German Language Blog

Don’t Let It Confuse You! – Gift Posted by on Sep 27, 2019 in Culture, Language

All the way back in February, we discussed how the word “Chef” means quite something else in German than in English! Our reader Michael suggested the word “gift”. Now, you may also wonder what gift means in German. A dangerous one to confuse… Let’s check it out!

For previous posts in this series, click here.

Expectation: I’m nice for giving you some gift!

What gift means in German

A gift for your German friends! (Image by Ekaterina Shevchenko at

When we think about a gift, we think about a Geburtstagsfeier (birthday party), Weihnachten (Christmas) perhaps. Or maybe something bigger, like your Kinder (children) or das Leben selbst (life itself)?

Germans? Not so much.

Reality: I’m evil for giving you some gift…

A gift for your German friends? (Image by JJ Jordan at

In his comment, Michael wrote the following: “One of the most dangerous to misuse might be “Gift,” since I wouldn’t want someone thinking I’m giving them German “Gift” instead of an English “gift.””

Why is it so gefährlich (dangerous)? Here’s why: Gift in German means “poison”! The corresponding verb is vergiften (to poison), and something poisoned is vergiftet. So you don’t wanna bring a Gift to a Geburtstagsfeier

Instead of a gift, you give Germans a Geschenk. The verb for that is schenken. That’s nice!

But how come there are such differences?

Actually, Gift had the same meaning in German too, as late as the 18th century in fact. What happened?

Throughout the ages, the word Gift was influenced by the Greek-Late Latin word dosis, which meant both gift and a certain amount of medicine. The English word “dose” comes from that too (which is a confusing word as well!). Dosis was related to the idea of die dosis macht das Gift (the dose makes the poison). And so Gift, which also meant Geschenk at the time, was increasingly related to a “deadly dose” colloquially, and that’s how the meaning creeped in that we have today!

Interestingly, the old meaning of Gift as a Geschenk still lives in the word Mitgift (dowry).

How to say it?

Listen to all of this below:

Thanks again for the suggestion, Michael!

Have you confused the word Gift before? Or do you have other words that you think are confusing? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.