False Friends/Falsi Amici in Italian

La Bella Lingua by Dianne HalesI was recently introduced to a fabulous new site about the Italian language called La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales.

Dianne has a book by the same name coming out in May, and you will see her here at Bleeding Espresso closer to that time, but for now, Dianne has inspired me to share one of my favorite/least favorite parts of the Italian language:

False Friends/Falsi Amici

What are false friends in Italian?

Also called “false cognates,” these are Italian words that sound a lot like English words but *so* do not correspond in meaning.

If you’re just starting to learn Italian, this is a great list to simply commit to memory. It is by no means exhaustive, but these are some that have always stuck in my mind:

Italian False Friends/Falsi Amici in Italiano

Attualmente: currently NOT actually (in realtà)
Camera: room NOT camera (la macchina fotografica)
Cocomero: watermelon NOT cucumber (cetriolo)
Comprensivo: understanding NOT comprehensive (completo)
Confetti: sugared almond NOT confetti (coriandoli)
Confrontare: to compare NOT to confront
Crudo: raw NOT crude (volgare)
Educato: polite NOT educated (istruito or colto)
Educazione: good manners NOT education (istruzione)
Eventuale: any NOT eventual (finale)
Fabbrica: factory NOT fabric (tessuto)
Fastidio: annoying NOT fastidious (pignolo)
Fattoria: farm NOT factory (fabbrica)
Firma: signature NOT firm, as in company (azienda) or firm, as in a mattress (rigido)
Gentile: nice NOT gentle (dolce or leggero)
Intendere: to understand NOT to intend
Libreria: bookstore NOT library (biblioteca)
Magazzino: warehouse NOT magazine (rivista)
Morbido: soft NOT morbid (morboso)
Noioso: boring NOT noisy (rumoroso)
Parente: relative NOT parent (genitore, madre, padre)
Patente: license NOT patent (richiesta di brevetto)
Peperoni: peppers NOT pepperoni, the spicy sausage (salame piccante)
Preservativo: condom NOT preservative (conservante)
Pretendere: to expect NOT to pretend (fare finta)
Rumore: sound NOT rumor (voce)
Sensibile: sensitive NOT sensible (ragionevole)
Simpatico: nice NOT sympathetic (comprensivo)
Stravagante: eccentric NOT extravagant (sprecone)

Have you made any false friend mistakes?

Do you have more to add to the list? Please share!

41 Beans of Wisdom to “False Friends/Falsi Amici in Italian”
  1. Gil

    I can make them in English! I try to learn more (a bit of) Italian by looking at various news sites and I am guilty of false friends. This should be a very interesting book.

    I love Dianne’s website…can’t wait for the book!

  2. awedree

    Hahahaha!!! I wish you could hear me cracking up as I read this, Michelle. Can you imagine the twisted situations you can get in (especially if you think someone is talking about ahem a “preservative”)!
    I actually have started an Italian class recently, so this is very helpful. Thanks for the list; it’s going in my notebook!

    Glad to be of help, Awedree! Be sure to share these with your fellow students 🙂

  3. 02.24.2009

    I hadn’t been here in Italy full time for more than a couple months when I fell into the trap with “preservatives” as a family dinner guest and chatting with friends’ parents about differences in dietary habits between the States and Italy. Oh well. Great learning experience, and luckily they were a lot cooler about it than I had previously expected.

    That one is just so difficult…*why* are they so similar? Grr….

  4. 02.24.2009

    Ciao Michelle! I came across the website and blog for Dianne Hales last week. It is absolutely gorgeous, and I can’t wait for her book to come out in May. I look forward to reading her here on your blog, too! As I make my way into speaking Italian, I am always afraid of the falsi amici. This is the list I have bookmarked for my Italian studies:
    Yet, somehow I had failed to note the importance of the difference between preservative and preservativo. Now I won’t forget! Thanks for the list of falsi amici… you rescued me from a few mistakes that would have been disastrous/ hysterical (depending on whether you are me or someone else).

    Laura’s last blog post..Carnevale on the Amalfi Coast

    Thanks for that link! Sometimes it’s easy to fall into these even when you know them…*so* tricky!

  5. Great list Michelle.

    Eccitato means horny not excited. My Italian teacher in the States warned me about that one. I’m glad. I don’t need to go around Italy saying, “Sono molto eccitato!”

    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..View of Rome from the Gianicolo Hill

    Great one! I may have to add that….

  6. 02.24.2009

    Great list, I am going to share it with some friends. It is easier for me, as my first language is Spanish, but I still fall into some traps in English… well, live and learn.

    Beatriz’s last blog post..The Italian Job (for real)

    Live and learn is right! Thank you for sharing the list 🙂

  7. joanne at frutto della passione

    I have a story involving *preservativi* that I plan to post about soon, it’s food related, are you grossed out? Yes back when I first arrived. Well at least now I can laugh about it!

    joanne at frutto della passione’s last blog post..Fritole ricche from Veneto

    Can’t *wait* to read it, Joanne…not grossed out…yet 😉

  8. 02.24.2009

    This is fabulous Michelle!

    Glad you enjoyed 🙂

  9. 02.24.2009

    How very useful! And I have so much fun reading the list! This is the kind of book people should read before travelling. This and eat-pray-love!

    Irene’s last blog post..Love Domino Style

    Well this list isn’t *from* Dianne’s book (it’s mine)…but I’m sure Dianne has lots of other great stuff in there judging from her blog. I can’t wait to read it!

  10. Antonino

    I just saw your false friends, that I found very interesting. I just want to tell you that I found a lot of false friend and double sense in english that are very funny. In italian, “Comprensivo” doesn’t mean only understanding. Infact, we use this word that means also comprehensive. You can say ” he is an understanding guy” or this is a comprehensive school” translated in Italian it mean: è un ragazzo comprensivo (he understand your situation, your problems, your moment of life) and “questa è una scuola comprensiva” it means that the school has more shools inside starting from nurse (it’s right nurse meaning asilo?) until the italian Scuola Media (that i don’t know the corrispondance in english. It’s the same for the verb “Comprendere” that means capire (understand) includere (to include).

    True; some of these are generalizations of where it’s better to avoid using the Italian that seems to correspond because the meanings in the two languages are actually more nuanced than they might appear or they just don’t *always* correspond depending on the usage, especially not in everyday language. I don’t know if that makes sense…hmm…like “comprensiva” as you described with the school corresponds relatively well to “comprehensive” but it’s a usage that would be rather rare as opposed to the description of a person as “understanding.”

  11. 02.24.2009

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHA. I think I’ve made ALL those mistakes at one time or another.

    Fabbrica and fattoria still give me pause.

    How about sottile (in that it means more than subtle, which always confuses me, although I’m not sure it qualifies here), guardare, influenza, piano… oh the list just goes on.

    Miss Expatria’s last blog post..In Which Anthony Bourdain Makes Me Sad – TWICE.

    There really are *so* many, aren’t there? LOVE Italian!

  12. 02.24.2009

    Yes- these are all tricky. Ah languages…always a challenge! I’ll have to head over and check out her site- and can’t wait for the book 🙂

    My Melange’s last blog post..Travel Tip Tuesday – 8 Beauty Products To Ditch from your Carry-On Bag

    Ah, but isn’t this what makes it all so *fun*? 😉

  13. 02.24.2009

    Fabulous! I love any Italian language posts you do. Would love to learn to speak it someday. 😉

    And you’re halfway there already with your Spanish 🙂

  14. carol

    Hi Michelle, I found Dianne’s blog last week and have already preordered the book. I’m printing off your falsi amici list for my Italian class tonite. Grazie!

    Excellent! Hope class goes well 🙂

  15. HA! I love these…and learned some new ones. I messed up once talking about the pollution in the city (and using “polluzione”). Whoops. I really meant “inquinamento” not wet dreams. 🙂

    Ouch. Bet you’ll never forget that one!

  16. 02.24.2009

    Calabrese -‘Zio Pangalo’ not Uncle Pangalo but Cocomero. This is my Grandmother’s dialect so P may not use it!

    Scintilla’s last blog post..You Know that You’re in Positano if …

    Nope, never heard that one…very entertaining though 🙂

  17. 02.24.2009

    Not in Italian, because I don’t know enough of it, but I mixed up “smoking” with “chickens” in Russian during a public speech to a huge group of teachers in Southern Russia, and that was a bad thing to mix up at the time.

    Apparently, American teenagers were more aware of the dangers of chickens than Soviet teens were in the late 80s. 😉

    jen of a2eatwrite’s last blog post..Music Monday: Blogger Aid – “Imagine”

    Well…salmonella and all 😉

  18. Oh my goodness, I love this list. I’m sending it to my whole Italian conversation group. 🙂

    Enjoy! Converse!

  19. 02.24.2009

    Such an excellent post..I can’t add anything …don’t know enough Italian..but I will certainly look out for this book 🙂

    Thanks for the link.

    anne’s last blog post..My little taste of Italy…

    Enjoy Anne!

  20. 02.24.2009

    Thanks for posting this list. I am going to learn these words and pass it on to my friends who are also struggling to learn this beautiful language!

    My pleasure Janie…enjoy!

  21. Anon

    The above comment sparked another for me — lo smoking means the tuxedo, not to smoke (fumare) (smoking – fumando). Love the list!

    Too funny that one!

  22. 02.24.2009

    What a fun post to brighten my evening!

    My friend Anna gave me 2 awards and said to pass them on…..I thought of you! Info is on my blog.

    Kalee’s last blog post..Thank You

    Grazie mille!

  23. 02.24.2009

    hee hee! A handful of these are very similar to French, including actuellement, gentil, magasin (which is actually a store in French), sensible, and yes, even preservatif ! Of course, this gives me a false sense that I could understand Italian… maybe someday I’ll tackle it, when I’m feeling more sure of my French!

    Hah, I feel the same way about French that you do about Italian….

  24. 02.24.2009

    Ah, I’ve been tripped up many many times. Preservativo certainly among the most embarassing to be sure.
    Luckily, if you are American and they know it, they just think of it as another Americanata….!

    anna l’americana’s last blog post..Me ‘n Pepe Le Pew…….

    We do get cut quite a bit of slack, don’t we? Thank goodness!

  25. 02.25.2009

    I very much like how Italian goes behind the words for the real meaning, in some cases. Such as “fastidious” being associated with “annoying”, and “gentile” being associated with “nice”. Also, all your relatives are your parents. That’s extremely gentile.

    I like Italian a lot. It seems very sensible and friendly. 🙂

    Mikeachim’s last blog post..Elsewhere I’m… (20th – 24th February)

    Italian is certainly a beautiful language in many ways, I agree 🙂

  26. 02.25.2009

    Well, this isn’t a story about my mistakes with false cognates, although I know I have made them in Spanish, French, and Italian!

    This story is about a bottle of imitation Spanish cider I purchased at the supermarket a few weeks ago. Tonight I was feeling particularly parched and I grabbed the bottle, uncorked it, and I poured myself a glass. I took a taste, and then panicked because I didn’t check the ingredients. (We gluten-free folks have to read all labels.)

    I read through the ingredients in English: water, apple juice, sugar, carbon dioxide, citric acid, sulphur dioxide and ascorbic acid as preservatives.

    Just out of curiosity,with Michelle’s blog post in the back of my mind, I checked the Spanish translation:

    agua, jugo de manzana, azucar, dioxido de carbon, acido citrico, dioxido de sulfuro y acido ascorbico como preservativos.

    LOL! Yes, in Spanich, preservativo means condom too. Clearly, the person who translated the ingredients, didn’t know that!

    Jennifer Rafferty’s last blog post..Natasha’s Health Nut Cookies

    *Hilarious* Jennifer; thanks for sharing 🙂

  27. 02.25.2009

    Great list! I certainly have made my share of blunders. Interesting how each language has a set of these. You would think all the language makers could have put their heads together to prevent this. 🙂 Thanks for the link to Dianne’s blog.

    girasoli’s last blog post..the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca ~ Bologna

    Hah, indeed! Glad you’re enjoying Dianne’s blog 🙂

  28. 02.25.2009

    False friends can be a nightmare and good for a laugh, too! Not to mention using swear words because you have heard them used by others, don’t realise they are naughty and then repeat them in a very inappropriate situation…how many times have I done that?! LOL!

    saretta’s last blog post..To the Sea

    *Excellent* point, Saretta!

  29. 02.25.2009

    Oh, I loved this post. I’ve made a couple of bloopers myself with these in the past!

    The Daily Colander’s last blog post..Get Ready for “Open That Bottle Night”

    Glad you enjoyed but sorry you were a victim 😉

  30. 02.25.2009

    I checked out “porco” in the Italian dictionaries, and it actually checks out as “maiale” or “suino” (pig or pork) although I know I wouldn’t have the courage to ask for “carne di porco” at the butcher shop or talking to my mother-in-law about what’s for dinner. Maybe it’s more a local thing (northern Italy)? I’ve never heard “porco” outside of it’s more commonly used context of “pervert” (in it’s mildest and most complimentary form, perhaps “male chauvenist pig”). To not speak of obscene combinations with Judas or cows.

    I’ve heard porco used here and there when people were talking about farming, raising, and butchering “at home” but not at the butcher shop…then it’s maiale. I see “suino” when there’s a sagra, but that’s about it. And we can’t forget when it’s paired it’s miseria, puttana, or one of my favorite uses, troia. Yikes!

  31. Carolina

    Great list! I had quite a few lessons learned from these words while living in Rome, but perhaps the best of all was when I was working a local trattoria before my Italian was developed at all! One of my customers ordered “penne ai funghi” but when I sent out the order, I was given the third degree (with perverted smiles) by the kitchen staff! It wasn’t until I got home and looked up the words in my dictionary that I realized my mistake! Needless to say, I found myself another job quickly! Yikes!
    I also had a Chinese roommate who always talked about her “stoffa”! and she wasn’t referring to material…
    Thanks for sharing! I will pass this list on to my boys who, although they are fairly bilingual, could easily fall into one of these traps!

    Hah, I will leave it up to readers to read between your lines 😉 Thanks for coming by Carolina 🙂

  32. 02.26.2009

    Eccitato did not always mean sexually aroused, nor did bagnata. I stick with old timers so it won’t make a difference. They don’t know those new meanings. The other night on X Factor the record company exec said fica then slammed her hands over her face. She meant something else. And she’s Italian. Guess it happens to everyone.

    Judith in Umbria’s last blog post..The best of last year

    Aspetta! Judith watched X Factor?! I’m stunned.

  33. 03.02.2009

    great list!

    I’d add: “mito” which definitely resembles the English “myth” but actually is used to describe something or usually someone incredible, amazing. Like “Michael Phelps e’ un mito!” I hadn’t thought about this until recently when I was reading a website about Italian wine, where they said “This Great New Italian Wine is a Myth!!” And I realized they wanted to communicate “mito” but not “myth”. :o)

    I’ve made many a blooper with idioms, too! When I first moved to Italy I kept saying “non posso aspettare…” thinking I was expressing my excitement because I just couldn’t wait, as in “Yes, I want to visit Bologna! I can’t wait!”. Later I learned it was “non vedo l’ora” – I don’t see the hour! There’s another list for you…. idioms! (and even more confusing, idioms that actually exist in both languages as direct translations but do not mean the same thing at all)

    Madeline’s last blog post..Attention to Detail

    Idioms are *definitely* hard to grasp sometimes…I love “non vedo l’ora” though…so poetic 🙂

  34. 03.02.2009

    another one: concorrente which means competitor and not “concurrent”.

    I thought about “mito” – maybe it does mean “myth” but is used colloquially in a different way? Just doesn’t happen very often in my Italian conversations that the topic of myths comes up…:o)

    Madeline’s last blog post..Attention to Detail

    Yeah, I’ve actually never heard “mito” used as literally “myth,” but that is apparently the word. As you wrote, I usually hear it like “E’ un mito!” like “He’s awesome!”

  35. 03.04.2009

    Grazie for the lovely blurb. I am delighted to welcome your many readers to my site and blog, and I hope to get a conversation as lively as this one going with them.

    I’ve learned a lot of Italian from slips of the tongue. Once we were on a boat sailing to Sardinia and my husband and I invited the two co-captains to join us for dinner in port. They worried about interfering with a romantic dinner, but I assured them that after so many years of marriage I feared my husband was getting bored. Except I said boring. It made for an interesting three days at sea!

    A presto!

    Hah, I definitely tend to remember the lessons learned by mistakes better 😉

  36. 04.24.2012

    nice list, it looks like a fine book too

    you might want to add ignorare – which doesn’t usually mean to ignore but to be ignorant of: not to know about.

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks Patrick!

  37. Marianna

    What about the word “polluzione” ?

    It does not mean pollution, but “wet dreams” !!!!!!!
    The English word pollution is inquinamento in Italian.

    michelle Reply:

    Excellent, Marianna 🙂

  1. [...] to learn the Italian language, you could do yourself a huge favor by paying close attention to this list... italylogue.com/news/italy-news-030109.html
  2. [...] Please welcome Dianne Hales, author of the new book La Bella Lingua, which I’ve already told you a... bleedingespresso.com/2009/05/guest-blogger-dianne-hales-my-italian-brain-and-how-it-grew.html
Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time. 

Subscribe to Bleeding Espresso by email:

Calabria Guidebook

Calabria travel guide by Michelle Fabio

Badolato Rentals

Badolato rentals

Badolato Properties For Sale

Properties for Sale, Badolato, Calabria, Italy

Photo Guide to Badolato On Sale!

Photographic Guide for Badolato, Calabria



Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake