You may often have to guess the meaning of a word when learning a new language. At times the word is similar to an English one and therefore easy to guess correctly. At other times, it may look or sound similar to an English word but have a totally different meaning. These words are known as ‘false friends’.  


In the world of business, here are some false friends to look out for:


Una fabbrica sounds like ‘fabric’ in English but it means ‘factory’ in Italian.


Una fattoria sounds similar to ‘factory’ but instead means ‘farm’.


Una firma is a ‘signature’, whereas the word for ‘firm’ or ‘business’ is ditta, azienda, impresa or società.


Un magazzino refers to a warehouse. The Italian word for ‘magazine’ is rivista.


Un casino is a ‘mess’, the word for ‘casino’ in Italian is casinò (with the emphasis on the last syllable).


Here are some sentences:


Domani devo andare alla fabbrica - Tomorrow I have to go to the factory


Noi abbiamo una piccola società - We have a small business


Dov’è il magazzino - Where is the warehouse?


Sembra un casino qui! - It seems to be a mess here!


Next we’ll look at some false friends to be aware of when describing people. 


If you hear the word educato, it isn’t referring to someone’s level of formal education but instead referring to their good manners, meaning ‘polite’ or ‘well-mannered’ in English. If you want to say someone is well-educated, you would use the word istruito.


Sensibile sounds like ‘sensible’ but actually means ‘sensitive’. The Italian word for ‘sensible’ is ragionevole.


Simpatico means ‘nice’ in English, whereas the word for ‘sympathetic’ in Italian is comprensivo.


Fastidioso sounds like ‘fastidious’ but instead means ‘annoying’. If you want to say ‘fastidious’ in Italian you can use pignolo.


If you hear the word gentile used to describe a person, it most likely means ‘kind’ in Italian. The Italian word for ‘gentle’ is delicato.


Here are some sentences with these false friends:


La mia nuova capa è una persona educata - My new boss is polite


Lui è troppo sensitivo - He is too sensitive


Dici che tuo fratello è fastidioso? A me sembrava molto simpatico! You say your brother is annoying? He seemed very nice to me!


Loro non sono gentili - They aren’t nice


Lastly we’ll look at some false friends to be aware of when talking about food and drink. 


Un cocomero sounds like a cucumber but it is in fact one of the words for ‘watermelon’. (The other is anguria). ‘A cucumber’ is un cetriolo.


La crema is not whipped cream, it means custard. La panna is ‘cream’, and in Italy it is often eaten on top of a gelato - ‘ice cream’. 


Crudo means ‘raw’. The word for ‘crude’ or ‘vulgar’ is volgare orrozzo.


Caldo sounds like ‘cold’ but in facts means ‘hot’. In Italian ‘cold’ is freddo.


Morbido means ‘soft’. The word for ‘morbid’ is morboso or macabro.


Here are some sentences using these false friends:


Mi piace mangiare il cocomero d’estate - I like eating watermelon in the summer


Prendo il cornetto con la crema - I’ll have the custard croissant


Preferisci le verdure crude o cotte? - Do you prefer raw or cooked vegetables?


Questa albicocca è molto morbida - This apricot is very soft


Il caffè non è più caldo! - This coffee isn’t hot any more!


Here are some words and expressions relating to food and drink that are derived from Italian. However, they are used in English with different spellings or meanings. If using them in Italy, be sure to use them correctly:


Latte- this just means ‘milk’ in Italian, if you want a milky coffee, remember to order un caffè latte.


Peperoni- this means ‘peppers’, not the spicy sausage often eaten on pizzas in the UK and US. You’ll need to ask for salame piccante for that.


Panini- this is used for a toasted sandwich in English, but it is actually plural. If you just want one you should say panino. This can be a sandwich but also a bread roll.


Al fresco- Used in English if you want to eat outside, however in Italian this means ‘fresh air’. In Italian, you would use fuorior all’aperto.  


Maccheroni- In English we often spell it macaroni and eat it with a cheese sauce. It is spelt differently in Italian and can be eaten with many sauces.


Ragù- In English we spell it bolognaise, but in Italian it is ragù alla bolognese 


Here are some sentences using these words:


Vorrei un latte caldo - I would like a warm milk


Prendiamo la pizza con i peperoni o il salame piccante? Shall we have a pizza with 

peppers or pepperoni?


Non so se mangiare un panino o un piatto di maccheroni al ragù - I don’t know whether to eat a sandwich or a plate of macaroni with bolognaise sauce


Mangiamo fuori? - Shall we eat outside?