What is a false friend?
Languages are easy right? Take English and German, for instance – both of them are Germanic languages and therefore have a lot of words in common. The English ‘house’ becomes the German ‘Haus’, ‘mouse’ becomes ‘Maus’, ‘hobby’ becomes ‘Hobby’ and ‘reporter’ becomes ‘Reporter’. Not only do the words look almost identical but they’re also pronounced similarly – and they mean exactly the same.
But sometimes, these friendly translations aren’t friendly at all. They turn out to be false friends – words that sound and look the same (or very similar) in different languages but that have very different meanings. When a German person tells you that they hate their chef, for instance, chances are they don’t actually have a private chef whom they despise. They just think that a chef in English is the same as a Chef in German – namely a boss.
The 50 falsest English-German false friends
Let’s look in more detail into some false friends of English and German. English-German false friends are common and plentiful, because – as mentioned in the beginning – the two languages belong to the same family. That’s the very reason why they can be so hard to spot – because there are so many ‘true friends’ between these two languages.
While there are hundreds of English-German false friends, we have picked the 50 trickiest ones – false friends that are very easy to confuse and/or have extremely different meanings. So now, with no further ado, here are the top 50 falsest English-German false friends out there:
|Translation||False friend - English||False friend - German||Translation|
|werden||to become||bekommen||to receive|
|beschuldigen||to blame||blamieren||to embarrass|
|verriegeln||to lock||locken||to lure|
|beaufsichtigen||to oversee||übersehen||to overlook|
|ausgeben||to spend||spenden||to donate|
|zwinkern||to wink||winken||to wave|
Any other false friends that you have come across? Let us know in the comments.
Your false-friend challenge: what did the German speaker try to say?
To highlight the importance of avoiding the false friend trap, we are throwing in a challenge here. With the help of the above list, try to find the intended meaning of the following non-sensical English sentences, as constructed by a German speaker who hasn’t done his false friend homework. If you can solve them, write the solutions in the comments.
- “I totally blamed myself today – I became a really bad grade at the gym and everyone found out about it.”
- “Mist, I forgot my handy at the local.”
- “I loved your presentation. Just try to be a bit more pregnant next time.”
- “I’m feeling self-conscious today…I have a huge pickle on my face.”
- “I don’t know what to do with our son anymore. Do you think if we take him to your undertaker friend, he may be motivated to do better in school?”
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