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Don’t Get Confused: False Friends (False Cognates) in the Russian Language

A lot of words in Russian sound similar in English—for example, радио (radio) for “radio,” отель (otel’) for “hotel,” директор (director) for “director,” and many others.

However, you need to be careful, because there are words that look and even sound the same but have different meanings. These words are called false cognates or false friends.

In this article, you will learn common false cognates in the Russian language so you can avoid mistakes and misunderstandings. Work with a tutor to learn more false friends in Russian.

Common False Friends in Russian

When you come across the Russian word “Бог” (bog), you probably think it has the same meaning as the English word “bog,” referring to an area of soft, wet ground. The truth is that “Бог” means “God” in Russian.

  • May God forgive us.

  • Да простит нас Бог. (Da prostit nas Bog.)

Another false friend is the Russian word “бриллиант” (brilliant). This word even belongs to a different part of speech than the English “brilliant.” “Бриллиант” is a noun, not an adjective, and means “diamond.”

  • Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

  • Лучшие друзья девушек – это бриллианты. (Luchshie druz’ya devushek – eto brillianty.)

When you see the word “кабинет” (kabinet), don’t jump to conclusions too fast. The word “кабинет” can be translated into English as “office,” not a cupboard with shelves.

  • The boss is calling me into his office.

  • Начальник вызывает меня в свой кабинет. (Nachal’nik vyzyvaet menya v svoi kabinet.)

One of the first words you’ll learn in Russian is “фамилия” (familiya). Perhaps you already know that this refers to a surname, not to a family.

  • What is your surname?

  • Как твоя фамилия? (Kak tvoya familiya?)

“Магазин” (magazin) is another example of a false cognate in the Russian language. It has nothing to do with mass media; rather, it means “shop.”

  • Let’s go to the shop.

  • Пойдем в магазин. (Poidem v magazin.)

English native speakers might be confused when they see the word “проспект” (prospekt), thinking it means something that will happen in the future. The reality is that in Russian, “проспект” refers to an avenue.

  • My windows overlook the avenue.

  • Мои окна выходят на проспект. (Moi okna vykhodyat na prospekt.)

Surprisingly, the Russian word “стол” (stol) is not related to the crime of stealing. It just means “table.”

  • We are sitting at the table.

  • Мы сидим за столом. (My sidim za stolom.)

“Смокинг” (smoking) is a dinner jacket, not a bad habit.

  • Put your dinner jacket on.

  • Надень смокинг. (Naden’ smoking.)

The word “симпатия” (simpatiya) looks nearly the same as the English word “sympathy.” However, the meaning is completely different. Russians use the word “симпатия” when they like someone.

  • I find him attractive.

  • Я испытываю к нему симпатию. (Ya ispytyvaiu k nemu simpatiui.)

The Russian word “труп” (trup) may seem to have a military meaning, but it actually means “corpse.”

  • Neighbors found a dead body and called the police.

  • Соседи нашли труп и вызвали полицию. (Sosedi nashli trup i vyzvali politsiui.)

There are many more false cognates in Russian that can make studying this language quite difficult. If you don’t want to get confused, it’s better to remember the most frequently used words. Another option is to learn Russian with a teacher who will help you avoid embarrassing situations.

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