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Watch Out For These 10 False Friends (False Cognates) When You Learn Portuguese

When you learn Portuguese, it's crucial to look out for false friends, or false cognates - those sneaky words that look like English words but mean something completely different. While there are a number of helpful words that both look similar and actually are similar, usually those with Latin roots like calculação (calculation), the flipside is that false friends can lead you to make serious errors without realizing it. If you learn with an expert teacher from, you can spot these linguistic traps and train yourself not to fall into them.

Below are ten examples of Portuguese false friends or false cognates.


If you’re lucky enough to have a date with a beautiful Brazilian person, whatever you do, don’t tell them that they’re esquisito/a – if you do, you’ll probably find that your evening goes downhill very quickly! It sounds very much like “exquisite,” but it really means “weird.”


As an English speaker, you might think that this word looks perfectly “comprehensible” to you, but you’d be wrong. If somebody is compreensível, that means they’re understanding of other people’s difficulties, not that they’re easy to understand.


Don’t “assume” that you know what this word means! To assumir something means to take it over or to take it on. We do use “assume” in that sense sometimes in English too, as in “to assume responsibility,” but the more common English meaning of “assume,” to make an assumption, is translated into Portuguese as presumir.


If you see a door with puxe written on it, don’t just walk into it, because you might find it more resistant than you expect. Puxe might sound almost exactly like “push,” but it means just the opposite – “pull.” If you travel to a Portuguese speaking country, this one will drive you crazy.


Not only is there a word in Portuguese that sounds just like “push” but means the complete opposite, there’s also a word that sounds a lot like “pull” but means something completely different! Pular means “to jump,” not “pull,” which, as mentioned above, is puxe.


Actually, this word doesn’t mean “actually.” It means “currently.” When you learn Portuguese, you should train yourself to say na verdade instead, because this is the kind of false friend that can lead to confusion quickly.


Bring some money with you when you go to the livraria for a book, otherwise you could be in real trouble! Livraria can mean “bookshop” as well as “library,” so be prepared.


When you’ve finished the first draft of your masterpiece, don’t take it directly to an editor, take it to an “editor” (redator) first. In Portuguese, editor means “publisher.”


When boasting of your bravery to your friends, don’t tell them that you’re bravo/a, because that usually means “angry.” Say you’re corajoso/a instead.


If somebody says “eu pretendo te ajudar a aprender português,” don’t worry, they’re not a “false friend!” It might sound like they’re saying “I’m pretending to help you learn Portuguese,” but in fact they’re saying they intend to help you.

The ten examples of false friends here are just the tip of the iceberg – you’ll come across many more as you learn Portuguese. The best way to avoid the pitfalls presented by false friends is to learn about them from an expert Portuguese instructor. Take the next step in your learning process: learn Portuguese online here.

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