Cognates… Both the True Ones and the False Ones

As I was talking to a friend of mine in German, I realized that there are a lot of things that make German easy to learn and yet… well… complicated. So today, I’m talking about cognates. Both actual and false. Some of these can be really funny and frustrating!

COGNATES… GERMAN IS SO EASY (It’s not, but… these cognates will make you think that it is!)

When I first started learning Deutsch (German), there were a lot of cognates and so I thought “Well, well, well… isn’t this the easiest language in the world?”. Except it’s not. It’s really not. But looking through some of these cognates might get you thinking that they are! Of course, German sentence structure can be super frustrating, and so can the whole thing where you have to deal with “der”, “die”, and “das” (the three different ways to say “the”), but today, let’s just focus on the easy, fun part of German, shall we? I’m just going to talk about some of my favorite German – English cognates! See if you can guess what they mean!

· DER FROSCH – The frog

· DIE PRINZESSIN – The Princess

· DAS WASSER – The water

· SCHWIMMEN – To swim

· GOLDEN – Golden

· SICH WÜNSCHEN – To Wish

· DIE STRAßE – The street

· DIE KATZE – The cat

· DER ARM (DIE ARME) – The arm (the arms)

· DIE BANK – The bank

· DER NAME – The name

· DER ASPEKT – The aspect

· DIREKT – Direct

· DER FISCH – The fish

· DAS GLAS – The glass

· DAS HAUS – The house

· DIE KOMÖDIE – The comedy

· KONSERVATIV – Conservative

· DIE MUSIK – The music

· PERFEKT – Perfect

· SONNIG – Sunny

· DER SUPERMARKT – The supermarket

FALSE COGNATES (FALSCHE FREUNDE)… THOSE TROUBLEMAKERS…

Wait… cognates? Cognates are words in a language that look similar to words in your own language. But beware! Not all cognates are your friends… because you may be looking at a false cognate. And German is riddled with them. I want to talk about some of the most frustrating ones that I can think of off of the top of my head:

· “CHEF” – Believe me, “der chef” in German does not mean “the chef”. In fact, it means “the boss”. Yeah… that took me a while to get used to. Inversely though, now I have trouble when people say “the chef” in English. Because I think of German and sometimes forget that in German and English “chef” have very different meanings though they are spelt and said the same way.

· “BÜRGER” – No, this is not a hamburger that you can eat. “Bürger”, in fact means “citizens”. Therefore, the word “bürgermeister” does not mean the “master of making burgers” but rather “mayor” and literally, “master of the citizens”.

· “FREIHEIT” – I’m not sure that his one is a cognate or not, but some people may think that “freiheit” means “Fahrenheit”. I mean… they look kinda alike. But really “freiheit” means “freedom”. Example: “Draußen ist freiheit” meaning, “Out there is freedom.” Quick fun fact for you all, “Freitag” is “Friday”. And that literally means “day of freedom” or “day of being free”. Just your daily dose of German trivia!

· “TELLER” – No, this doesn’t mean “telephone” or “someone who tells someone something”. It means “plate”. Yeah… I still get thrown off by this sometimes.

· “KIND” – This doesn’t mean “kind” as in “nice” or as in “that kind of sweatshirt”. It actually means “child”. “Kinder” is the plural. That’s where we get “kindergarten” translating directly to “children’s garden” or “the garden of children”.

· “ALSO” – In German, this would not be used as “Also, I ate a sandwich”. Nah… it actually means “therefore”.

· “FABRIK” – “Fabrik” does not mean “fabric”. Actually, it means “factory!”

· “GIFT” – Prepare to be shocked, guys… “gift” in German is not a present. No… you do not want to give someone a “gift” for their birthday in Germany. Because… you’d be giving them poison. Yes, “gift” in German means “poison.”

· “ROCK” – One might think that this is a rock that you find on the side of the road. The German word for that kind of rock is “stein”. “Rock” actually means “skirt”!

· “SMOKING” – So, this isn’t in reference to smoking a cigar. “der Smoking” is actually a tuxedo.

· “WAND” – “die Wand” in German is actually a wall, not a magic wand or something like that.

· “WINKEN” – This has really nothing to do with winking your eye at someone. In fact, “winken” means “to wave”!

Of course, there are a lot more false cognates in German but these are just some of the ones that I find the most frustrating.

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As a language learner, cognates can be some of the most useful, helpful things. But when they’re false, sometimes they can be so frustrating! What are some ridiculous false cognates from a second language that you speak? What are some helpful ones?

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18 thoughts on “Cognates… Both the True Ones and the False Ones

  1. I agree that those false cognates can drive you nuts. Sensible in Spanish does not mean sensible and sensato does not mean sensitive. But really love the real cognates ranging from autóbus, tren, hamburgesa, and well I am going to say that, but miserable is one too

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    1. Yeah, when I first started learning German there were a whole bunch of cognates and I kinda thought to myself “Hah! Die Arme? That’s so easy! All of this is so easy!”. And then, later on, “Das Gift is poison??? What on earth?” For some reason, I get a good smile out of the false cognates in German because they can be so absurdly different from English

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      1. That’s definitely true. Oh, I was wondering… in Spanish, could a person, while remaining grammatically correct, stack up a bunch of priorly existing words to make one long word to describe one thing or would they all be separated out?

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      2. I once thought hispanic people talk way too fast. I may not be that fluent in Spanish, but I actually can look at a paragraph or a sentence or so and be able to pronounce it. I can be easy to forget that in Spanish, the h is silent

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      3. It is the longer words that take longer. There is only on moment the h is pronounced when it is a word like “chocolate” (another cognate) and than I don’t mess up on this on j is pronounced like h and i is pronounced like an e. Than there is the double ll pronounced like a y.

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      4. For me, I still have problems pronouncing LEBENSVERSICHERUNGSGESELLSCHAFT. I think that it’s probably all of the “sch” sounds throughout the word. I love the German letter “ß” (the eszette) and how it is literally a replacement for a double s.

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      5. That isn’t even the longest German word but I don’t even want to think about typing it out. German is kind of notorious for its really long words. And at first, I hated it but now I kind of like it. Because in German, it’s completely grammatically correct to create your own words by stacking other words on top of each other so there’s never a word that can’t describe what you need to describe–if it happens, you can just create your own word. Granted, it wouldn’t be found in the Duden but it’s still completely grammatically correct.

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      6. Or even longer if we want it to be. I think that the longest someone’s ever tried to stretch it was a bit a minute long… so it took one minute to pronounce. The great thing is, there’s never that “ahh… what is the word for that moment?” because you can always just make one up. On the other hand, though, it could be absolutely confusing for non-native speakers unless they’ve got lots of exposure to the language.

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      7. I do on facebook message my host mom from Costa Rica in Spanish and that helped not having Spanish last semester. She says I speak good Spanish. But the thing I am the most rusty on is actually speaking it

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