False friends in German

Martin is a Czech guy who decided to visit Germany for the first time. He studies German at high school, so he is not afraid of not understanding. He overconfidently enters the bakery in the railway station in Berlin and orders an apple cake saying: “Ich möchte einen Apfeldort”. The shop assistant looks around helplessly searching for “an apple over there”. Martin doesn’t get that the shop assistant doesn’t get it, but finally they master the embarrassing situation by gesticulation. Martin leaves the bakery and feels very awkward. What has he learned at school if he isn’t able to order an apple cake in the bakery?

Dort (in Czech a cake) and dort (in German over there) sound the same but their meanings are different. They are false friends. False friends are word couples that sound the same and sometimes have even the same spelling, but they express totally different facts.

If you don’t know some word, it is difficult to resist the temptation and use the word from your mother tongue. Be aware of false friends – in a better case you won’t be understood, in the worse case you will make a fool of yourself. There are some false friends in Czech and German, although they don’t belong to the same language family, for example:

r Kuss (kiss) – kus (piece)

s Buch (book) – Bůh (God)

den (the) – den (day)

die Furt (ford) – furt (all the time, colloquial)

e Kost (food) – kost (bone)

The meaning of these words unfortunately can’t be derived from anything. Everybody has to learn them, preferably in the context. A small inspiration can be found in this Czech – German language test on the language portal bab.la:

Learn languages - bab.la language quiz

But don’t despair, not all words that sound similar have different meanings! Czech and German adopted a lot of words that sound similar and have also the same meaning. Picked at random:

s Ziel (target, finish) – cíl (target, finish)

e Tasche (bag) – taška (bag)

e Flasche (bottle) – flaška (bottle, colloquial)

e Brille (glasses) – brýle (glasses)

müssen (have to) – muset (have to)

It is the same as in real life – you will definitely meet false friends, but there are also the right ones. It is important to be able to distinguish them.

Do you know other examples of words that seem to be friendly to each other, but actually are as different as night and day? Share them in the comments’ box below!

Note: There is a book by Věra Höppnerová: “Zrádná slova v němčině” (False friends in German).


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