False Friends Explained – “bekommen vs become”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode of our Summer, Sun, Vocab Fun series, this time with a special summer edition of

False Friends Explained

In these types of posts, we explore infamous pairs of false friends and find out how to properly translate them, and
more importantly, who’s to blame for the mess!
Was it English or German? Or do they just look similar by coincidence? Or was it those politicians again?

Either way, someone has to get CANCELLED for the confusion.
And today, we’ll look at one of the most famous, most confusing pairs of false friends ever:

bekommen vs become

I actually had a segment about this in the article about “werden”, so if you’ve read that, you might already know what’s going on.
But as I was giving that article a much needed do-over the other day, I felt like this topic was a bit crammed and out of place there. This is just such an iconic couple of false friends, they deserve to have their own article. And they actually have a really surprising connection.
So if you’re ready, let’s jump right in.

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vvv-ooo-vvv
vvv-ooo-vvv
3 days ago

I was just reading the wikipedia article on “Partizip” (i know i should be at the lake or something) and read about something called bekommen-Passiv. I was just wondering how common this is in the spoken language?

vvv-ooo-vvv
vvv-ooo-vvv
2 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thanks, and yes, article sounds cool!

Bissell
Bissell
4 days ago

“Confusion of the learner must always be achieved”
Gut gemacht Deutsche sprache, gut gemacht…

Junie Curtiss
Junie Curtiss
11 days ago

I feel like American English uses “get” to lazily replace every verb possible. Get fat, get a present, get the mail, get home on time. I try to use more precise verbs (become, receive, pick up, arrive), but I’m fighting a losing battle. You get what I mean.
British folks: reassure me! You still use precise verbs, right?

pmccann
pmccann
10 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Hey, I’d say that, though normally only when specifying *from whom*(#) I received it ;-) “I received a really lovely cable-knit jumper from my great grandma for my birthday”.

(#) OK, OK, I admit it, I find it almost physically impossible to use the word “whom” any more, at least without a metric shit-ton of irony as overlay. But in a comment on yourdailygerman.com all bets are off.

Bissell
Bissell
4 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

“Look what I received for my 30th birthday” This would indicate an overdue bill notice, or being served papers by a lawyer :)

vvv-ooo-vvv
vvv-ooo-vvv
3 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I personally wouldn’t use it in spoken english for the context of the present. “Received” is definitely slightly more formal than “got”. But i don’t find it out of place in the sentence “Look what I received for my 30th birthday” either…

rcrote
rcrote
13 days ago

The english verb “to get” reconciles the german verb (bekommen__to receive) with the english verb (to become___to evolve into).
examples: “lucy, you’re getting (becoming) fat”
” Paul, you’ll get (receive) a package.

Anonymous
Anonymous
13 days ago

I love the Arnold Schwarzenegger humor. Laughed for about five minutes.

Aysi
Aysi
13 days ago

another great article ! Emanuel is doing a wonderful job over here , thank you for signing me up for a year with the help of other members’ thoughtful gesture ! :)

Dr_Nick
Dr_Nick
13 days ago

If we look back at Harvey Wachtel’s comment, he raises an interesting point.

How *did* phrases such as “to be comely” and “that shirt really becomes you” or “it ill-becomes you to complain” come about? Any idea?

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
9 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

It is a Dative in German and I feel like the English version, being the same in spirit, will have the same grammar.

I think that makes sense, but it’s impossible to say for sure because English lost the distinction between accusative and dative for good around 1400 (thanks to the Norman invasion). The case system had already been weakening for hundreds of years, probably at least in part because of the Viking invasions starting in the 700s.

But in the original Old English case system, you would have said

I see hine (Akk.) (modern: him)
I gave him (Dat.) present (Akk. and no indefinite articles)

The pronoun for “you” (equivalent of “du”) would have been the same in both cases. “Thee” with modernized spelling.

Harvey Wachtel
Harvey Wachtel
14 days ago

German “bekommen” is transitive and English “become” is isually copulative. But where does the English transitive meaning, “to enhance the appearance of” come from? My dictionary offers no clue.

BTW, I note that if x becomes y, then y comes from x. That may help with the relationship between “come” and “become”.

Harvey Wachtel
Harvey Wachtel
14 days ago

Is there a reason why you identify German verbs by their base forms and English verbs by their full infinitives? I dropped the “to” when I realized that the English modal auxiliaries don’t have infinitives. I suspect German never uses the full infinitive to name a verb, so this is a convenient way to clarify which language you’re referring to. Is that right?

P.S. I loved this article. I’ll probably never be fluent in German, but I’ve learned so much about English, and about language in general, from knowing something about it.

DEmberton
DEmberton
14 days ago

etwas bekommen = come by something. Mind blown. Again.

Elsa
Elsa
15 days ago

Hi,

The Bulgarian air must be doing you some good, because you “bekommst” no corrections today!

(apart from a very, very picky one you may want to ignore – two-part has a hyphen)

Talking about false friends, why can’t other languages just use verbs like “get” and “put”? (sigh…) Ok, it makes them richer, I suppose :)

I recently found out that “gift” (another infamous false friend) means “married” in Swedish. How fun is that? Maybe being married there is both a present and a poison ;)

Hope you enjoy the rest of your holiday!
Bis bald!

DEmberton
DEmberton
14 days ago
Reply to  Elsa

The bride’s father “gives away” the bride. After which you could say she has been given away – i.e. married.

I wonder if the Swedish version only applies to the bride.

Harvey Wachtel
Harvey Wachtel
14 days ago
Reply to  DEmberton

That used to be common in American ceremonies too. Arrrggghh! Thankfully it is, if you’ll excuse the word, becoming less common.

My wife had been sole proprietor of herself for 22 years when she married me at age 40, and she still is 34 years later.

Paul Ed
Paul Ed
15 days ago

Sun? Summer? its freezing in Australia right now. But in 10 days I will be-coming to Berlin where i hope to come by some better weather!

cbodien@yahoo.com
cbodien@yahoo.com
15 days ago

Vielen Dank Emanuel! Das ist sehr interessant.

Beloved
Beloved
15 days ago

Thanks a lot Immanuel for helping me out with the free subscription. Hoping to find a job soon. I love your articles. Helps me to laugh out loud and learn at the same time. Appreciate your sincere efforts. Thank God for this website.

stevehyde
stevehyde
16 days ago

Nice article, might wanna fix that bit at the start: “But while the English become is about the idea of evolving, the German bekommen is about the idea of receiving.
The German bekommen on the other hand is about receiving.”

vvv-ooo-vvv
vvv-ooo-vvv
16 days ago

one mistake to avoid that i apparently made with “bekommen” was using it to describe getting an animal / new pet. “eine freundin von mir bekommt einen Hund” apparently sounds like the friend is giving birth to a dog… : / 

Merton
Merton
16 days ago

Great article. I don’t remember having confused bekommen and become, but the etymology is very interesting – Vielen Dank!

Jake
Jake
16 days ago

Reminds of the time a German friend of mine had a birthday and told me “I’m getting 28.” Took me a second to realize she meant she was *turning* 28.

sgall17a
sgall17a
16 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

you can “attain” 28. Get sounds a bit like a disease.
The matron attained the age of 92 before her efforts were recognised.

vvv-ooo-vvv
vvv-ooo-vvv
15 days ago
Reply to  sgall17a

Attaining an age sounds very formal to me but it does seem like it gets used in certain contexts (literary /legal) . I personally wouldn’t use it in spoken english.

Last edited 15 days ago by vvv-ooo-vvv
pmccann
pmccann
15 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

You are “getting older”, and I am “getting very old”, or even “getting long in the tooth”, but you’d never use “getting” with an actual age. So “I’m getting 28” would get you a very weird look from a native English speaker. As has been mentioned below you’d probably say “I’m turning 28 next week”, but you could also say “I’ll be 28 next week”, or slightly more colloquially “I’m about to hit 28”.

pmccann
pmccann
10 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Yep, it really does sound super-strange, even if it would be relatively consistent logically. I’m not sure how I’d react upon hearing “I’m getting 28 years old”, but it’d probably involve a cock of the head, a slightly quizzical look, and a stare as I waited for you to specify *which/what* 28 year old thing you’re going to be getting. Single Malt Whisky (sounds yummy!)?  Château d’Yquem (similarly!). You would, of course, “really” have to say “28 year old Château d’Yquem” without the extra “s”, but the “klang/clang” of that error would still be less than that of the raw expression “getting 28 years”.

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
15 days ago
Reply to  Jake

Or “his wife just got a new baby.” It makes perfect sense in a way, but if I think about it a little longer, it sounds like she just ran out to the store and picked out a kid. Or someone delivered it to her doorstep for Christmas. An endearing mistranslation :)

Pia
Pia
15 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Yes that is very common in spoken language or written in the tabloids and then the connecting sentence would be “and now she has run a marathon” or “lost all her baby weight”.

DEmberton
DEmberton
14 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Maria just had a baby. How did it taste? :D

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
14 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Welp, now that image is gonna be stuck in my head forever :)

It’s funny though, I was reading through the bazillionty definitions of “have” just now. It’s a synonym for “give birth” in that one specific context, but the thing I didn’t realize is it can also mean “get, acquire, obtain.” Like this:

“The best plastic chess set to be had anywhere”

Which is maybe kind of similar to “bekommen”, I think, but with a side flavor of “buy”.

DEmberton
DEmberton
14 days ago
Reply to  coleussanctus

The interesting thing is that in this example, as well as having a baby, “to have” is not a state but a process where you go from not having to having. Which makes no sense.

Elena
Elena
8 days ago
Reply to  DEmberton

It’s less about the baby and more about the birth. If you had a baby the person is thinking of the labor you had.

Barratt
Barratt
16 days ago

Do you know the joke about the German who went to a barbecue restaurant in the US and told the waiter, “I would like to become a steak, please”?

Yuuu
Yuuu
16 days ago

Wow ,Emanuel,the way you talk about etymology is awesome as always.