English and German are closely related, which is why there are a lot of words that look and sound alike in both languages and mean the same thing: “singen“ and “to sing“, “gut“ and “good“, “Haus“ and “house“. Sometimes, however, appearances can be deceptive. Here are some “false friends”, words that look similar in both languages, but mean (very) different things.


• “Ich will” means “I want to“, so Germans will sometimes misuse “I will“ in its place.
• “Eventuell“ means “possibly“ in German, so expect confusion when you say something like “we’ll get there eventually.“
• German speakers may use “to acquire“ when they mean “to generate sales leads“, because “akquirieren“ means just that in German.
• “Can I become a steak?“, a German is reported to have asked an American butcher, who promptly responded: “Certainly, step right into the back room, and I’ll take care of you.“ “Bekommen“ in German means “to get“, “to receive.”
• There are some words in German that look and sound English, but are not used in English, or at least, not in the same way. One of them is “beamer“, which refers to a “projector.“
• Another one of these strange Denglisch words is “handy“, which denotes a cellphone. Kinda logical, when you think about it, but still strange.
• Sometimes, a German native will use “Overhead“ to start a sentence. What he probably wants to say is “Let me ask a more general question”, for which German has a single, pretty powerful word “überhaupt”.
• When a German tells you he went to “gymnasium“, he is merely using the German word for “high school“, or, if you’re British, “grammar school.“
• Germans have a reputation for being pretty profound, but having one of them ask you “what is your meaning?“ can still seem a bit much. Relax, all he wants is your opinion, which is the meaning of “Meinung“ in German.
• In a meeting, a German may refer to “the protocol.“ He is not being overly formal, rather, it’s the minutes of the meeting he is talking about, because that is what “Protokoll” can mean in German.

This article is an adaptation of a German original published on this blog’s German pages. The German article was taken from “Das kleine 3x3 des Business English“, our new companion to English in an international professional setting for German natives. See our “Downloads“ section for English-language editions of our other communication companions.