Learning a new language is challenging, especially when you are also trying to get used to a new culture, traditions, and habits. When you are learning German there are some words that seem similar in English but have completely different meanings.
German and English: natural language friends
These words are called “false friends” and they can cause a lot of people problems because they come up so often in everyday speech. These false friends can be tricky because they look the same and have very similar meanings.
It is only by looking at the rest of the sentence or paragraph that you can see whether their meaning is different or not. As with any other word, it is important to always check the context and ensure that you understand before using these words as part of your vocabulary on a regular basis.
German cognates and false friends
The German language contains a number of cognates (words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings) and false friends (words that sound similar but have different meanings) which can cause confusion for learners. Some words that appear to be cognates or false friends in fact have different meanings.
In addition, there are a number of difficulties that learners may encounter when learning German. These include: It is important to note that these are only a few of the many possible difficulties that learners may encounter while learning German.
As such, it is advised that you approach your German studies with a beginner’s mindset. In addition, if you are having difficulty understanding something, don’t be afraid to ask for help from other people who are studying the same material as you.
14 German false friends to watch for
- der Chef (boss) – chef (der Küchenchef)
Heute war unser Chef gar nicht im Büro.
(Today our boss wasn’t in the office.)
- der Rock (skirt) – rock (der Fels)
Meine Tochter hat sich einen neuen Rock gekauft.
(My daughter bought a new skirt for herself.)
- die Taste (key [piano/computer]) – taste (der Geschmack)
Du musst diese Taste drücken.
(You have to hit this key.)
- der Rat (advice, council) – rat (die Ratte)
Ich brauche deinen Rat.
(I need your advice.)
- die Wand (wall) – wand (der Zauberstab)
Stell doch den Stuhl gegen die Wand.)
(Go ahead and put the chair against the wall.)
- das Bad (bath) – bad (schlecht)
ein Zimmer mit Bad
(a room with bath)
- Die Hochschule
What it looks like: high school
What it means: college/university
- Die Fabrik
What it looks like: fabric
What it means: factory
- Der See
What it looks like: sea
What it means: tranquil lake
What it looks like: to wink
What it means: to wave
What it looks like: to become
What it means: to receive/get
- Der Brand
What it looks like: brand
What it means: fire (n.)
- Der Mist
What it looks like: mist
What it means: rubbish; oh crap!
- die Rente (pension) – rent (die Miete)
Mein Vater geht in Rente.
(My dad’s retiring.)
Words with similar sounds but different meanings
There are some pairs of words that sound extremely similar but actually have completely different meanings. The following words are examples of this: Häuslich vs. Hässlich – Häuslich means cozy and Hässlich means ugly.
These words are easy to mix up, especially with a simple letter change. Kostbar vs. Kosten – Kostbar means valuable and Kosten means to cost. Mögen vs. Mogen – Mögen means to like and Mogen means to be able to. Nachbar vs. Nachricht – Nachbar means neighbor and Nachricht means message.
Verdienst vs. Verdenken – Verdienst means accomplishment and Verdenken means to misjudge. Wonne vs. Wunder – Wonne means delight and Wunder means wonder.
Warning! false friends
It is beneficial to use cognates when learning a language that is as similar to English as German. But be wary of false friends to avoid making a bad impression.
Your German will sound much more fluent if you learn and remember what false friends are.