18 European Portuguese False Cognates You Should Know

We all know the signs of a false friend. They deceive and hurt us, drain our energy, and make us feel bad about ourselves. But did you know the same applies to some words? 

Of course, the words themselves won’t hurt your feelings. But these false friends, also called false cognates, generate and worsen uncomfortable or frustrating situations. They leave you confused and discouraged while learning a new language.

But what are language false friends? Which are the most common between English and European Portuguese? And how can you use them to avoid embarrassing situations?

In this article, you’ll explore the difference between a true and a false cognate and how it affects your communication. Plus, you’ll explore 18 examples of false cognates between English and Portuguese from Portugal. Let’s get started!

True Cognates Vs. False Cognates

Cognates – Words With The Same Meaning

During your language-learning process, you will first discover cognates. This expression refers to two words that establish a bridge between two languages. They are etymologically related, with the same meaning, the same origin, form, and similar sound.

Uncovering true cognates allows you to guess new words with a common root in different languages from around the world. For example, you can learn 500 Portuguese cognates, words with similar meanings in the English language, in our video: 500 Common Words in 3 minutes!

False Cognate – Words With a Different Meaning

False cognates have similar pronunciations in different languages and appear etymologically related. They have an identical written form but a different meaning. 

An example of a false cognate is “sopa,”

used by Portuguese and Spanish speakers. It can easily be associated with “soap” in English. Despite their sound and form, these words have a dissimilar origin. In English, “sopa” is “soup.” The Spanish word for soap is “jabón,” and in Portuguese it is “sabão.”

False cognates are similar words with a different meaning. They leave you confused and scared to speak.

Now you understand why it’s called a false friend. When you encounter a false cognate, you become confused and unable to express yourself while talking to others in Portuguese from Portugal. 

But knowing these words and their meanings will help you gain confidence to continue exploring the language. Find other examples in our video: 50 False Friends – Portuguese/English

Next, discover 18 European Portuguese false friend examples you’ll undoubtedly cross paths with. 

18 European Portuguese to English False Friends

These are some of the most common Portuguese-to-English false cognates. You’ll not only encounter them from the start of your language-learning process but also use them time and time again. 

Our European Portuguese course approaches these and more false cognates. The Journey is an engaging and fun learning path that will help you speak confidently regardless of the situation.


The Portuguese verb “atender” seems similar to “attend.” But “attend,” in English, denotes being present (“estar presente”

) or participating (“participar”
) in a meeting or event. Yet, “atender” means to answer the phone or assist a client, for example.


“Balcão” is a word you might relate to “balcony.” But it is a false cognate, referring instead to “counter.” If you want to say “balcony,” use “varanda.”

Some restaurants or coffee shops have a sign saying “Pagamento ao balcão”
(Payment at the counter).


Despite having the same pronunciation, “beef” and “bife” have different meanings. In Portuguese, “bife” is a steak regardless of the type of protein. You can say “bife de frango”

(chicken steak), “bife de atum”
(tuna steak), or “bife de tempeh”
(tempeh steak). The translation for “beef” is “carne de vaca”
(cow’s meat).


Portuguese people use the adjective “compreensivo/a”

to characterize someone as understanding. To indicate comprehensiveness, you should say “abrangente” ou “que engloba várias coisas.”
For example, to say that you’ve read a comprehensive article about politics, you say: “Eu li um artigo abrangente sobre política.”


This false cognate example shows how changes between Portuguese and other languages can create awkward situations. Don’t conclude that Portuguese people struggle openly with blocked bowel issues. The meaning of “Constipação” is “(having) a cold.” That is why people might casually ask if you are “constipado/a”

when you have a cough or stuffy nose. “Constipation” in the Portuguese language is “obstipação”
or “prisão de ventre.”

"Constipação" means having a cold. It is one of the most common false cognates between English and Portuguese.


“Costume” is a false cognate example. It refers to “habit” or “custom.” The Portuguese translation of “costume” is “fato.”

For instance, if you go to the beach, you will wear a “fato de banho”
(bathing costume). 


“Data” is a false cognate that signifies “date,” as in: “What date is today?” (“Qual é a data de hoje?”

). For the equivalent of the English word “data,” you can use either “dados”
or “informação.”


If you want to say something is exquisite while in Portugal, don’t say it is “esquisito.” Instead, you can use “requintado”

or “elegante.”
The meaning of “esquisito” is strange, odd, or quirky.


This Portuguese word appears and sounds similar to “exit.” But “êxito” in European Portuguese means “success,” and “ter êxito”

is “to succeed.” The equivalent to “exit” is “saída.”
You will often see signs on highways and parking lots that say “saída.” 


Despite its closeness to the English word “exposition,” “exposição” means “exhibit” or “exhibition” in Portuguese. Every museum or art gallery you visit will likely have indications for the current displays using the word “exposição.”


Here is another false cognate example. You might associate the Portuguese word “fábrica” with a similar English one, “fabric.” But these words are not etymologically related, as they don’t come from the same language. “Fábrica” is “factory,” while “fabric” translates to “tecido.”


Besides being related to food, the English “lunch” and the European Portuguese “lanche” have different meanings. “Lanche” is a snack you traditionally have mid-afternoon, while “lunch” translates to “almoço.”


This example sounds related to the word “library” but is another false cognate. You will find libraries (“bibliotecas”

) and bookstores (“livrarias”
) everywhere, so these are two new words to remember. Did you know Portugal is home to the world’s oldest operating bookshop? It’s called “Livraria Bertrand”
and has been operational since 1732.  


“Longe” is the Portuguese expression for “far way.” That’s right! Remember the Far Far Away Kingdom from Shrek? The Portuguese call it “Reino de Bué Bué Longe.”

To describe something long, you can say it is “longo”
or “comprido.”

Quick note: “Reino”

is Portuguese for “kingdom,” and “bué”
is slang for “muito”
(a lot). 


Despite their similar form, “parentes” doesn’t translate to “parents.” Instead, it stands for “relatives.” You can say: “Tenho parentes em Portugal”

(I have relatives in Portugal). The Portuguese word for “parents” is “pais.”


If you love healthy food, this false cognate example might trip you up. “Preservativo” in European Portuguese doesn’t refer to food-preserving ingredients. Instead, this word refers to “condom.” 

The correct Portuguese word to use would be “conservantes.”

So next time you go to the supermarket, you can ask for “comida sem conservantes”
(preservative-free food). 


“Puxe” sounds just like “push” in English, but its meaning is the opposite. In Portuguese, “puxe” is “to pull.” You will often face entries with indicative signals on how to open them. 

Thus, this example is a common mistake that leaves you pretty embarrassed after banging your face on a glass door. Make sure to push only if you see the words “empurrar”

or “empurre.”


As a final example of words that appear etymologically related, we have the “taxa.” Unlike the word “tax,” which stands for “imposto”

in Portuguese, “taxa” is a charge, fee, or rate.  

Wrap-up on English to European Portuguese False Cognates

In this post, you’ve discovered the difference between cognates and false cognates. You also examined 18 Portuguese words that are not etymologically related, despite their similarities to some English terms. They don’t come from the same language and bear different meanings.

Did you know about these European Portuguese false cognates? Which of them have you crossed paths with before?

Download a PDF list of 50 European Portuguese False Friends and add it to your English to Portuguese Vocabulary Notebook. It will help to avoid misunderstandings and build up your knowledge of both languages. 

Continue Learning Portuguese From Portugal

Learning about false cognates in English and European Portuguese and their meanings is just one part of the process. If your goal is reaching fluency, there is much more to learn. And we are happy to help!

At Portuguese With Carla, we offer a complete interactive language course called, The Journey. Through it, you will discover the Portuguese language and culture while having fun.

Learn European Portuguese the Instinctive Way!

For the last decade, we’ve been working on putting together the best possible European Portuguese course. After much research, feedback from our students, and several iterations, we think we’ve got it! 😉

At the base of it all is a sound conviction that languages are better learned instinctively, so the process needs to engaging, varied, and enjoyable. Throughout, we used scientifically proven techniques to help you master pronunciation, phrase construction, oral understanding, grammar, and all the necessary bits to get you to fluency. And still, the whole thing is presented as an adventure. It’s a course like no other, trust us!

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