50 Pairs of Spanish-English Legal False Friends

When learning legal terminology in bilingual contexts one of the first pitfalls encountered are the so-called “false friends,” look-alike terms and expressions that appear to be cognates, but are actually unrelated in meaning. Readers of this blog know that I’m really into false friends because there are so many and they are so confusing. Long ago I set about identifying the “Top 40 False Friends in Spanish-English Legal Translation” to present to my students of Legal English. As the list grew I had to change the title to “101 False Friends.” In my collection I now have several hundred that I have been sharing in this blog.

To be fair, many of these pairs are only partial false friends that may actually be cognates when used in one branch of law, while perhaps qualifying as false friends in another legal practice area. And in some instances, the cognate may simply not be the most appropriate rendering in legal contexts.

Perhaps it should also be underscored that some of the material presented here is Spain-specific, and that the suggested translations may not always reflect the meanings of the terms in other Spanish-speaking countries. Certain expressions that may be considered false friends in legal contexts in Spain may not be in other Spanish-speaking jurisdictions where there may be more English influence. As an example, in Spain in the context of court procedure “evidence” is properly rendered as prueba, although it may be called evidencia elsewhere. Likewise corte denotes a “court” in many Spanish-American jurisdictions, although the use of the term in Spain is most often limited to international tribunals such as the Corte Penal Internacional (also known as the Tribunal Penal Internacional), while Spanish courts are variously called juzgados, tribunales, audiencias, órganos judiciales or órganos jurisdiccionales.

This week I realized that I’ve highlighted 50 pairs of False Friends in the blog and thought it might be of interest to put them together in a single list with links to the entries. So here they are…

absolución-absolution

abstención-abstention

accesión-accession

accidental-accidental

activo; pasivo-active; pasive

actor-actor

adhesión-adhesion

adjudicar-adjudicate

alimentos-alimony

arresto-arresto

audiencia-audience

autor-author

billón-billion

científico/a-scientific

colegio electoral-Electoral College

comisión-commission

contaminación-contamination

corporación-corporation

declaración-declaration

Derecho común-common law

detención-detention

disolución del matrimonio-dissolution of marriage

distracción-distraction

doctrina-doctrine

elegible-eligible

elevar-elevate

evicción-eviction

evidencia-evidence

falta-fault

imposición-imposition

información-information

jurisprudencia-jurisprudence

legado-legacy

magistrado-magistrate

moderno/a-modern

opinión-opinion

órgano-organ

panfleto-pamphlet

patrimonio-patrimony

puro y simple-pure and simple

recuento-recount

redacción-redaction

retribución-retribution

secreto-secret

seguridad-security

sentencia-sentence

social-social

tráfico-traffic

transacción-transaction

trimestre-trimester

usurpación-usurpation

2 thoughts on “50 Pairs of Spanish-English Legal False Friends

  1. What a brilliant resource. Thanks for creating this list.

    Half the problem with Spanish false friends is identifying whether the text uses the true Spanish usage or is influenced by English. For instance, I was recently working on a text in which I’d translated “La evidencia de que” as something like “it was evident that”, but later in the text it became clear that the author was using “evidencia” to mean “evidence”.

    Dealing with false friends is particularly challenging when you work for international institutions, because you get texts from all over the Hispanosphere, and usage varies so much from Chile to Mexico and from Costa Rica to Spain.

    Like

    • Thanks, Tim, for your kind words. And you’re right. Meanings of Spanish legal terms may vary from one Spanish-speaking jurisdiction to another. (The different meanings of “procurador” in Spain and Mexico are an example.)

      Like

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