad); "Questo è triviale" means "This is in bad taste", not "This is obvious".
    • The Danish and Swedish noun gift (also capitalized in German as "Gift") means poison, not something given.
    • The Chinese 手紙手纸 (shǒuzhǐ) means "toilet paper", but to Japanese-speakers it may be mistaken for the Kanji word made up of the same characters which is pronounced as tegami and means "letter".
    • The Hindi बनाना (banānā) means "to make", but sounds like English banana.



  • Chinese: 假朋友 (jiǎpéngyou), 假友 (jiǎyǒu), 偽友伪友 (wěiyǒu) (calque)


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Christoph Gutknecht (2001), “Translation”, in Mark Aronoff, Janie Rees-Miller, editors, The Handbook of Linguistics, Blackwell Publishers