German False Friends Posted by Sandra Rösner on May 11, 2012 in Language, Uncategorized
Being a native speaker of English learning German you might sooner or later come across German words you seem to be familiar with. Sometimes these words contain the meanings you might give them, but sometime these words can be totally misleading. Those misleading words are called False Friends! False friends in language are words spelled the same or almost the same in German and English but have different meanings. So, always pay attention to words you assume to already know because, at worse, they could trip you up.
Part of speech
Part of speech
|blaze||noun||die Blase(blah-zuh)||noun||bladder, blister, bubble|
|most||adjective||der Most||noun||young wine|
|see||verb||der See1die See
1 The German word “See” has two meanings, which are dependent on the article being used. When you put the masculine article “der” before this noun it means lake (der See) but when you put the feminine article before the noun it means sea (die See).
There are, of course, many more of such false friends and it is quite difficult for me to think of and list them all. Maybe you have already come across some “funny” German words that are spelled like words in your native language. I would be happy if you could share them with me and other users…
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I teach high-school German in the US, and invariably teenage boys chuckle when they learn to conjugate “fahren” for 2nd-person plural, and especially when they learn the phrase “gute Fahrt!” to wish someone a pleasant journey. It’s a bit puerile, but so are teenage boys, who are always the first to recognize the “false friend” to the English homophone meaning “flatulence”.
Perhaps not a “false friend”, but I find that it’s often for Germans & English-speakers alike to wrap our minds around clear expressions of “have to / müssen”, especially from a negative connotation. I remember a business meeting when a German colleague responded to a question with “It must not be”, which the English speakers understood as extremely negative (we must never do this!). But as it turns out, the intention was rather “It doesn’t have to be so” which means something entirely different!
How about Präservativ? Not actually jelly, but condoms.
The most false friends must surely be the English verb ‘become’ (meaning ‘werden’ auf deutsch) and the German verb ‘bekommen’ (meaning ‘get’ or ‘obtain’ in English).
If you were to translate “Ich kann …. bekommen” as “I can become ….” you would be saying something totally different to what you intended which would make no sense in English or might even be embarrassing!
You could however say ” I can come by….” (which I guess comes from the say Germanic root?)
I think you should explain the difference between an undertaker and ein Unternehmer!
Great collection of “false friends”!