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False friends

I wish you’d never suffer from false friends. Now, I can’t help you with all of the varieties, but here is an explanation of the linguistic ones.

I am fascinated by words, especially the written word, and languages. The more languages I learn the easier it gets. It’s captivating to recognize similarities between languages, and to explore possible roots in common. Could it be a cognate or a false friend? Now if that doesn’t sound intriguing … 😉

I´ll explain it to you.

Cognates are words in different languages that have a common linguistic heritage. Examples are night natt nuit notte Nacht. Loanwords does not count.

Cognates within a language are known as doublets. Doublets are words that look similar, existing within the same language. Meaning of the words is irrelevant – they don´t have to mean the same thing, but could of course. An example is shirt and skirt in English.

False cognates are words that to the eye and ear appear to have the same origin but don´t. The meaning of the words is irrelevant here – it doesn’t matter if they are false friends or have the same meaning. An example hereof; mamma and pappa in Swedish – not related to similar words in other languages, merely stemming from baby language! (Svensk etymologisk ordbok – the Swedish etymological thesaurus, digitalized at http://runeberg.org/svetym/)

False friends are words in different languages that appear to have the same meaning but don´t.


actual (Eng. real, authentic ) meaning “faktisk” in Swedish

aktuell (Swedish) meaning present, current

You can find a list containing Swedish and English false friends here.

Primary sources



My brain. 🙂

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