Unit 16: Finishing Touches

1. False Friends

By this point in your experiences with German you will have noticed that, despite the existence of thousands of words which both look like and share the same meaning as English words, there are a few which look like English words but whose meanings are completely different. Visual similarities of other kinds can also be misleading. Here are the most common of these so-called “false friends” – words that are often confused:

False friend Not to be confused with
aktuell (current, up-to-date) eigentlich (actual, actually)
also (thus, therefore) auch (also)
bald (soon, shortly) kahl (bald)
bekommen (to get, to receive) werden (to become)
erst (only, not until) when used in German time expressions. Whereas it does translate as “first” when used as an adjective: das erste Teil (the first part).
etwa (approximately) etwas (something)
eventuell (possibly, in that case) schließlich / endlich (eventually)
fast (almost) fest (firm, solid) or schnell (fast, quick)
fehlen (to be lacking or missing) – there is no one-word English equivalent
gelangen (to arrive, to attain)
(tip: regular verb!)
gelingen (to succeed)
(tip: irregular verb!)
der Rat (advice, counsellor) die Ratte (rat)
reichen (to reach, to suffice) riechen (to smell, to reek)
der Roman (novel) der Römer (Roman person)
schon (already, even) schön (beautiful)
wer (who, whoever) wo (where)
wohl (probably, indeed) gut (well)


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