Beware of German-English false friends!

German-English false friends

‘Mist’ isn’t ‘dung’ or ‘rubbish’

Today’s post is from Angelika Davey of Angelika’s German Tuition & Translation.

Angelika teaches German and also offers proofreading, interpreting, and translations from German to English and from English to German.

She talks to us here about those pesky German-English false friends, and lists some common examples.

Over to Angelika 🙂

“As a German teacher I always tell my students to beware of false friends – not of the people variety, if they have friends who seem nice but aren’t – I’m afraid I can’t help with that. No, I’m talking about those words which seem to be the same but mean something different.

For example, I always tell them not to offer any gifts to Germans, as Gift in German doesn’t mean present, it means poison! That doesn’t mean you can’t give them any gifts, just don’t use the word 🙂

So when Angela asked me if I was interested in writing a guest blog for Botanical Linguist, I thought it might be a good idea to write about false friends for German English learners.

So, if you are German and are learning English, watch out for some of the following:

  • If you want somebody’s mobile number, don’t ask for a handy number, that’s not very handy.
  • If you want to buy a backpack, don’t ask for a bodybag.
  • If you want to talk about your boss, don’t call him a chef (unless he’s a boss in the kitchen).
  • Don’t ask for a dose if you want a can.
  • Don’t say that something is gross when you meant to say it’s big.
  • A herd is not a cooking equipment.
  • A kitchen is not a prison (it may seem for some, though ;-))
  • Don’t be surprised to see people drink lager, it isn’t a warehouse.
  • Mist isn’t dung or rubbish.
  • A pension is not a guesthouse.
  • A rock is not a skirt and a Roman isn’t a novel.
  • A sect isn’t a sparkling wine.
  • If you need a tray, don’t ask for a tablet.
  • A wand is not a wall.
  • If you think this has confused you, don’t say it irritates you.

If you are English and hear any of those words used wrongly, it’s probably a German person saying them.

But if you ever hear a German say in a restaurant: ”Waiter, waiter, when will I become a steak?” then he probably remembers an old German joke which is only funny if you are German and speak English, because ‘bekommen’ in German means ‘get’ 🙂 ”

Are there any false friends between your native language and English?


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