German False Friends List- German words that SOUND like English
Sometimes you hear a word in German, and you are certain that you know the meaning, even if you’ve never heard the word before. It makes perfect sense that the word Banane means Banana. And then sometimes, you hear a German word, and it sort of sounds English, but the meaning couldn’t be more different. The most obvious of these “False Friends” is the word Gift. In English, when someone gives you a gift, you are happy! You’ve gotten a present! In German, you might die, someone just gave you poison!! A “False Friend” is a word that sounds the same (or almost the same) in English and German… but has a wildly different meaning. This German False Friends list are some of my favorite false friends, do you know any others that should be on the list?
German False Friends List
False friends are an added degree of confusion to an English speaker learning German. The words are close, and you might automatically presume a meaning… or get the meanings of both words goofed up in your head. Here are some of the most common False Friends… words I’ve goofed up myself, or heard others step on, or I just think are funny!
I will list the “false friend”, tell you what it sounds like in English… give the German meaning… and then for fun, I’ll give the German meaning of the English sounding word.
Finally, I’ll try to put it into a sentence for context.
sounds like gross or disgusting
in German gross is eklig
That gross (big) mess is eklig (gross).
sounds like where
in German where is WO.
Wer (who) are you, and where (wo) are you going?
sounds like corn
means grain (think Vollkorn) or Schnapps
in German corn is Mais
You can drink a shot of Korn (Schnapps) while eating your corn (Mais).
sounds like- morning fog
means- animal poop (mostly cow or horse)
in German “mist” is Nebel
So, the morning mist (nebel) smelled a little like mist (poop)
sounds like- bald/ hairless
in German “bald” is kahlköpfig
So the kahlköpfig (bald) man will arrive bald (soon).
sounds like chef/ cook
means- the boss
in German chef is Koch
The Chef (cook) is the Chef (boss) of the kitchen.
sounds like- Fast / speedy
in German “fast” is schnell
We are fast (almost) there, we should go fast (schnell).
sounds like- Art / painting statue
means- way to do something
in German “art” is Kunst
This museum contains Kunst (art) of Modern style (art).
sounds like Eagle
in German eagle is Adler.
The Eagle (Adler) would eat an Igel (hedgehog).
sounds like- etiquette
means- tag or label
in German- etiquette is Etikette (so it is confusing)
It’s bad etiquette (etikette) to leave the price Etikett (label) on your gifts.
sounds like – stay
in German stay is bleiben
If you plan to stay here (hier bleiben) then you will have to remain stehen (standing).
sounds like – stuff
means- fabric / material
in German stuff is Zeug
Let’s put some stuff (Zeug) into this bag made of Stoff (fabric).
which brings us to…
sounds like fabric
in German, fabric is Stoff
They make fabric (Stoff) in the Fabrik (factory)
Roman (I was confused in bookstores for YEARS)
sounds like someone from Rome
in German Roman is Römisch
The Römischer man (man from Rome) would read a Roman (novel).
sounds like whimper
in German whimper is wimmern
You would wimmer (whimper) if someone pulled out your Wimper (eyelash).
Clothing can be a problem
sounds like smoking / having a cigarette
in German smoking is rauchen
I don’t want anyone smoking (rauchen) near my new Smoking (tuxedo).
sounds like costume
means- Suit or Costume
in German costume is Kostüm
You should wear a Kostüm (suit) to work, not a costume (Kostüm)
sounds like hut
in German a hut is a Hütte
Take off your Hut (hat) when you go in the hut (Hütte)
sounds like spend
in German spending is ausgeben
You can spend (ausgeben) money at a Thrift Store on things people spended (donated).
The next few are all entwined…. it’s no wonder people mix them up.
sounds like meet
in German meet is treffen
We can meet (treff) each other after I pay the Miete (rent).
sounds like rent
in German Rente is pension
You can pay your Rent (miete) with your Rente (pension)
sounds like pension/ retirement income
means bed and breakfast
in German pension is Rente
You can pay to stay at a Pension (bed and breakfast) with your pension (Rente)
sounds like ice
means ice cream
in German ice cube is Eis Wurfel
So, if you want an ice cube (Eis Wurfel) don’t ask for an Eis (ice cream)
Which brings us to …
Eiskaffee (This one confuses SOOO many tourists every summer….)
sounds like Ice Coffee
means Ice CREAM and coffee
in German Ice Coffee is Kaffee mit Eiswurfel (coffee with ice cubes)
Would you rather drink a Kaffee mit Eiswurfel (coffee with ice cubes) or an Eiskaffee(coffee with ice cream?
Names for Schools are still confusing, so let’s see if we can sort them.
sounds like gymnasium
means- high school
in German, a gymnasium is a Turnhalle
Our Gymnasium (High School) has a gymnasium (Turnhalle).
sounds like High School
means- colleges or Universities… places of higher learning
in German High School is Gymnasium
I went to Hochschule (college) after I finished High School (gymnasium).
sounds like magic WAND
in German magic wand is Zauberstock
The Magician aimed his Wand (Zauberstock) at the Wand (wall).
sounds like staples
means- pile or stack
in German staple is Heftklammer
After you staple (Heftklammer) those papers, put them in a Stapel (pile)
sounds like alley
means – avenue
in German an alley is a Gasse
After you drive down the Allee (avenue) for three miles, turn right at the alley (Gasse).
sounds like prove
means to check
in German prove is beweisen
After they were done prüfen (checking) each other’s work, they could prove (beweiss) that it was correct.
sounds like a present
in German, gift is a Geschenk
Let’s hope the Geschenk (gift) is not Gift (poison)
And now it’s time to Wave Goodbye…
sounds like wink
in German wink is blinzeln
You wink (blinzel) with your eye, and use your hands for winken (waving).
Can you think of any other False Friends?
You left out our favorite: Schmuck. Or perhaps you did not want to explain…
How about fowl ( birds) and faul (lazy)
Eiskaffee is coffee with ice cubes? When you order Eiskaffee you will always get ice cream with coffee.
In NYC ” Schmuck” is a NYC Jewish expression meaning, from the sources I know, it is to refer to an idiot and not jewelry as it does in German. I can jut guess how it acquired the negative meaning as tow Jewish persons, speaking sarcastically about a self important person calling him a ‘jewel’ and meaning just the opposite. Another sarcastic is to call such people ‘luminaries’.
After WW2 my parents sent food and clothing parcels to family and old friends in Germany. Each package had to be marked: GIFT– EXPORT LICENSE NOT REQUIRED!.
My father printed that phrase very neatly on every every package after my mother had it tightly sewn into a clean, bleached white cotton flour sack. He used an “indelible pencil.” These pencils are no longer available. The lead markings turned purple when moistened. After which nothing could remove them! He made some joke about how that would be received