Beware of Swedish-German false friends!

Flag_of_Sweden_and_GermanyFalse friends are always intriguing, especially for those who learn languages and find themselves innocently borrowing some words from other languages they know, hoping that it will mean somewhat the same! I have already explained some of the false friends between Swedish and English, and this time I want to explore some of the similarities between the Swedish and German language.

Since both languages belong to the Germanic language group, German being a West Germanic language and Swedish a North Germanic language, it is mostly very helpful to know one of the languages when learning the other. However, do not let yourself be fooled by these word pairs – they do not share the same meaning despite appearing very similar or even being identical!


  • Semester – semester: These two words are good ones to start with and good ones to remember for the future since the meanings are quite contradictory. “Semester” in German means a term or a semester at school or university – just like in English – but for Swedish-speakers it stands for holiday or vacation!
  • Mutter – mutter: A very important word for any German, and probably not as important for the average Swedish-speaker. “Mutter” in German means mother, whereas “mutter” in Swedish means the metal nut that you would use for construction.
  • Lohn – lån: Again a word pair that may cause quite some confusion and even serious misunderstandings if mixed up at an inappropriate moment. “Lohn” in German means wage or reward, and “lån” in Swedish means loan.
  • Gosse – gosse: Two identical words, yet nothing similar about the meaning! “Gosse” in German means gutter, and “gosse” is Swedish for a young boy or chap. Better not mix those two up.
  • Öl – öl: Such short words but very useful to know in everyday life – of course without confusing the German and the Swedish meaning! Ordering “öl” in Swedish in a bar is a good idea; ordering “Öl” in German with your dinner probably won’t get you anywhere. For Swedish-speakers it means beer, for German-speakers oil!

Hopefully these clarifications will be of use to you during your future German and Swedish adventures!  Check the Swedish-German or German-Swedish dictionary for more translations!


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