16 False Friends in Serbian for Polish Speakers

While some English speakers make jokes about polishing their Polish, a simple Serbian sentence like “they remembered him” could make a Polish speaker think that they “forgot him”! The culprit which can cause this fuss is the language mechanism known as “false friends”. In this article you will learn 16 false friends in Serbian for Polish speakers

False friends is a linguistic occurrence that was first defined in 1928, although some attempts to do so date back to the 17th centry. The term false friends refers to the linguistic hazard when the words in different languages are pronounced or spelt in a similar or even the same way, but their meanings are different.

When learning a foreign language, it’s very important to learn the examples of this linguistic occurrence so as to avoid the pitfalls they create. In this article, we are going to look closely to some of the  most promiment false friends in Serbian for Polish speakers.

It is interesting to note that, while they both are Slavic languages, Serbian (alongside Bosnian, Croatian and Macedonian) belongs to the subgroup of South Slavic languages, whereas Polish is a West Slavic language. Although there are many similarities between these two languages, there are also the differences (taking the form of a false friend).


False Friends in Serbian for Polish Speakers: the Verbs

A Polish speaker learning Serbian, or a Serbian speaker learning Polish, must stop and think before using quite a few verbs.

For example, the verb tłumaczyć in Polish means to translate, or explain in some contexts, whereas in Serbian the verb tumačiti means to interpret.

Moreover, the verb podróżować in Polish means to travel while Serbian people may associate with a verb družiti se (to be friends with somebody) since the word stems from the noun drug which in Serbian means a friend.

Additionally, the verb chodzić in Polish has a general meaning and means to go (and as such takes part in constructing many useful expressions) while in Serbian its meaning is very narrow – hodati means to go on foot.

A language learner should also stop and think before using the verbs such as zakazać i ratować. The former means to prohibit, in Serbian the verb zakazati means to make an appointment, while the latter in Polish means to save and its Serbian equivalent  ratovati has little to do with saving, it means to wage war.

The same can be said for the verbs uvaźać and zapomnieć.  Uważać means to think or to watch out, while in Serbian the verb uvažavati means to have respect for somebody.

Finally, while zapomnieć may remind us of the Serbian verb zapamtiti (to remember) in Polish it actually means to forget!


Serbian and Polish False Friends: The Verb Table


 Polishmeaning Serbianmeaning 
tłumaczyć to translate, or explain tumačiti to explain, to interpret
podróżowaćto traveldružiti se to be friends with
chodzićto gohodati to walk
zakazaćto prohibitzakazatito make an appointment
ratowaćto saveratovatito wage war
uważaćto think, to be careful, to watch outuvažavati to respect
zapomniećto forget, to neglectzapamtitito remember


False Friends in Serbian for Polish Speakers: the Adjectives


The false friends can also be found among the adjectives. For example, a very common Polish adjective przystojny is not the same as the Serbian adjective pristojan. In Serbian, pristojan means well-mannered while in Polish this adjective is used for describing men and it means handsome.

There is another adjective for describing people, a very frequent one, but with different meanings in Serbian and Polish. Namely, while gruby in Polish means fat or thick, in Serbian grub is rough, not smooth.

The Polish adjective szary is another example of how false friends can operate. In Polish this adjectives refers to the color grey and in Serbian šaren means colorful. Both words designate colors, but as we can see szary and šaren are different types of colors.


Serbian and Polish False Friends: The Adjectives Table


 Polish meaning  Serbian meaning 
 przystojny handsome pristojan well-mannered
 gruby fat, thick grub rough, not smooth
 szary grey šaren colorful


False Friends in Serbian for Polish Speakers: the Nouns

The final group of words that we are going to inspect are the nouns. Most false friends come from this group of words. For example, there is a word  zawod in both Polish and Serbian. However, in Polish it means profession (we can often hear it in the question „Jaki masz zawód?“ meaning „What is your profession?“) while zavod in Serbian is a special public institution, foundation.

Furthemore, there are two words that are used to talk about time, quite similar in the two language, but their meanings differ. While  godzina in Polish means an hour, a Serbian word godina means a year.

Also, in Polish to say a year we need a noun rok while in Serbian rok means a deadline.

Interestingly enough, if you would like to say that you like shopping and paintings in Polish you need the words zakupy and obraz. These two words exist in Serbian as well, but zakup is a rent while obraz is a cheek.


Serbian and Polish False Friends: The Noun Table

Polishmeaning Serbianmeaning
zawód profession zavod public institution
 godzina hour godina year
 rok year rok deadline
 zakupy shopping zakup rent
 obraz painting obraz cheek
 słowo word slovo letter


Serbian for Polish Speakers

This article was about 2 x 16 words which look similar in Serbian and Polish, but whose meanings are different. Since both Serbian and Polish are Slavic languages, it is quite reasonable to encounter such words when learning these languages or when trying to translate from one into another.

As you have seen, for certain words it is impossible to decipher their meaning just because we already speak a similar language.

If a Pole says that this article was about słowa (which means words in Polish), but a Serb does not agree (since in Serbian slova means letters), then we should remember that false friends are responsible for all the confusion.

Guest post by Smiljana Rakonjac


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