False friends in German (falsche Freunde)

False friends or false cognates are words that sound and/or look the same in two languages but  different meaning. While there are a significant number of words in German that sound and/or look the same as words in English, for example April, arm and film, not all familiar-sounding German words mean what you expect.

The following German words look and/or sound like English words but have different meanings:

  • Absolvieren = to complete a course or exam (absolve = lossprechen)
  • Artist = circus or theatrical performer (artist = Künstler)
  • Bald = soon (bald = kahl, glatzköpfig) e.g. Er hat eine Glatze = He’s bald
  • Chef = boss, head of the department (chef = Chefkoch, Küchenchef, Koch)
  • Direktion = (office) administration / management (direction = Richtung)
  • Expertise = report (expertise = Sachverstand)
  • Fabrik = factory (fabric = Stoff, Gewebe)
  • Gift = poison (gift = geschenk)
  • Gymnasium = secondary/high school (gymnasium = Turnhalle, Sporthalle)
  • Kollege = colleague, co-worker (college = Hochschule, Universität)
  • Komfortabel = luxurious (comfortable = bequem, gemütlich)
  • Mist = manure, dung (mist = Dunst, leichter Regen)
  • Objekt = house, piece of property (object = Ziel)
  • Pension = guest house, small hotel (pension = Rente)
  • Phantasie/Fantasie = imagination (fantasy = Tagtraum)
  • Sender = broadcaster, (radio/TV) station (sender = Absender)
  • Transparent = banner, placard (transparent = durchsichtig)
  • Roman = novel (Roman = Römer)
  • Rat = advice, counsel (rat = Ratte), e.g. Rathaus = townhall

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