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False Friend: Profesor vs. Professor

Is the man in the white lab coat a teacher or a professor? (Image)
Hello! Today we have another False Friend. If you’re not sure what a False Friend is, check out this introductory post. Today we’ll look at the difference between profesor in Spanish and professor in English. We’ll look at the word “teacher” next Monday, since this topic comes up in almost every class I teach.

False Friend: profesor vs. professor 
This SPANISH word…
Looks like this ENGLISH word…
…but they are DIFFERENT because…
In Spanish, at least in Costa Rica, profesor/a can be used for any kind of teacher or instructor:

La profesora de cuarto grado habló con sus alumnos.”
(“The fourth grade teacher spoke with her students.”)

In English, professor (note the spelling) refers to a person who has a PhD (doctorate of philosophy) degree from a university. Normally a person becomes a professor after studying in the university for at least 7 years total. The word can be used for a man or a woman, and it can also be used as a personal title:

I got bad grades in my university Chemistry classes, but at least my professor was good. She was always helpful and patient.”
Professor Smith will be giving a lecture on tropical ecosystems.”

You can refer to any instructor or teacher who isn’t a professor as a “teacher,” but “teacher” is just a job description and generally not a title. We’ll look more at this on Monday.

So, in the picture above, is the person in the white lab coat a teacher or a professor? Possibly both. He’s definitely a teacher, but if he has a PhD, then he’s also a professor. In this case, the picture information says his name is Professor Hellmuth Stachel –we capitalize “professor” since it’s his title. Because he has a doctorate degree, we can also call him “Doctor Hellmuth Stachel,” but in academia it’s more common to say “professor” instead of “doctor,” since “doctor” can cause confusion with medical doctors.

If you don’t understand this, you can ask me or your normal English teacher or professor. But remember that I’m  not a professor, because I only have an M.A., not a PhD. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for other False Friends or Common Errors, please tell me.

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

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Common Error: Phrases For Introductions

One Comment

  1. Carole
    On March 17, 2012 at 7:51 pm Reply

    Nice blog. As an English teacher, if you aren’t already into cryptic crosswords you might like to have a peek at a series of posts I have been doing on how to solve them. They are just fantastic for clever word play. This is a link to the first post. There is now a new clue each day to solve. Enjoy. http://caroleschatter.blogspot.co.nz/2012/01/cryptic-crosswords-solving-hints-1.html

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