Spanish traps

What do the words “house”, “case” and “thing” have in common? Very little, really. They all have the same article “the” before them. For the rest, it is very hard to get confused. It is not very likely that you would want to use one of these words, but end up using another. Now, the same question for these words: “casa”, “caso”, “cosa”. The Spanish people are brilliant in lots of ways, and one of them is the gift to come up with a lot of words that sound almost the same but mean an entirely different thing and – more often than not – change gender (el or la) while at it.

Hopefully, this list will help me some – very remote – day to never make a mistake with these words again.

1.1  la muela = molar, back tooth.
1.2  el muelle = 1) pier, wharf 2) spring

2.1  agradar = to please
2.2  agravar = make worse
2.3  agregar = to add

3.1  la cerilla = matchstick
3.2  la cereza = cherry
3.3  la ciruela = prune

4.1  la muñeca = 1) wrist 2) doll
4.2  el muñeco = doll

5.1  el bolso = handbag (for women) (yes, and the word is masculine)
5.2  la bolsa = plastic bag, shopping bag
5.3  el bolsillo = pocket
5.4  la Bolsa = stock market

6.1  la rueda = wheel
6.2  el ruedo = 1) bullring 2) hem of a skirt
6.3  el rodeo = detour (hablar sin rodeos = to speak out without holding back)
6.4  rodear = hug

7.1  el puño = fist   / puñetazo = punch
7.2  el puñal = dagger  / puñalada = stab

8.1 la valla = the fence
8.2 el valle = the valley
8.2.1 la vall = the valley (in catalan)

9.1  la respuesta = the answer
9.2  repuesto = cured

10.1 el estanque = small lake, pool
10.2 el estanco = tabacco shop

11.1 colgar = hang up
11.2 colar = 1) sieve 2) pass through (3) go before your turn)

12.1 la fuente = the fontain
12.2 el puente = the bridge
(OK, they are not that similar, but why – demonios – is one masculine and the other feminine?)

13.1 estar a la par = to be at the same time
13.2 el par = even number

14.1 padecer = to suffer
14.2 parecer = 1) seem 2) to be like
14.3 perecer = to die
14.4 aparecer = to appear

15.1 faro = lighthouse
15.2 el farol = bluff (e.g. in poker game)
15.3 farfullar = talk rapidly
15.4 fanfarronear = to bluff

16.1 ella habla lento = she speaks slowly
16.2 ella va lenta = she goes slowly (OK, really to be interpreted as: “she is slow” which makes more sense)

17.1 coser = to sew
17.2 cocer = to cook
17.3 cocinar = to cook

18.1 el quinto = the fifth
18.2 la quinta = a fifth (music)

19.1 el bol = the bowl
19.2 la bola = the ball
19.3 el bolo = the gig
19.4 la pelota = the football

20.1 el partido = 1) political party 2) sports game (football, tennis)
20.2 la partida = 1) departure 2) batch of merchandise 3) game of chess/cards/scrabble

21.1 el palo = 1) stick 2) drag, bummer
21.2 la pala = 1) shovel 2) racket 3) blade

22.1 el punto = 1) point (of view) 2) point (location) 3) point (in a game) 4) point (after a sentence) 5) hole in stockings
22.1.1 hacer punto = to knit
22.2 la punta = 1) point (extreme, at end of line) 2) point (tip of nose) 3) landpoint/seapoint 4) points (of hair) 5) forward player (football)

23.1 la trama = 1) the plot 2) something to do with weaving
23.2 el tramo = 1) the stretch (as in a road or route, as in “the last stretch”), interval
23.3 la trampa = the trap
23.4 el trapo = the cloth

24.1 la cosa = the thing
24.2 la casa = the house
24.3 el caso = the case
24.4 el queso = the cheese

25.1 la raya = 1) line 2) line in trousers 3) parting in hair 4) line of coke
25.2 el rayo = 1) ray (Xray, ray of light) 2) lightning bolt

26.1 la paz = peace
26.2 el pez = the fish
26.3 la pez = tar, pitch

27.1 el cuento = the story
27.1.1 sin cuento = countless
27.2 la cuenta = 1) the bill 2) the sum, the count 3) account

28.1  el cartero = the postman
28.2  la cartera = the wallet

29.1  el pollo = chicken (the animal)
29.2  la polla = cock (not the animal)

Ad 22.) and 29.) La punta de mi polla me dice que el pollo está a punto. 
(Thanks Stephán)

30.1  cuatro = four
30.2  el/la cuarto/a (adj.) = the fourth
30.2 el cuarto (sust) = 1) room 2) quarter (of an hour) 3) quarter (of a kilo, of the moon, of an animal)
30.3  cuadro = painting

31.1  el pañuelo = 1) handkerchief 2) scarf 3) headscarf
31.2  el pañal = diaper, nappy

32.1  el velo = veil, headscarf
32.2 la vela = 1) the sail 2) the candle

33.1 el regalo = the present, gift
33.2 el regazo = the lap
33.3 el recado = the message
33.4 el rezo = the prayer
33.5 regalar = to present, to give
33.6 regar = to pour, to water/irrigate
33.7 rezar = to pray

34.1 pegar tiros = to shoot (someone)
34.2 tirar pedos = to fart

35.1 el medio = (avd) half (adj) half (sust) 1) half 2) middle (“en medio de una batalla” = in the middle of the fight) 3) environment
35.2 los medios = 1) the media (newspapers, t.v., etc.) 2) the means (medios económicos)
35.3 la media = 1) average (“una media de 2 km por hora”)
35.4 las medias = 1) stockings, long socks, tights 2) “a medias” = half (“convencido a medias)
35.5 la mitad = the half (half the part of something)

36.1 la barca = small boat
36.2 el barco = big boat

37.1 el parte = the document
37.2 la parte = the part, portion

38.1 el frente = front (of an army)
38.2 la frente = forehead

39.1 el editorial = a column/comentary in a newspaper
39.2 la editorial = publishing company

40.1 el cometa = the comet
40.2 la cometa = the kite

41.1 el papa = the pope
41.2 la papa (Lat. Am. /Canary islands) = the potato

42.1 el mañana = the future
42.2 la mañana = tomorrow

43.1 el calzado = footwear, shoes
43.2 la calzada = the road
(43.3 calzado/a (adj) = wearing footwear)

44.1 el barro = mud, clay
44.2 la barra = 1) a rail 2) a bar (of a bar) 3) a bar (in the sense of a rail, a stick, a railing)
44.3 el bar = the bar, café, place to have a drink

45.1 la gorra = cap with a peak (like a baseball cap)
45.2 el gorro = cap without a peak (like a woolen winter cap)

46.1 el puerto = the harbour, port (aeropuerto = airport)
46.2 la puerta = the door

47.1 el hoyo = pit/grave/hole/hollow
47.2 la hoya = 1) pit/grave/hole/hollow 2) (Lat.Am) river bassin
47.3 la olla = saucepan

48.1 la regata = yacht race
48.2 el regate = 1) dribble (in futbol), dodge, feint (in boxing, fencing)
48.3 el regateo = 1) bargaining 2) feinting
48.4 regatear = to bargain

49.1 pellizcar = to pinch
49.2 la pinza = 1) clothespin 2) pincer of a crab 3) dart
49.3 pinzas = pliers, pincers, tongs
49.4 pinchar = 1) to prick/puncture 2) to tap (a telephone) 3) to play music (D.J).
49.5 el pincho = 1) thorn, prickle 2) stick with meat on it (like shish kebab) 3) cock, dick
49.6 pinchos = tapas
49.7 pinche = mate, junior colleague
49.8 pinchazo = 1) prick, shot 2) fix (of heroine) 3) flat tire

50.1 entrevistar = to interview
50.2 una entrevista = an interview
50.3 entrevistado/a = interviewed
50.4 entrever = to get a glimpse, to begin to see
50.5 entrevistado/a = something glimpsed at

51.1 la huelga = a strike (of employees at a job)
51.2 el huelgo = 1) (pause of ) breath 2) free room to spare
51.3 holgar = 1) do nothing 2) to exceed  (“huelga decir que” = “it goes without saying that…”)

52.1 el caballo = horse  (see also item 103, caballo and caballa)
52.2 el cabello = hair

53.1 el mayo = may (the month)
53.2 el / la Maya = the Mayan
53.3 el mallo = the mallet, the hammer
53.4 la malla = 1) fishnet 2) leggings 3) leotard 4) mesh

54.1 la huerta = orchard (big), garden for vegetables and fruits (big)
54.2 el huerto = orchard (small), kitchengarden for vegetables and fruits (small)

(Note that “un barco” is a bigbarca” but “un huerto” is a smallhuerta“).

55.1 el altavoz = the loudspeaker (“el”, not because it starts with an “a” but because it’s a masculine word)
55.2 la voz = the voice

56.1 el centro = the centre
56.2 la central = the (control) centre

57.1 la lenteja  = the lentil (food)
57.2 la lentilla = the eye lens
57.3 la llentilla (llentia) (catalan) = the lentil (food)

58.1 la madera  = the wood
58.2 el madero = 1) the log (piece of wood)  2) the cop (slang)

59.1 la gira  = 1) a tour (sports) 2) a touristic trip
59.2 el giro = 1) a change, a turn, change of direction, sudden twist 2) money sent by mail

60.1 una hada  = a fairy (mythical figure from fairy tales (= “cuento de hadas”)
60.2 el hado = fate, destiny

61.1 el plato = 1) the plate 2) the dish
61.2 el plató (= el plateau) = the filmset
61.3 la plata = silver (metal)
61.4 Platón = Plato
61.5 el plátano = 1) the banana 2) the banana tree

62.1 la cadera = the hips
62.2 la cadena = the chain
(Despite the different consonants “r” and “n”, these words are pronounced in a mindboggingly similar way, where either the “r” or the “n” is pronounced at the front of the mouth but muffled by the tongue which is deliberately floating in the middle of it all, very much in the way, resulting in a sound halfway between a “d”, an “n” and an “r”: cade[d]a, a bit the way you would imitate someone who is very drunk and has a hot potato in his mouth.)

63.1 el suelo = 1) the floor 2) the ground
63.2 la suela = the sole (of a shoe)

64.1  la sigla = abbreviation, acronym (like ABBA)
64.2  el siglo = the century
64.3  el ciclo = the cycle, the series

65.1  la pica = 1) the spade (from cards) 2) a pick, an axe 3) a lance
65.2  pica pica = (from verb picar): snacks
65.3  el pico = 1) the beak, the mouth 2) a mountain peak 3) a pick, a spike

66. Tengo dudas sobre los dodos con un dado entre los dedos = I have doubts about dodos with a die between my fingers (or toes).

67.1  la porra = 1) the truncheon (police) 2) the lottery, a draw (e.g. with a football match)
67.2  el porro = the joint, spliff (hash or marihuana sigaret)

68.1 la invención = 1) the invention 2) (also:) fabrication (like something made up, not true)
68.2 el invento = the invention (rather like an actual thing that is invented)
Compare: “la invención de imprenta” and “el invento de la bombilla”
See also: http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=136047

69.1 la intención = the intention
69.2 el intento = the attempt

70.1 el fondo = 1) bottom 2) the back/end (of a room) 3) the essence, the core
70.2 la fonda = inn (a place to eat)
70.3 el fundo = the farm
70.4 la funda = 1) the cover (for a guitar case) 2) cover (for bedsheets or pillows), 3) cover for a grammaphone disc (the sleeve)

71.1 la cubierta = 1) cover, sleeve 2) flight deck
71.2 cubierto = 1) covered (from verb “cubrir” = to cover)
71.3 los cubiertos = the silver (fork, knife, spoon)

72.1 el cubo = 1) bucket 2) cube (ice cube) 3) cube (mathematical operation)
72.2 la cuba = the barrel, tub
72.3 Cuba = Cuba

73.1 el limo = the mud
73.2 la lima = 1) the file (tool, for nails etc…) 2) the lime (fruit)

74.1 la coña = the joke, the nonsense
74.2 el coño = the fanny, pussy (not the animal) (in Spanish also known as “conejo” = rabbit)

75.1 el cajón = the drawer
75.2 el cojón; cojones = the testicle; testicles, bollocks
75.3 el cojín = the pillow (for a sofa)

76.1 el pimiento = the (red/green/yellow) pepper (paprika, the fruit)
76.2 la pimienta = the (black/white) pepper (the spice)

77.1 la clava = the club (to hit things with)
77.2 el clavo = 1) the nail, pin 2) the clove (spice)
77.3 la clave = 1) the key (of a code or a problem), the clue 2) musical key

78.1 una arca = 1) an Ark 2) a chest (for books etc..) 3) a strongbox, a safe
78.2 un arco = 1) a bow (for arrow shooting) 2) arch (architecture, triumphal arch) 3) arch (mathematical)
78.3 arco de iris = rainbow

79.1 el seto = the hedge, the fence
79.2 la seta = the mushroom

80.1 una calada = a drag on a cigarette
80.2 una colilla = a cigarette butt, stub
Corollary: Admittedly they are not that similar but I somehow always get them mixed up.
Corollary to the corollary: by these entries, (ex-)smokers will recognize the semi ex-smoker/ex-quitter in me.

81.1 listo/lista (adj/adv) = 1) clever 2) ready
81.2 un listo/una lista = a clever person
81.3 la lista = the list

82.1 el cura = the priest
82.2 la cura = the cure
82.3 el curro = the job
82.4 el carro = the cart
82.5 la cara = the face
82.6 el coro = the choir
82.7 caro/cara (adj) = expensive

83.1 la sal = the salt
83.2 la sala = the hall
83.3 el sol = the sun
83.4 el solo = 1) guitar solo 2) the cafe without milk
83.5 solo/sola (adj) = 1) alone 2) black/straight (café, whiskey)
83.6 sólo (adv) = only

84.1 el mar = the sea
84.2 la mar = the sea (in certain expressions like “alta mar“, “la mar de bien“)

85.1 el rumbo = the direction, the course
85.2 la rumba = the rumba (latin or gypsy dance and music style)

86.1 la grifa = the marihuana
86.2 el grifo = the (water)tap

87.1 una pérdida = 1) a loss (e.g. a death) 2) a waste (e.g. time) 3) damages, losses (e.g. of money).
87.1.1 una pérdida de tiempo = a waste of time
87.2 un perdido / una perdida (sust) = a degenerate person
87.3 perdido / perdida (adj) = lost
87.3.1 tiempo perdido = time wasted

88.1 blanco/blanca (adj) = white
88.2 un blanco / una blanca (sust) = a white person (man/woman)
88.3 el blanco = 1) target, goal 2) the color white 3) white wine
88.4 la blanca = 1) white piece (domino/ajedrez) 2) half musical note (the ones you draw with an open symbol)
88.4.1 estar sin blanca = to be broke

89.1 el cava = Catalan type of champagne
89.2 la cava = Wine cellar (e.g. where they store “el cava”)

90.1 el cero = the zero
90.2 la cera = the wax

91.1 la caña = 1) reed 2) cane 3) small glass of beer
91.2 el caño = 1) pipe, tube 2) tap (watertap)

92.1 el varón = the man (male)
92.2 el barón = 1) the baron 2) influential person in a political party

93.1 ingenuo (adj) = naive
93.2 el ingenio (sust) = the ingenuity

94.1 el radio = 1) radius (also the spokes of a wheel) 2) radium (chemical element)
94.2 la radio = radio (for broadcasting) (but in Latin America, it’s el radio again…(except for Argentina, Chile and Uruguay where it’s la radio again again…)) (And then they make fun of the Dutch for getting confused with the gender of Spanish nouns!).

95.1 la fruta = the fruit (to eat)
95.2 el fruto = the fruit (the profit of a job well done)
95.3 los frutos secos = dried fruits (nuts etc…) (The reason that in this case it’s masculine again, is because it’s much more confusing this way…)

96.1 el banco = 1) the bank (for saving money) 2) the bench (in a park)
96.2 la banca = 1) the banking sector 2) the banks in general (for saving money) 3) the bench (Mexican Spanish)

97.1 el marco = 1) (door)frame 2) goal 3) context, framework
97.2 la marca = the brand

98.1 el pomo = doorknob
98.2 la poma (Catalán) = apple

99.1 el pulpo = octopus
99.2 la pulpa = pulp from fruit (or wood)

100.1 la correa = the strap, the belt, the lead/leash
100.2 el correo = the post, the mail
100.2.1 los correos = the post office
100.3 correoso/a = tough, leathery
100.4 (la) Corea = Korea
100.5 corear = to chant in unison (or to echo an opinion of someone)
100.6 la coreo (abbrev. de la coreografía) = the choreography

101.1 el cuchillo = the knife
101.2 la cuchilla = the blade (for shaving)

102.1 el peso = 1) weight (physical) 2) weight (burden) 3) weight (from weightlifting)
102.2 la pesa = 1) weight (of a balance) 2) weight (from weightlifting)

103.1 el caballo = the horse (see also item 52, caballo and cabello)
103.2 la caballa = the mackerel

104.1 derecho/derecha (adj) = on the right-hand side (lado derecho, banda derecha, brazo derecho, pierna derecha)
104.2 la derecha = 1) the right (as in: go to your right)  2) right-wing (“es un politico de la derecha”)
104.3 el derecho = 1) the right (as in human rights, i.e. derechos humanos)   2) the right (as in lawful right, e.g. derecho laboral)  3) moral right (i.e. “no hay derecho”)  4) copyright (“derechos de autor”)

105.1 el seno = 1) (mama) breast, bosom (also fig.); 2) (math) sine
105.1.1 los senos = breasts
105.2 los sesos = brains (e.g. shooting someone’s brains out)
105.3 la seña = the sign, signal, mark, password (contraseña)
105.3.1 las señas = the address
105.4 la señal = the sign, signal
105.5 la Sena = the Seine

106.1 el fallo = 1) decision of a judge/jury 2) (human) error, mistake (having done something wrong)
106.2 la falla = 1) defect, fault (in a device) 2) (Lat. Am:) human error 3) (Geological) fault, crack, fracture

107.1 el siniestro = the accident, the catastrophe
107.2 la siniestra = the left hand

108.1 el rodaje = the shooting (of a film)
108.2 la rodaja = slice (of bread, tomato, pineapple). Other words for this: loncha (ham), rebanada (bread)

109.1 la cuna = cradle (also fig.)
109.2 la cuña = 1) wedge 2) bedpan 3) commercial break
109.3 el cuño = 1) stamp (like from the king), mark/impresion on a coin

110.1 el final = ending, end (of a story, film)
110.2 la final = the finals, finale (of a drama, a t.v. series or a sport competition)
110.3 el fin = end (the end of “something”)
110.3.1     “por fin” = at last
110.4 el fin = goal, aim, purpose

111.1 el alquiler (sustantivo) = the rent (noun)
111.2 alquilar (verbo) = to rent (verb)
(The problem here is that one might easily be mistaken in thinking “alquiler” is the verb. The result would be that when one would want to use the indicativo (e.g. “alquilamos“), one would use the subjuntivo (“alquilemos“) and vice versa.)

112 El/la sartén = the frying pan. In Spain it always is feminine: “la sartén“. In South-America, it can be both.

113.1 la rama = 1) tree branch; 2) branch (fig.) (“canela en rama”, “rama de ciencias”)
113.1.1 en rama = unbound, raw
113.2 el ramo = 1) bouquet of flowers, bunch; 2) branch (of work) (“el ramo de metal”);   3) side-branch of a tree branch (i.e. “rama”)

114.1 la especia = the spice
114.2 la especie = the species

115.1 el orden = the order (arrangement, setup, organized placement)
115.2 la orden = the order ((military) command)
115.3 la orden = the order (religious community)

116.1 la rodilla = the knee
116.2 el rodillo = 1) the rolling pin (for cooking) 2) this rolling thing to paint walls with

117.1 la Cerdeña = Sardinia (Italian island)  (in Catalán: Sardenya)
117.2 la Cerdaña = Cerdanya, region in Catalonia, in the Pyrenees (in Catalán: Cerdanya)
117.3 la sardana = Catalan folcloric dance

118.1 La paleta = 1) palette (of painter) 2) trowel (for bricklaying) 3) bricklayer, someone who does construction work
118.2 El paleto/la paleta = the oaf, redneck, moron

119.1 el problema -> el problemita (masculine, but both ending in -a)
119.2 el mapa -> el mapita (masculine, but both ending in -a)
119.3 la moto -> la motito (feminine, but both ending in -o)
         but, but, but, but:
119.4 la mano -> la manito (only in Latin América)
-> la manita (in Spain)
(feminine, although ending in -o, but with the diminutive ending in -a)

120.1 mango = 1) mango (fruit) 2) mango tree
120.2 manga = 1) shirt sleeve 2) hose 3) manga (japanese comic) 4) ….
120.3. mangar = to steal
120.3.1 mangui = thief (coloquial)

121.1 ardilla = squirrel (think of arder = burn, a squirrel moves fast like a flame)
121.2 arcilla = clay (think of arco, made of stone, made of clay)

122.1 el copo = flake (snowflake)
122.2 la copa = 1. (wine)glass 2. cup (football)

123.1 el acero = steel
123.2 la acera = pavement, sidewalk



Otras trampas:

Palabras masculinas que acaban con “-a”:

  • el profeta
  • el problema
  • el belga
  • el celta
  • el día
  • el clima
  • el idioma
  • el mapa
  • el planeta
  • los pijamas
  • el altavoz (no por empezar con “a” sino por ser masculino, aunque es “la voz“)

Palabras femininas que acaban con “-o”:

  • la mano
  • el/la modelo
  • la moto(cicleta)
  • la foto(grafía)
  • la tos
  • la central

Falsos amigos:

  • la decepción = the disappointment
  • el engaño = the deception
  • embarazarse = get pregnant
  • avergonzarse = to get embarrassed
  • realizarse = make come true
  • darse cuenta = to realise

Catalan traps:

The Catalan word for “candle” (vela in Spanish)  is espelma, which sounds confusingly similar to the Spanish word esperma which means “sperm“.

The Catalan word for “bottle” (botella in Spanish) is l’ampolla, which sounds confusingly similar to the Spanish word “la polla” which means “cock” (not the animal).

The Catalan word for “leg” is cama which is the Spanish word for “bed“. The Spanish word for “leg” is pierna. The Catalan word for “bed” is llit.

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10 thoughts on “Spanish traps

  1. Sí, pero con el queso no me confundo. No sé si es porque se escribe diferente o más bien como es queso, es sagrado, y no me puedo confundir.

    La foto, claro que la puedes usar. Yo la encontré en el internet también y la uso sin pedir permiso ni na.

    Un beso! Y suerte con Star Wars!

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