Best buddies or false friends?

Usually we refer to “false friends” as words used by someone who confounds the meaning of the word in a foreign language with a similar word in his or her mother tongue.

As we know, learning a new language is fun for everyone, not only the students. And part of this fun are the jokes you can make by using or demonstrating the use of false friends. False friends in this context referes to the use of words that have a similar sound in one’s own language but a completely different significance in the foreign language. Logically, false friends are very different depending on the mother tongue of the speaker.

But there are other false friends that can be best buddies when speaking in your mother tongue too. This can result in quite embarrassing situations, as the wrong use of a word by a native speaker makes him or her appear like a fool.Some words can be confusing even for native speakers because of their similarities. It often happens with words that are not part of the standard daily communication. When we use them in speech they can just slip out. This can be quite comical or embarrassing depending on the context of the speech.

Some word pairs which are likely to be confounded may even be overheard by the listeners because they are phonetically similar, like “affluent” and “effluent” or “desert” and “dessert”.

Other can be just plain wrong and lead to serious misunderstandings as they have opposite meanings, like prescribe and proscribe.

But also in written English there are many words easy to mix that lead to totally different meanings in a text. This can be especially dangerous when using speech recognition software. If you say and mean advice but the software writes down advise, a spell checking software may not notice the difference. If the confusion is not marked as error, the document will go out telling a different story than the intended one. So this is a little drawback on automated writing with dictation software.

In such cases the best grammar checker will have a hard time to detect the error because this are logical errors that can be perfectly correct from a grammar point of view.

Your best false friends

Just beware of words with similar sounds like:

accept | except adapt | adept | adopt advice | advise
affluent | effluent allude | elude allusion | illusion
affect | effect alternate | alternative amend | emend
ante- | anti- appraise | apprise apprise | uprise
aural | oral biannual | biennial climactic | climatic
complacent | complaisant conscience | conscious defuse | diffuse
desert | dessert ensure | insure envelop | envelope
flaunt | flout flounder | founder historic | historical
ingenious | ingenuous intense | intensive lay | lie
lightening | lightning loath | loathe loose | lose
personal | personnel precede | proceed prescribe | proscribe
rout | route sceptic | septic there | their | they’re
venal | venial weather | whether wander | wonder