One of the first “false friends” I learned of between Spanish and English was “embarazada.” Embarazar is the Spanish verb for “to impregnate,” with embarazada being the past participle.

Of course, it sounds very much like the English adjective “embarrassed” and so most Spanish students have probably heard the one about the foreign exchange student who told her friends/host family/Spanish-speaking boyfriend “Estoy embarazada,” accidentally saying she was pregnant, when she meant to say she was embarrassed, and ultimately ending up more embarrassed.

Wait! That's not what I meant!

This word was actually famously mistranslated by one U.S. company introducing it’s product to the Mexican market. From Wikipedia:

When Parker Pen entered the Mexican market, its advertisements which claimed that Parker Pens “won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” were mistranslated to “No te embarazará chorreándose en tu bolsillo” which means “Won’t leak in your pocket and impregnate you”.

Funny stuff. But over the years that I’ve been studying Spanish, I’ve heard “embarazar” used to mean “embarrassing” in its adjective form, “embarazosa/o.” I’ve stopped a few Spanish speakers and asked them about this, and they’ve told me that, yes, in some contexts it’s fine to use it to mean “embarrassing.”

If you’re still hesitant after having this false friend drilled into your head by a Spanish teacher, do a Google search for “situación muy embarazosa,” then click the “news” filter, and you’ll see tons of stories (mostly about politicians, interestingly) where the word is used to describe an embarrassing situation.

So… what does that mean to us Spanish learners? If you’re talking about yourself, it seems the surefire way to get the across the idea that you’re embarrassed is to say “Tengo vergüenza,” literally something like “I have shame.” If you really want to try to use embarazar in this way, make sure you’re using it as an adjective, and describing a situation or event, not yourself or someone else.

If you’re still not sure, sign up for a live 1-on-1 Spanish class via Skype. Our native Spanish speaking teachers should be able to reassure you.

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