German grammar can be difficult to master. Below, German teacher Noel S. shares a list of the most common false cognates, as well as exercises you can do to memorize these important words…
Students learning German are often relieved to hear that they already have a “head start” from the many recognizable German words that share the same English meaning, also known as cognates. Cognates are a great for learning German, as students have already developed mental associations with words and their definitions.
However, one must look out for false cognates—two words appearing to be similar or the same, but with different meanings. It’s important that you learn the many German false cognates, or you could make a major linguistic mistake, like I did in the story below.
When I noticed a big bandage on my friend’s elbow, I pointed to it and remarked, “Du hattest einen Abfall!” I had meant to say, “You had an accident!” but what I really said was, “You had a garbage!” – as if he had trash on his arm.
It’s better to advance in your linguistic skills than to make funny mistakes like the one I did above. So, let’s explore the most common German words that look and sound like English words, but have different meanings.
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the common false cognates above, what can you do to create neural pathways connecting new meanings for these German words? Try making associations with words related to the false cognate in German. For example, Ratten/das Gift (rats/poison) or Fahrt/schön (a nice/beautiful trip).
You can also practice by using these words in a sentence. Complete the following sentences by inserting the correct German word from the word bank below. Try not to look at the English version before trying to figure out on your own which word should be placed in the sentence.
1. Wir sollen _______ essen. I fühle mich hungrig!
We should eat _______. I feel hungry!
2. _______ ist meinen Rock? Ich kann ihn nicht finden.
_______ is my skirt? I can’t find it.
3. Ich habe die Schweiz besucht. _______war sehr schön!
I have visited Switzerland. ________ was very beautiful!
4. Meine Garage hat Ratten. Ich werde ________ kaufen.
My garage has rats. I will buy _______.
5. Meine Sommerkleidung sind _______er. Ich trage dunkle Kleidung im Winter.
My summer clothes are _______. I wear dark-colored clothes in winter.
Don’t be fooled by the false cognates above. Work with a German teacher to find other unique ways of memorizing these common words and perfecting your German grammar!
Noel S. teaches German and music lessons in Beachwood, OH. He minored in German during his undergraduate studies and holds a Masters degree in music from Dusquesne University. Noel has been teaching since 2001. Learn more about Noel.
Photo by Jared Tarbell