False Friends in Italian

false friends in italian

We have to accept that many words and phrases just don’t translate well—and some don’t translate at all! You can’t always substitute word for word and expect to get a logical result. This is another example of where culture meets language and it’s important to recognize these situations so that you can let go of your own cultural certainties and learn to “think” in another language.

And now for the dreaded “false friends in Italian.” There are many of them between our two languages and they present many opportunities for humorous misunderstandings. Let’s look at a few of them.

List of False Friends in Italian and English

(to) annoy doesn’t mean annoiare, but irritare, dar fastidio
Annoiare is translated as “to bore”

Argument doesn’t mean argomento, but in fact discussione, litigio
Argomento is translated as “topic”

(to) arrange doesn’t mean arrangiare, but disporre, sistebutre
Arrangiare is translated as “to manage, to get by, to fix up”

(to) attend doesn’t mean attendere, but frequentare, partecipare
Attendere is translated as “to wait for”

(to) bend means curvare, inchinare, piegare
Bendare is translated as to bandage, blindfold

Brave doesn’t mean bravo, but coraggioso
Bravo is translated as “clever, good”

Code means codice
Coda is translated as” tail, or end of a line”

Commodity doesn’t mean comodità but in fact prodotta, merce a disposizione
Comodità is translated as “comfort, convenience”

Comprehensive means esauriente
Comprensivo is translated as “understanding, inclusive, sympathetic”

Conductor means bigliettaio del tram, direttore d’orchestra
Conduttore is translated as “driver”

(to) confront means far fronte a, affrontare
Confrontare is translated as “to compare”

(to) conjure means evocare, far giochi di prestigio
Congiurare is translated as “to plot”

Convenient means comodo, adatto, opportuno
Conveniente is translated as “good value”

Delusion means illusione
Delusione is translated as “disappointment”

Diffidence means sfiducia in se stesso
Diffidenza is translated as “distrust”

Disgrace doesn’t mean disgrazia, but vergogna, disonore
Disgrazia is translated as misfortune

(to) divert means deviare
Divertire is translated as “to amuse”

Editor means direttore (di giornali) o curatore (di libri)
Editore is translated as publisher

Education doesn’t mean educazione, but rather cultura, istruzione
Educazione is translated as “good manners”

Effective means efficace
Effettivo is translated as “real”

Fastidious means esigente, scrupoloso
Fastidioso is translated as “annoying”

Fatal means mortale, funesto
Fatale is translated as “inevitabile”

Fine means multa
Fine is translated as “end”

Frequent doesn’t always means frequentare, but also spesso
Frequentare is translated as “to attend, to see regularly, to frequent (archaic)”

Gratuitous means ingiustificato
Gratuito is translated as “free”

Gross doesn’t mean grosso, but in fact grossolano, rozzo
Grosso is translated as “big”

(to) guard means sorvegliare, far la guardia
Guardare is translated as “to look at, to watch”

Incident means evento, episodio
Incidente is translated as “accident, crash”

Inconvenient means disturbo, scomodità
Sconvenienza is translated “as breach of good manners, unseemly”

Ingenuity means ingegno, abilità
Ingenuità is translated as “ingenuousness”

Inhabited means abitato
Inabitato is translated as “uninhabited”

Injury means ferita, danno
Ingiuria is translated as “insult”

Intend doesn’t always mean intendere, but destinare
Intendere is translated as “to mean, to understand, to hear”

Joke means scherzo
Gioco is translated “as play, game”

Lecture doesn’t mean lettura, but in fact conferenza, lezione universitaria
Lettura is translated as “reading”

Library means biblioteca
Libreria is translated as “bookshop, bookcase”

Local means il bar dietro l’angolo
Locale is translated as “room, hotel, bar, location, etc.”

Miser doesn’t mean misero, but in fact avaro
Misero is translated as “wretched”

Misery means sofferenza
Miseria is translated as “poverty”

Morbid means morboso
Morbido is translated as “soft”

Obituary means necrologio
Obitorio is translated as “morgue”

(to) occur means accadere, venire in mente
Occorrere is translated as “to be needed”

Ostrich means struzzo
Ostrica is translated as “oyster”

Pace means andatura, passo
Pace is translated “as peace”

Parents means genitori
Parenti is translated as “relatives”

Parole means libertà per buona condotta
Parole is translated as “words, promise”

Patent means brevetto
Patente is translated as “licence”

Pavement doesn’t mean pavimento, but in fact marciapiede
Pavimento is translated as “floor”

Physician means medico
The noun fisico is translated as “physicist”

Preoccupied means assorto
Preoccupato is translated as “worried”

Prepared means disposto a
Preparato is translated as “well trained”

(to) pretend doesn’t mean pretendere, but in fact far finta
Pretendere is translated as “to claim”

Principal means preside
Principale is translated as “boss or main”

(to) process means elaborare
Processare is translated as “to try, to bring to trial”

Proper means appropriato, giusto
Proprio is translated as “one’s own, typical”

(to) realise means accorgersi; capire, accorgersi si, rendersi conto di
Realizzare is translated as “to carry out, to fulfil, to achieve, to accomplish”

Record means disco, appunto
Ricordo is translated as “memory, remember”

Romance doesn’t mean romanzo, but in fact storia d’amore
Romanzo is translated as novel

Rumour means voce diffusa, gossip
Rumore is translated as “noise”

Sane means equilibrato, ragionevole
Sano is translated as “healthy, sound”

Scholar doesn’t mean scolaro, but in fact studioso, erudito
Scolaro is translated as “pupil”

Society doesn’t always mean società, but alta società, associazione, confraternita
Società is translated as company, firm

Spade means zappa, vanga
Spada is translated as “sword”

Spectacles means occhiali
Spettacoli is translated as “shows, performance”

Stamp means francobollo
Stampa is translated as “the press, to print”

(to) stipulate means porre come condizione necessaria, stabilire
Stipulare is translated as “to draw up”

Suggestive means allusivo
Suggestivo is translated as “full of atmosphere, evocative”

(to) support means sostenere, butntenere
Sopportare is translated as “to bear, to stand, to support”

Sympathetic means comprensivo, compassionevole
Simpatico is translated as “nice, likeable, pleasant”

Tent doesn’t mean tentare, but tenda di camping
Tentare is translated as “to try, to attempt”

Terrific doesn’t mean terrificante, but eccezionale, fantastico
Terrificante is translated as “terrifying, frightening”

Test means prova, esame, saggio
Testo is translated as “text”

Tremendous doesn’t mean tremendo, but fantastico, enorme
Tremendo is translated as “dreadful, terrible, awful”

Trivial means banale, futile, di poca importanza, superficiale, leggero
Triviale is translated as “vulgar, obscene”

Vacancy means posto di lavoro disponibile
Vacanza is translated as “ vacation or holiday”

Vicious means brutale, butligno
Vizioso is translated as “bad, dissolute”

Vile means orribile, brutto
Vile is translated as “cowardly”

Villan means “il cattivo”
Villano is translated as “lout, peasant, rude”

False Friends in Italian

Of course there are many, many more, but this list gives you a good idea of just how dangerous it can be to assume that “translating” will provide an accurate meaning for a given word or phrase. But this is part of the fun. When you learn these, you sort feel like you’re privy to an inside joke.

  • […] Idioms and figurative expressions are an integral part of how we communicate with each other. In a sense, they are a sort of grammatical curiosity, similar to the use of sarcasm; but it goes much deeper. Some experts suggest that our language reflects the true complexity of our mind, indicating that we are not made to function only on a logical and literal basis. (And don’t forget to watch out for false friends!) […]

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