False Friends in Italian and English

False friends are so common across languages. You're very happy when you hear a word that is so similar to a word in your native language just to realize that word means something completely different! This is the amazing world of false friends!



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Hello everyone and welcome to a new article. In today's article, we're going to look at some very common words that look very similar in Italian and English in the way they are spelled, but their meaning is completely different. They are called false friends because they look similar but their meaning is different. Let's start!


1. Nervoso

You might think nervoso means nervous. Nope! When we say we are nervosi we mean that we are tense, agitated. But in English, your idea of nervous is not necessarily related to being tense or agitated, but more being anxious. Correct if I am wrong! So the exact translation of nervous in the sense of anxious or apprehensive, would be ansioso or the full sentence ho l'ansia. So if you are nervous about a job interview, you could say:

  • Ho il colloquio tra un'ora e ho un'ansia pazzesca → I have an interview in one hour and I am very nervous (note the use of indefinite article un to emphasize your anxiety)

But if you're just tense because you got into a fight with your partner you could say:

  • Sono troppo nervoso! Ho litigato con... → I am so angry/agitated! I got into a fight with...


2. Serio

  • Sono una persona molto seria!

What do you think this means? Well, serio in Italian has several meanings! One of them is being a person you can trust, trustworthy or professional when it comes to jobs! It's very common to add serio to your curriculum (CV), to tell the person who's going to read your CV, that you like that work and you take it very seriously! So when we say sono serio it doesn't mean you never joke, it might, but no, it just means that we take things seriously and we can be trusted!


3. Argomento

Nope, argomento does not mean argument! Argomento just means topic. For example:

  • Qual è l'argomento della lezione di oggi? → What is the subject/topic of today's lesson?

So, the question is, how do we say argument? Well, we say...


4. Discussione

And yes, discussione is another false friend! Kind of! This is because argument can be una discussione that does not involve actual fighting, but still a pretty serious disagreement. On the other hand, dicussione also means discussion, so a peaceful exchange of opinions.

  • Ho avuto una pesante discussione con mia moglie → I had a serious argument with my wife.

  • Oggi in classe abbiamo fatto una discussione interessante sul riscaldamento globale → Today in class we had an interesting discussion/debate on global warming.


5. Educato

Educato does not mean educated! Educato means polite! This is because the adjective educato comes from educazione, which refers to someone's upbringing not education in terms of school. So how would we say that someone is educated? Well, we'll need to use the adjective istruito, which comes from the actual word for education, istruzione.


6. Eventualmente

I've been using this in English wrong my entire life! I thought that eventually actually meant eventualmente. But I was wrong! Let's look at this sentence:

  • La mattina sono impegnato. Eventualmente ci vediamo nel pomeriggio → I am busy in the morning, we may possible meet in the afternoon.

As you can see, eventualmente in Italian means possibly, potentially. So how would we say "He eventually decided to buy the red car" in Italian? Well, we would say:

  • Alla fine ha deciso di comprare la macchina rossa.


7. Finalmente

I am sorry, but finalmente does not mean finally. This is because finally in Italian is alla fine, in the end. Finalmente is used when we FINALLY achieved something, or when someone FINALLY arrived! For example:

  • Finalmente sei arrivato! Ti aspettavamo da 2 ore → You finally arrived! It's about time! We have been waiting for you for two hours!


8. Annoiato

Annoiato does not mean annoyed. Annoiato comes from the word noia, that means boredom. So annoiato just means bored:

  • Sono annoiato, non so cosa fare! → I am bored, I don't know what to do.

However, we tend to use the verb annoiarsi in the present more when we want to say we are bored. This is what I would recommend saying:

  • Mi annoio, non so cosa fare! → I am bored, I don't know what to do.


9. Sensibile

Sensibile does not mean sensible. This is mind-blowing because they differ for only one letter! Only one, but they still mean something completely different. Sensibile actually means sensitive, emotional, non sensible! For example:

  • Stefano è un ragazzo sensibile. Piange ogni volta che guarda Titanic → Stefano is a sensitive boy. He cries every time he watches Titanic.

So how would we say sensible? Easy, ragionevole and this makes sense because a synonym of sensible in English is reasonable, and of course ragionevole means just that!



We are done with today's article! If you have any questions, feel free to send me a message in the contact section of my website!


Do you want to take your Italian to the next level? Check out my Online Italian course for beginners "Be Italiano" and start learning today to become a real Italiano, like me!
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