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When English and German cross over Posted by on May 4, 2015 in Language

I caught a glimpse of this British newspaper headline the other day and read it the German way, rather than the English. This happens to me from time to time, and I’m always quite excited when it does. 😀

rat lied

Own photo.

Rat lied. Both of these are English words that also exist in German. These kinds of words are known as False Friends, as they exist in two languages but with different meanings. They’re called this because they fool you into thinking you’ve found words that will be easy to remember, when in fact you haven’t, because their identical spellings yet different meanings will confuse the hell out of you.

Rat in German means advice, while lied means song (though as a noun it should be capitalised in German – Lied).

I started to think about how this headline could be read in different ways. For instance:

If an English speaker read Rat lied in a British newspaper they’d read it as: Rat lied

If a German speaker read Rat lied in a German newspaper they’d read it as: Advice song

If an English speaker read Rat lied in a German newspaper they’d read and understand it as: Rat lied, although it would actually mean Advice song, and if it were about a rat who lied, it would read: Ratte hat gelogen!

 

ALSO

When I posted this on Twitter, someone responded telling me that they have to think twice about which language they’re reading when they see the word Also, which exists in German and English, too.

This is another little word that can confuse German learners! In English, ‘also’ means as well. In German, ‘also’ means so. It’s often used at the start of sentences, like this:

Also gehen wir heute ins Kino oder nicht?
So are we going to the cinema today or not?

If you wanted to use the English word ‘also’ (meaning as well) in German, you would use the word auch:

Wir backen auch Kuchen.
We also bake cakes.

 

ICH WILL

Another misleading phrase I was asked about recently is Ich will.

Although it appears to mean I will, it actually means I want:

Ich will dich nicht.
I don’t want you.

It comes from the verb wollento want to.

So how do you say I will in German? Ich werde, from the verb werden – to become.

Ich werde es tun.
I will do it.

As you can see, German is full of words and phrases that trick you into a false sense of security! Which German ‘false friends’ are you, or have you been confused about? Have you ever read English words thinking they were German, or vice-versa, like I did with that newspaper headline?

Ich freue mich auf ihre Antworten!

Constanze x

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About the Author:Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze. I'm half English and half German. I write here because I'm passionate about my languages and my roots. I also work as a translator & group fitness instructor.


Comments:

  1. Transparent Language:

    Comment received via email:

    become and bekommen, as in “May I become a beefsteak, please?”

    • Constanze:

      @Transparent Language This is one that catches a lot of people out! I had a German penpal years ago who wrote to me in English, and she once wrote “For Christmas I became a jumper”. ^_^ So it works both ways, too!

  2. Transparent Language:

    Comment received via email:

    Liebe Constanze,

    Ich lerne sowohl Latein als auch Deutsch, und ich lehre auch Schüler (zu Hause).

    Einmal schrieb ich eine Prüfung für meine Lateinische Klasse. Die Schüler sollten die Wörter “altus agricola” übersetzen. Aber als ich das Wort “altus” sah, dachte ich auf Deutsch, und ich habe es wie Deutsch übersetzt: “the old farmer.”

    I enjoy your Blog very much. Thank you.

    Marion P. Smedberg

  3. Transparent Language:

    Comment received via email:

    Hi Constanze, keep sending your German blogs,are you male or female with that name?the German word that confuses me is ” fertig ” because if I am correct it can mean either ” ready ” Beispiel ready to do something,or ready to begin,pluss it contradicts itself by also meaning ” to fnish “, awaiting your reply please,yours truly Jimmy aus London

    James E Battman

    • Constanze:

      @Transparent Language Hi Jimmy! Well, personally the only way I’ve heard ‘fertig’ used to mean ‘ready’ is if someone says they’re ‘fertig’ with a task, to mean they’re ready to go. For example “Ich bin gleich fertig!” (“I’m almost ready!”) if they’re getting ready to go out. But this exact same sentence could mean “I’m almost finished!”, too. In contrast, the other word for ‘ready’ (bereit) has more of an emphasis on being mentally prepared. I suppose it really depends on the context. Hope that helps – oh and by the way, Constanze is a female name. 🙂 x

  4. alcazar:

    Yes, the first comment is funny to say in english 🙂
    As for your “headline”, “Rat” can also mean council, as in city council.

    • Constanze:

      @alcazar Thanks, alcazar! Yes, good point, as in Rathaus – city council/council hall. I just wanted to keep things simple by using one, general translation only. 🙂

  5. Joerg:

    Another funny one is always : “I have a gift for you! ” 😉
    Being a German living in an English-speaking country I find a lot of those too.

    I always imagine, way back when the first German met the first English traveller and they exchanged vocabulary on a bonfire over some steak and wine, they had too much of the latter and confused some meanings. 🙂

    • Constanze:

      @Joerg ‘Gift’ is one of my favourites, too! Its contradictory German/English meaning always reminds me of fairytales- like when Snow White is given the poisoned apple. And yeah, that must be the explanation!! 🙂 Thanks for your comment, Joerg! x

  6. Chris:

    A friend of mine (English but currently living near Essen) was wandering around one day and saw a religious group on the street trying to give away copies of a book. They obviously wanted folks to read it as they just had a massive sign up saying “LIES!”, which gives a bit of a different message to a native English speaker 🙂

  7. Transparent Language:

    Comment via email:

    Thanks.Very helpful.Can you give more such short sentences in German,so that it’ll be easy to remember them?

    Bulbul Sur.

  8. hamish:

    The famous one that sticks in my mind is “Can I become a hamburger ?”

    • Constanze:

      @hamish Hahha yes! A German girl once told me “For Christmas I became a jumper”. I love that one. x

  9. fridelain:

    Gift actually meant the same that it does on English today once. Too many poisoned presents later, the meaning changed 😛
    .
    The two words “gift/Gift” in English and German both have the common germanic ancestor “geban” “to give”. The rest is separate development through many centuries.
    The word for “to poison” used to be “vergeben”, but it went out of use because of its homophone meaning “to forgive”, and became “vergiften”
    German even has a word that preserves the old meaning of “Gift” as a present, in the word “die Mitgift”(= dowry).


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