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German False Friends Posted by 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.

 

False Friends

English

Part of speech

German

Part of speech

Meaning

after adverb der After(Af-tuhR) noun anus
also adverb also(Al-zoh) conjunction so, therefore
bald adjective bald(bAlt) adverb soon
blaze noun die Blase(blah-zuh) noun bladder, blister, bubble
brief adjective der Brief noun letter
chef noun der Chef(shef) noun boss
closet noun das Klosett(kloh-zet) noun toilet
gift noun das Gift noun poison
sympathetic adjective sympthatisch(zŸm-pah-tish) adjective nice
kind adjective das Kind(kint) noun child
knack noun der Knack(knAk) noun crack
lusty adjective lustig(loostig) adjective funny
most adjective der Most noun young wine
note verb die Note(noh-tuh) noun grade
see verb der See1die See

(zey)

noun lakesea
sin noun der Sinn(zin) noun sense

 

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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About the Author:Sandra Rösner

Hello everybody! I studied English and American Studies, Communication Science, and Political Science at the University of Greifswald. Since I have been learning English as a second language myself for almost 20 years now I know how difficult it is to learn a language other than your native one. Thus, I am always willing to keep my explanations about German grammar comprehensible and short. Further, I am inclined to encourage you to speak German in every situation. Regards, Sandra


Comments:

  1. Brian:

    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!

  2. Laurie Packard:

    How about Präservativ? Not actually jelly, but condoms.
    aktuell
    bekommen
    brav
    Boot
    fast
    genial
    kurios
    ordinär

  3. Maurice FFELAN:

    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?)

    Maurice Ffelan

  4. James:

    I think you should explain the difference between an undertaker and ein Unternehmer!

  5. Rainer:

    Great collection of “false friends”!