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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Translation Theory  »  The Friendliness of False Friends (Part 1)

The Friendliness of False Friends (Part 1)

By Milena Chkripeska | Published  09/2/2013 | Translation Theory | Recommendation:
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Milena Chkripeska
angielski > macedoński translator
Członek od: Apr 13, 2009.
View all articles by Milena Chkripeska

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I would like to share this instructive article that is inspired by the great number of mistakes concerning false pairs that I have met while working on many proofreading projects. What is more, false pairs are becoming a “standard” part of many of our newspapers and magazines.

At the very beginning, we should treat the inevitable theoretical aspect. False pairs, false friends or deceptive cognates in English, faux amis in French or falsi amici in Italian, are those lexical units that have a same or similar form in both source and target language. I propose to use a broader definition that false friends are words, phrases, structures, etc. in one language that, because they resemble ones in another language, are often wrongly taken to have the same meaning, i.e. they seem as correct translation equivalents, but in fact they are not because a particular aspect - meaning, employment, position in the sentence, construction or something else - is not the same.

The very process of equalisation of these lexemes during translation, i.e. their inaccurate switch under the influence of the same form, certainly leads to a wrong translation. False pairs are very interesting language phenomena, especially in the domain of translation. There are several criteria according to which certain lexemes are considered false pairs. The first criterion is the phonological one - in this case we are talking about lexemes which sound the same or similarly (homophones). However, this lexical class does not entail all the lexemes with same or similar phonological composition in both languages, but only those in which the “foreign” element is emphasised, i.e. those for which the speaker “feels” that they do not belong to his/her mother tongue. Therefore, the English lexeme top and Macedonian lexeme топ (meaning cannon) are not considered a false pair, whereas the English lexeme ambulance and Macedonian lexeme амбуланта belong to this category. Usually we are talking about lexical loan words.

Surely not all loan words in one language form a false pair with the relevant lexeme in the other language. For instance, the English lexeme revolution and Macedonian lexeme револуција are not a false, but a proper pair – they are semantic equivalents, whereas ambulance in English and амбуланта in Macedonian have a different meaning: ambulance refers to a motor vehicle designed to carry sick or injured people, whereas амбуланта refers to an institution (or public space) for providing medical assistance. Moreover, the French lexeme dirigeant refers to a member of a board, whereas Macedonian lexeme диригент refers to an orchestra conductor. Thus, the semantic criterion is the second and the most important factor according to which certain lexemes in one language form a false pair with the relevant lexemes in other language.

A great number of these lexemes originate either from the Latin or Greek language and they are present in many languages. They have developed different meanings by entering different languages. Still, the quantity of loan words from the “live” languages which enter certain language is far from insignificant. They enter either directly or indirectly – through one or more other languages. Regardless of the manner in which they have entered the language-recipient, their meaning is changed. For instance, the Macedonian lexeme галантерија refers to a haberdashery, whereas the French lexeme galanterie refers to gallantry, chivalry.
The interference between the vocabulary of the source language and target language is always a source of problems for translators. False friends are an especially sensitive area and are often a trap for the translator. Taking into consideration the homophony of certain lexemes, the translator equalises their use and this process results in wrong translation. We should be aware that false friends may occur in every domain of our life. Communication between different nations and cultures is becoming more and more intensive, development of science and technique - faster and faster and it intensifies the process of language borrowing. A significant part of the loan words are included in the process of formation of the particular lexical class – false pairs. Translators are especially aware of this phenomenon and the main issue is how to avoid the traps created by it. Translators should pay more attention to this problem while they are learning the foreign language in question, whereas when doing translation, they should systematically study the context besides consulting the existing dictionaries. To conclude, translators have to be familiar with both linguistic and extra linguistic aspects relevant to the source and target language.

I will provide a (non-exhaustive) list of false pairs in Macedonian, English and French below.

Macedonian – English

академик – academician, member of the academy; academic – професор, наставник на универзитет
актуелен – current, up-to-date; actual – реален, стварен
амбуланта – out-patient clinic; ambulance – кола на брза помош, амбулантно возило
гимназија – general secondary school, high school; gymnasium – гимнастичка сала
дирекција – main (head) office, top management; direction – насока
дрес – jersey (a football shirt); dress – фустан
евентуалeн – possible; eventual – конечен, краен
евиденција – records, file; evidence – доказен материјал, доказ
картон – cardboard; carton – картонска кутија
конкуренција – competition; concurrence – сложување
легитимација – identity card; legitimation – озаконување
провизија – commission, fee; provision – одредба
протекција – favouritism, patronage; protection – заштита
симпатичен – nice, pleasant, likeable; symphatetic – сочуствителен
хонорарен – part-time, freelance; honorary - почесен

French – Macedonian
(fr.) application (n.f.)
(мк.) спроведување ; mistranslation: апликација;
(fr.) ambulance (n.f.)
(мк.) кола за брза помош, амбулантна кола ; mistranslation: амбуланта;
Note: Out-patient clinic in French is infirmerie (n.f.), dispensaire (n.m.).
(fr.) artiste (n.)
(мк.) уметник; mistranslation: артист;
Note: The French word acteur (n.m.) is used as a translation equivalent of актер.
(fr.) blâmer (v.)
(мк.) критикува, замера, обвинува; mistranslation: бламира ;
Note: Бламира is translated as discréditer, ridiculiser in French.
(fr.) case (n.f.)
(мк.) купе, квадрат, колиба; mistranslation: случај;
Note: There is an interference with the English language where the meaning of the word case is случај, судски процес, as well as куфер.
(fr.) caution (n.f.)
(мк.) 1.кауција, гаранција 2.поддршка, покровителство; mistranslation: внимание;
(fr.) chance (n.f.)
(мк.) среќа; mistranslation: шанса, возможност, случајност;
(fr.) choc (n.m.) (med.)
(мк.) удар, напад; mistranslation: шок
(fr.) civique (adj.)
(мк.) граѓански; mistranslation: општински, јавен, градски
Note: The English term civic may be treated as a tricky one, since apart from meaning граѓански, it can be translated as јавен, општински and градски as well, whereas in French the term municipal is used.
(fr.) connecter (v.t.)
(мк.) приклучува; mistranslation: поврзува
Note: The French equivalent for поврзува is lier (v.t.).
(fr.) galanterie (n.f.)
(мк.) галантност, додворување; mistranslation: галантерија;
Note: The French equivalent for галантерија is mercerie (n.m.).
(fr.) gymnase (n.m.)
(мк.) гимнастичка сала, зграда; mistranslation: гимназија;
Note: The French equivalent for гимназија is lycée (n.m.).
(fr.) ignorer (v.t. )
(мк.) не знае, нема поим; mistranslation: игнорира;
(fr.) judicieusement (adv.)
(мк.) мудро, промислено, разумно; mistranslation: праведно, законски;
(fr.) manifestant, e (n.m/f)
(мк.) демонстрант; mistranslation: протестант;
(fr.) procès (n.m.)
(мк.) судење; mistranslation: процес;
Note: Macedonian word процес can be a synonym of судење, but an accurate translation is needed in order not to understand it as a production process.
(fr.) seculaire (adj.)
(мк.) 1. вековен, стогодишен, што се случува на сто години. 2. древен, прастар, вековен: traditions séculaires, древни обичаи; mistranslation: секуларен;
Note: The French word for секуларен is laïc, laïque (adj.), as well as séculier, ère (adj.)

Арсова-Николиќ, Л. (1987-1988). Лажни парови македонско-англиски, македонско-германски, македонско-француски in Македонски јазик, pp. 121-132. Skopje

Boumali, A. (2009-2010l). False Friends: a Problem Encountered in Translation, available at [last visit: 25.08.2013] [last visit: 25.08.2013] [last visit: 25.08.2013] [last visit: 25.08.2013] [last visit: 25.08.2013] [last visit: 25.08.2013] [last visit: 25.08.2013] [last visit: 25.08.2013] [last visit: 25.08.2013] [last visit: 25.08.2013]

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