View Full Version : "False Friends" in the German Language

Saturday, September 27th, 2003, 03:39 PM
"False Friends" in the German Language

German is a tough language! Everyone who has learned it knows that. There are so many difficulties: when writing, when reading and speaking, and oh, the grammar and vocabulary. Speaking of vocabulary, it is especially important!

Most people believe German is particularly difficult because of the many words that are just so different than their mother tongue. That is not exactly the truth – words that the most alien-sounding are learned the quickest. It just takes practice getting the tongue around them and getting used to the sound. Where other problems occur are with the internationalised words. They are words that look the same in different languages, like in Russian, my mother tongue, but they mean completely different things.

“Butterbrot ohne Butter”
Bread and butter without butter

This internationalisation is a tricky and malicious thing. On first glance they seem clear and understandable, really “good friends” in the jungle of what is the German language. But when you look closely they prove to be “false friends” and they can make everyday life hell.

A Russian is sitting having his breakfast. The coffee machine is brewing, the Russian cuts himself a piece of bread and spreads on some jam without butter. He is looking forward to eating his “Butterbrot” (bread and butter) but where is the butter you might be asking. Yea, the Russian does not like butter, he eats his butter and bread without butter. The confusion comes from the Russian word “butjerbrod” which means a piece of bread with anything on it. Another one is the Russian word “kekse” meaning raisin bread which is completely different than the German word “Kekse” which means cookies.

More of the “false friends”

Ah, it is not so bad you might be thinking, you are not really awake at breakfast anyway. But the day can get increasingly worse, understand? After breakfast you go to your wardrobe to put something appropriate on. Most men wear “Krawatten” (ties). It looks really serious. On the other hand, it is extremely un-serious when instead of saying Krawatte you say “Halstuch” (scarf in German) What, you have not heard the word before? Well, in Russian we say “galstuk” which means tie – looks similar doesn’t it? It could get worse. In Germany you have to show your boss an “Attest” (Doctor’s note) as to why you were away in the hospital for three days which is bad enough. Where things could go wrong is in Russia “atestat” means your school diploma, and I do not think that suffices to explain why you were sick.

“Imbiss am Büfett”
Lunch at the buffet

Back to office talk. It is 12 hour and it is time to put something between the teeth. In Russia at lunch time, everyone goes to the “bufjet.” At a Russian “bufjet” you get the typical cold buffet as well as warm soup and other warm dishes. The Russian word “bufjet” means in German “Imbissbude” an imbiss stand.

It is 17 hour, time to go grocery shopping. Here is where you have to be especially careful! When you as a Russian ask someone in Germany "In welchen “Gastronom” kann ich noch schnell reingehen?" (in which “Gastronom” can I still get into quickly) – you will get some pretty strange looks. It is important to know that “Gastronom” means ‘man’ in German. Russians who make this mistake are most likely thinking of the Russian word “gastronom” which means supermarket.

“Gute Nacht”
Good night

And when you finally get home you are excited to see your family (Familie in German) and you think I cannot be fooled anymore with this language. Haa! The Russian word “familija” does not mean family but ‘last name’. Phoey! There is nothing left but to say Gute Nacht and to have restless dreams about the complicated German language.

Juri Rescheto

Sunday, September 28th, 2003, 05:45 PM
Another "false friend" are Germ. bekommen and Engl. to become.

Dr. Solar Wolff
Wednesday, October 1st, 2003, 05:36 AM
It may be worse when learning German as an English speaker. Simple German and simple English are much alike but complicated ideas in English come from Norman French or Latin. In German new concepts are compounded from existing words. The confusing comes from the basic similarity and from borrowing of words between the languages. When German words sound like English words one has to be careful in assuming they mean the same thing. There is usually at least a little shade of difference. I got so fearful when I saw the word "Chance" in German that I looked it up rather than believe it meant the same in both languages.

Wednesday, October 1st, 2003, 11:24 PM
What I hate is when in German words are used in their subtance more and more like their English "friends", though the substance of the English and the German words didn't cover 100% originally.

An example is Philosophie. In German it originally only meant real philosophiocal systems or thoughts of philosophers. But now it is often used, following the meaning it also has in English, as a synonyme for Lebenseinstellung or generally Einstellung of someone, so that we can read stuff like "Die Philosophie von McDonald's" or "Meine Philosophie: Früh zu Bett und früh auf".

I also hate it when they are in newspapers and TV too lazy to translate The Bush administration into the proper Die Regierung Bush and say instead of it Die Bush-Administration.

Nordischer Beobachter
Friday, October 17th, 2003, 11:00 PM
never forget the link between language and race, people of german descent learn german very easily. I am the living example of that. My sounds are perfect, every1 asks me if im german when i speak................ no am Aryan ;)

Monday, November 3rd, 2003, 07:56 PM
Interesting. This just shows how many german words found their way into the russian vocabulary.

Friday, March 11th, 2005, 04:31 AM
False Friends/falsche Freunde

With the False Cognate Glossary (http://german.about.com/library/blfalsef.htm)

The good news: German and English are closely related and have many words in common. And the bad news? German and English are closely related and have many words in common.

Any English-speaker learning German should be aware of this fact. But sometimes things are not what they seem to be. Among the many words the two languages have in common lurk the so-called "false friends." Linguistic false friends can be just as dangerous as the human variety. These treacherous words pretend to be something they aren't. They can lead to embarrassment, or if you're lucky, just laughter.

False friends, more accurately known as "false cognates," are particularly prevalent in the two Germanic languages English and German. Because the two languages are such close relatives, they have a lot of words that look and sound alike or very similar. The innocent variety includes word pairs such as: begin/beginnen, house/Haus, garden/Garten, brown/braun, father/Vater, and summer/Sommer. There are many of these genuine cognates, and any language learner should use them to advantage. The genuine cognates can be just as helpful for a German learning English as for an American learning German. But the false ones can also be a hidden danger going both ways. (There are many German books warning of such dangers in learning English.) Whether they are called "confusing words," "false friends," "words to watch out for," or anything else, false cognates are something a language-learner must always be aware of. It's too easy to fall into the trap.

Continued below chart.


More falsche Freunde in our False Friends Glossary (http://german.about.com/library/blfalsef.htm)

So, just what are we talking about, actually (aktuell)? Eventually (eventuell), we have to be brave (brav) and face the problem (Problem).

In the two sentences above, only one of the German words in parentheses next to the English word is a true equivalent of that word. Do you know which one? Of the four, only das Problem could be used in the same sense as the English. Although aktuell looks almost like a twin of "actual" or "actually," the German word actually means "current, topical, up-to-date." German eventuell is almost the opposite of "eventually," meaning "possibly" or "perhaps." English "brave" is expressed in German by tapfer or mutig, while brav means "good, well-behaved"--as in "Du bist ein braver Junge, Hans." ("You're a good boy, Hans.")

Take the
"False Friends" Quiz (http://german.about.com/library/quiz/blqz_falsef1.htm)!

Some false friends are only a problem in the wrong context. Rezept resembles the English word "recipe" and can mean just that. But ein Rezept is also a "prescription" for the pharmacist (Apotheker). On the other hand, if you think "receipt" when you see Rezept, the German word you really want is Quittung or Beleg.

The German word Star can mean "starling" (bird), "cataract" (eye, grauer Star) or the word it resembles, "movie star." One thing it does not mean is a "star" in the night sky. That would be Stern, another false cognate. For a list of more than 75 false cognates with their true meanings, see our Glossary of "False Friends" in German (http://german.about.com/library/blfalsef.htm).

Source (http://german.about.com/library/weekly/aa030199.htm)

Dr. Solar Wolff
Friday, March 11th, 2005, 04:45 AM
This is a wonderful post, without even reading it all I must comment on the word "Billion". I think it is even different in England than in the USA---is that correct?

Friday, March 11th, 2005, 04:52 AM
Well, IIRC from what I've studied regarding the differences between British English and American English, for the US term "billion" the British English term is "milliard" or "thousand million", while for the US "trillion" the British English is "billion". Quite confusing at times.

Dr. Solar Wolff
Friday, March 11th, 2005, 04:58 AM
How about "See" in German which can be a lake as opposed to "Sea" in English which is almost always salt water. Or "Loch" which is not "Lake" in English but hole as in Schwarzes Loch--black hole and not "Loch" in Scots which is lake in English.

Friday, March 11th, 2005, 06:31 AM
Also always nice:

Germ. wer = Engl. who

Germ. wo = Engl. where

Monday, June 6th, 2005, 07:54 PM
never forget the link between language and race, people of german descent learn german very easily. I am the living example of that. My sounds are perfect, every1 asks me if im german when i speak................ no am Aryan ;)Is that a rule? After a year and half's worth of study you would not know I'm not a native speaker if you heard me speak. I'm of Hellenic descent, by the way. Who knows, maybe I inherited some German language gene somewhere along the line. ;)

By the way, I completely fell for the Gift/poison false cognate, when I told a friend, "Ich hab ein Gift für dich." The funny thing about it is in this particular instance I said something threatening while looking very benelovent.

He thought I was crazy.