German: False Cognates
Like every language, German contains some false friends — words that look very similar to English but have a completely different meaning. As you read the following list, you can see why you have to treat any new German word with kid gloves, especially if it looks like an English word, until you find out for sure what it means in English:
After (ahf-ter): If you want to avoid embarrassment, remember the meaning of this word. Its German meaning is anus, not after. The German word for after is nach (nahH) or nachdem (nahH-deym).
aktuell (âk-tooh-êl): This word means up-to-date and current, not actual. The German translation for actual is tatsächlich (tât-sêH-liH).
also (âl-zoh): This one means so, therefore, or thus, not also. The German word for also is auch (ouH).
bald (bâlt): This word means soon. It isn’t a description for someone with little or no hair. The German word for bald is kahl (kahl) or glatzköpfig (glâts-kerpf-iH).
bekommen (be-kom-en): This verb is an important one to remember. It means to get, not to become. The German word for to become is werden (vêr-den).
Boot (boht): This is a boat and not a boot, which is Stiefel (shteef-el) in German. A sailboat is called a Segelboot (zey-gêl-boht).
brav (brahf): This word means well-behaved, not brave. The German word for brave is tapfer (tâp-fer).
Brief (breef): This is a noun that means letter, not brief. The German translation for the English adjective brief is kurz (koorts), and for the English noun, Auftrag (ouf-trahk) or Unterlagen (oon-ter-lah-gen).
Chef (shêf): This is the German word for a person you take orders from (in other words, your boss or supervisor), not someone who’s in charge of the cooking. The German word for chef is Küchenchef (kueH-ên-shêf) or Chefkoch (shêf-koH). Otherwise, a plain cook is called a Koch (koH) in German.
eventuell (ey-vên-tooh-êl): This one means possible or possibly, not eventual or eventually, both of which would be schließlich (shlees-liH) in German.
fast (fâst): This is an adjective that means almost — not the speeds at which Formula One drivers race. The German word for fast is schnell (shnêl) or rasch (râsh).
genial (gê-nee-ahl): This adjective describes an idea or person of genius and has nothing to do with genial. The German word for genial is heiter (hay-ter).
Gift (gift [as in English]): The German meaning is poison, so when you’re giving your German-speaking host a present, you should say you have a Geschenk (gê-shênk), that is, unless you really are giving something like weed killer or a green mamba.
Handy (hân-dee): This is the German word for cellphone. The German equivalent of handy is praktisch (prâk-tish), geschickt (ge-shikt), or handlich (hânt-liH).
Hut (hoot): This word means hat. The German word for hut is Hütte (hueH-tê).
Kind (kint): This is the German word for child. It has nothing to do with the English kind, which is nett (nêt), lieb (leep), or liebenswürdig (lee-bens-vuerd-iH) in German.
Komfort (kom-fohr): This word means amenity, for example, the amenities you expect in a five-star hotel, not comfort. The German verb meaning to comfort [someone] is trösten (trers-ten).
Kost (kost): This is the German word for food or fare. For example, the term Feinkost (fayn-kost) refers to gourmet food or a delicatessen where you can buy fine food products. The German word meaning to cost is kosten (kos-ten).
kurios (koohr-ee-ohs): This word means strange, not curious. The German word for curious is neugierig (noy-geer-iH).
Mist (mist [as in English]): Be careful not to misuse this word that actually means manure in German! It doesn’t describe heavy moisture resembling a fine rain, which is called Nebel (ney-bel) or Dunst (doonst).
Mobbing (mobbing [as in English]): The meaning of this word is bullying or harassing. The German word for a mob is Pöbel (per-bel) or Rotte (rot-e), and the verb to mob (someone) is anpöbeln (ân-per-beln).
Most (most): This is the German word for unfermented fruit juice, and in southern German-speaking regions, a young fruit wine. The German word for the English most is das meiste (dâs mays-te); for example, die meisten Leute (die mays-ten loy-te) (most people).
Oldtimer (oldtimer [as in English]): Germans use this word to refer to a vintage car. An old man, like the kind you see in a rocking chair smoking a pipe is an alter Hase (âlt-er hâz-e), which actually means old rabbit.
ordinär (or-di-nair): This word means vulgar rather than ordinary. The German word for ordinary is normal (nor-mahl) or gewöhnlich (ge-vern-liH).
pathetisch (pâ-tey-tish): This one means overly emotional, not pathetic, which, in German, is jämmerlich (yêm-er-liH) or armselig (ârm-zey-liH).
plump (ploomp): The German meaning is clumsy or tactless, not roundish, which in German is rundlich (roont-liH).
Präservativ (prê-zêr-vah-teef): You can avoid another embarrassing moment when you remember that this word means condom in German. The German equivalent of preservative is Konservierungsmittel (kon-sêr-yeer-oongs-mit-el).
Provision (proh-vi-zee-ohn): The meaning of this word is commission, not provision. The German word for provision is Vorsorge (fohr-zor-ge) or Versorgung (fêr-zohrg-oong).
Rat (rât): This word means advice or counsel. In German, Ratte (rah-te) is the word for rat.
Rock (rok): The meaning of this word is skirt. The German word for rock is Fels (fels). Germans do, however, use the word Rockmusik (rok moo-zeek) to refer to rock music.
See (zey): This word means lake (der See) (deyr zey) or sea (die See, das Meer) (dee zey, dâs mêr). In German, the verb to see is sehen (zey-en).
sensibel (zen-zee-bel): The meaning of this word is sensitive rather than sensible, which translates as vernünftig (fêr-nuenf-tiH).
Smoking (smoking [as in English]): In German, this word means tuxedo or dinner jacket. The verb to smoke is rauchen (rouH-en).
spenden (shpen-den): The German meaning is to donate, not to spend, which in German is ausgeben [money] (ous-gey-ben).
sympathisch (zerm-pah-tish): This word means likeable or congenial, not sympathetic. The German word for sympathetic is mitfühlend (mit-fuel-ent) or verständnisvoll (fêr-shtênd-nis-fol).
Taste (tahs-te): The meaning of this word is key, like the key of a musical instrument or a button on a computer or a machine. The German word for taste is Geschmack (ge-shmâk). The word for the item you use to lock or unlock a door is Schlüssel (shlues-el).