German Language Blog

German newspaper causes laughter: “Pope eats Argentines”!?. Posted by on Mar 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

Is the new pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a cannibal who favors his Argentinian fellow-countrymen as a delicious meal, just like the headline in a German newspaper suggested? Admittedly, I have no idea what kind of diet Francis, the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church prefers but I’m pretty sure that he is not after human meat. Why do I float the question whether Pope Francis has designs on humans for supper?

A German newspaper brought forth: “Der neue Papst isst Argentinier”, which means “The new Pope eats Argentines”. Actually, the writer of this newspaper articles wanted to say this: “Der neue Papst ist Argentinier” (“The new Pope is Argentinian”). So, what led to this linguistic accident?

The conjugated forms (2nd and 3rd person singular) of the German verbs “sein” (to be) and “essen” (to eat) share one and the same sound chain, that is, “ist” and “isst” are homophones – the pronunciation of both these forms is identical – but orthographically they mean two different things. In order to make sure that you do not walk right into the same trap, I give you an overview of the correct conjugated forms of both the German verbs sein and essen:


sein (to be)
Singular Plural
1st person ich bin – I am Wir sind – we are
2nd person du bist – you are (informal)Sie sind – you are (formal) ihr seid – you are (informal)Sie sind – you are (formal)
3rd person er/sie/es ist – he/she/it is sie sind – they are


essen (to eat)
Singular Plural
1st person ich esse – I eat wir essen – we eat
2nd person du isst – you eat (informal)Sie essen – you eat (formal) ihr esst – you eat (informal)Sie essen – you eat (formal)
3rd person er/sie/es isst – he/she/it eats sie essen – they eat


As you can see, German shares one and the same form for English “you”, “she”, and “they”, which is “sie” and “Sie”, respectively. When you refer to your immediate counterpart in personal communication make sure to use a CAPITAL letter in formal address.

Unfortunately, the editor’s mistake is irreversible but one thing is for sure: he or she is most probably a laughing stock in the office and definitely among members of the language police. My final remark: Spell-check can save lives!

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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


  1. Jis:

    The pope is an amusing chap.

  2. Angélica:

    Can you please tell me the name of the newspaper where this news was published?
    I am currently studying communication and find this a good example of the responsibility one has as a journalist, and how careful one must be when releasing something to the masses.
    Thanks in advance.

  3. bigelefantmale:

    Spell check wouldn’t have caught that, seeing as how it’s spelled properly.. but the Editor should have!