Blog Italian Language Pills

10 Italian – English False Friends – episode 1

False friends are words that trick students because they look very similiar in the two languages, but they mean something else!

It is okay to make a mistake, but sometimes not recognising them can prevent us from understanding the message or conveying our own message, which can be a problem in a business situations or in general when the content of the conversation is quite important.

Today I have decided to come up with a list of 10 Italian – English common false friends, choosing among the ones I hear the most from my students!

1) Argument vs. argomento –> discussione

Argument is an exchange of diverging or opposite views, “discussione” in Italian, whereas the Italian word “argomento” means “topic”, as in the topic of a conversation.

2) Actually vs. attualmente –> in realtà

A very common mistake, “actually”, used to emphasize what we are saying, is translated into “in realtà”, not into “attualmente” that instead means “at the moment”.

3) Terrific vs. terrificante (negativo) –> ottimo / meraviglioso

Despite the fact that the adjective “terrific” kind of sounds negative to an Italian speaker – it did take me a while to learn that it wasn’t – it is positive in English.

When translated from English to Italian it is better to choose the adjectives “ottimo”, “meraviglioso” and similiar to make sure the listener understands!

4) Annoying – noioso –> fastidioso

Annoying is translated into “fastidioso” in Italian, whereas the more similiar “noioso” means a completely different thing, “boring”!

5) Noisy – noioso –> rumoroso

Connected to number 4 is number 5: the English “noisy” is “rumoroso” (from “rumore” – the bad sound), something that is opposite to “noioso”.

6) To pretend – pretendere –> fingere

If “pretendere” means “to demand”, “to pretend” is actually translated into “fingere” or “far finta”.

7) Educated – educato –> istruito

When in Italian you use the word “educato”, you refer to a person being well mannered, because it comes from the word “educazione”, “manners”. The original English is translated with “istruito”, that indeed comes from the word “istruzione” that refers to the education.

8) Library – libreria –> biblioteca

If in a library you can borrow books, you can’t in a “libreria” unless you pay! Library is indeed a biblioteca, and “libreria” is a bookshop. Confusing, isn’t it?

9) Accident – accidente –> incidente

When an Italian hears the word “accidente”, immediately thinks about the exclamation “accidenti!” (damn it) or in any case about a shoc. The English “accident” needs to be translated with “incidente”.

10) To attend – attendere –> frequentare

“Attendere” means “to wait” for someone or something, so “to attend” is in reality “frequentare” or “seguire”.

Were you already familiar with some of these? Let me know in the comments!

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  1. mara dattilo says:

    thank you so much for this article it was a great help
    Love your website

    1. Claudia Pane says:

      Many thanks!

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