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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. 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!
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.
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 wollen – to 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!