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 the word ‘gross’, meaning disgusting.
The word in German means ‘big’
In German the word for gross is ‘eklig’

That gross (big) mess is eklig (gross).

Sounds like the word ‘where’
But iin German it means ‘who’
In German the word for where is ‘wo’.

Wer (who) are you, and where (wo) are you going?


It sounds like the word ‘corn’
The word in German means ‘grain’ (think Vollkorn) or Schnapps
The German word for corn is ‘Mais’

You can drink a shot of Korn (Schnapps) while eating your corn (Mais).

It sounds like the word ‘mist’, like the morning fog
In German the word means- animal poop (mostly cow or horse)
The German word for “mist” is Nebel

So, the morning mist (Nebel) smelled a little like mist (poop)

It sounds like the word ‘bald’, as in hairless
But it means ‘soon’
In German the word for  “bald” (hairless) is Kahlköpfig

So the  kahlköpfig (bald) man will arrive bald (soon).

The word sounds like ‘chef’, as in a cook.
But it means the ‘boss’ or person in charge in German
In German, the word for a kitchen chef is Koch

The Chef (cook) is the Chef (boss) of the kitchen.

The word looks like ‘fast’, meaning speedy.
But it means ‘almost’ in German.
The German word for “fast” (speedy) is schnell.

We are fast (almost) there, we should go fast (schnell).

The word sounds like ‘art’, like a painting or statue.
But in German, it means the way to do something or style.
The German word for “art” is Kunst.

This museum contains Kunst (art) of Modern style (art).


While the word sounds like an Eagle,
it’s the German word for ‘Hedgehog’.
in German eagle is Adler.

The Eagle (Adler) would eat an Igel (hedgehog).

The German word sounds like ‘etiquette’ or code of polite behavior.
But in German the word means ‘tag’ or ‘label’,
BUT etiquette (behavior code) in German is Etikette (with a final e…. so the confusion is real)

It’s bad etiquette (etikette) to leave the price Etikett (label) on your gifts.

While the word in German sounds like ‘stay’.
It means ‘to stand’.
In German the word for stay is ‘bleiben’.

If you plan to stay here (hier bleiben) then you will have to remain stehen (standing).

The word sounds a bit like ‘stuff’.
But it means ‘fabric’ or ‘material’
In German the word for stuff is ‘Zeug’.

Let’s put some stuff (Zeug) into this bag made of Stoff (fabric).

which brings us to…

sounds like fabric
means- factory
in German, fabric is Stoff

They make fabric (Stoff) in the Fabrik (factory)

false friends

Roman (I was confused in bookstores for YEARS)
The word looks like it applies to someone from Rome
But it means a ‘novel’.
In German someone who is Roman is Römisch.

The Römischer man (man from Rome) would read a Roman (novel).

The German word sounds like ‘whimper’.
But it means ‘eyelash’.
In German, to whimper is ‘wimmern’

You would wimmer (whimper) if someone pulled out your Wimper (eyelash).

Clothing can be really confusing

The word sounds like ‘smoking’ or having a cigarette.
But in German a Smoking is a Tuxedo.
The German word smoking is ‘rauchen’.

I don’t want anyone smoking (rauchen) near my new Smoking (tuxedo).

While it sounds like a ‘costume’,
the word really means a ‘suit’ but can also be a Costume.
So, inn German costume is Kostüm.

You should wear a Kostüm (suit) to work, not a costume (Kostüm)

It may look like a ‘hut’ or small house.
But in German the word means ‘hat’.
The German word for a hut is a ‘Hütte’.

Take off your Hut (hat) when you go in the hut (Hütte)

The word looks and sounds like ‘spend’, like spending money.
But in German, it means ‘donate’.
The German word for 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.

The word sounds like ‘meet’, or to meet up with someone.
But in German, it means ‘rent’.
The German word for meet is ‘treffen’.

We can meet (treff) each other after I pay the Miete (rent).

This word sounds like ‘rent’.
But in German it means ‘pension’
The German word for rent is Miete (see above).

You can pay your Rent (miete) with your Rente (pension)

This word sounds like ‘pension’ or ‘retirement income’
But in German it means a ‘bed and breakfast hotel’.
In German the word for pension is ‘Rente’

You can pay to stay at a Pension (bed and breakfast) with your pension (Rente)

false friends

This little word sounds like ‘ice’.
But in German it means ‘ice cream’.
The German word for 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….)
The word sounds like Iced Coffee.
But it means Ice CREAM and coffee.
The German word for an American 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.

This school sounds like a ‘gymnasium’, or building where sports happen.
But it means a sort of ‘high school’.
The German word for a gymnasium is a ‘Turnhalle’.

Our Gymnasium (High School) has a gymnasium (Turnhalle).

This German word really sounds like it means ‘High School’.
But it means colleges or Universities… places of higher learning
In Germany a High School is a Gymnasium

I went to Hochschule (college) after I finished High School (gymnasium).

false friends

The word looks like magic WAND
But in German it means a ‘wall’.
The German word for magic wand is Zauberstock

The Magician aimed his Wand (Zauberstock) at the Wand (wall).

The word looks and sounds a bit like ‘staples’.
But in German it means, ‘pile or stack’
The German word for staple is ‘Heftklammer’

After you staple (Heftklammer) those papers, put them in a Stapel (pile)

This word sounds like an ‘alley’ or path between buildings.
But the word in German means  ‘avenue’.
The German word for an alley is a ‘Gasse’

After you drive down the Allee (avenue) for three miles, turn right at the alley (Gasse).

This one is close… because it sounds like ‘prove’.
But the German word means ‘to check’.
The German word for prove is ‘beweisen’.

After they were done prüfen (checking) each other’s work, they could prove (beweiss) that it was correct.


The most famous False Friend of all!
Gift sounds like a ‘present’.
But in German the word means ‘poison’
The German word for gift is a ‘Geschenk’.

Let’s hope the Geschenk (gift) is not Gift (poison)

And now it’s time to Wave Goodbye…

It sounds like you ‘wink’  your eye.
The word really mean means to ‘wave’, like you wave goodbye.
In German, the word for wink is ‘blinzeln’.

You wink (blinzel) with your eye, and use your hands for winken (waving).

Can you think of any other False Friends?


8 thoughts on “German False Friends List- German words that SOUND like English

  1. You left out our favorite: Schmuck. Or perhaps you did not want to explain…

  2. Eiskaffee is coffee with ice cubes? When you order Eiskaffee you will always get ice cream with coffee.

  3. 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’.

  4. 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

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