False Friends Explained – “craft vs Kraft”

kraft-craft-meaningsHello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode of False Friends Explained – the series that’s all about false friends. Like Steve. Come on man, I thought we were buds!! You freaking knew I had a crush on her and yet you couldn’t help it but, … anyway, sorry guys… I just feel a bit lonely right now.
So, false friends special. And today we’ll talk about

craft vs. die Kraft


Craft is at its heart about skill.  Carpentry can be a craft, or pottery, or writing. A craft beer is a beer that was brewed using hand work, skill and experience, and a crafty person is someone who is very smart and cunning.
Kraft on the other hand is not as refined.

It’s pure raw power.  It’s like… craft is like this British gentleman,  well dressed, well mannered, defeating you in a debate.  Kraft is a Germanic warrior, unkempt, clad in fur, choking an elk while fighting Romans.
And by the way, I feel like even the sound mirrors the difference. Kraft, with the short a, just sounds much more powerful.
Anyway, clearly someone messed with the meaning of the word. So, who was it this time? German, English, both? My money is on German because German usua… what… oh…
.. it’s English, that screwed up.

The origin of the words is the same as for the words cringe, crinkle, crank and cramp – the super mega uber ancient Indo-European root *ger. The core idea of that was turning, bending and I think you can see that in all the words I just mentioned. And while we’re at it… the root is also the origin of the German word for sick/krank, which is based on the idea of someone not standing upright.
How do then Kraft and craft fit in there? As weird as it sounds, their original meaning might well have been based on the muscles curling. Just think of some buff Indo-Europeans flexing their biceps. So the original idea of the words was strength, power.
In English, this was then generalized to include mental power and then, slowly, sissified it… I mean, made it more about skill. Craft in the sense of a vehicle (spacecraft, watercraft) might be a leftover from the old power meaning but even that’s not one hundred percent proven.
Either way, the connection to power has largely been forgotten in English.
German Kraft on the other hand hasn’t changed much at all. It still is about strength and power.

  • “Ich geh’ jetzt fast jeden Tag trainieren.”
    “Cool! Und machst du Krafttraining oder Ausdauer?”
  • “I work out almost every day now.”
    “Cool, and do you do weights/strength or cardio.”

And it’s a pretty damn useful word because it’s not limited to physical strength anymore. It works for a wide range of abstract forces or powers, it’s the proper physics term for force. Let’s look at some examples…

  • Die Musik hat eine unglaubliche Kraft.
  • The music has an incredible energy/power.
  • In der Ruhe liegt die Kraft. (idiom)
  • Lit.: Strength lies in serenity.
  • Slow and steady wins the race.
  • Seit sie das Einhorn berührt hat, hat Maria magische Kräfte.
  • Ever since she touched the unicorn, Maria has magical powers.
  • Das Gesetz tritt nächste Woche in Kraft.
  • The law will come into force next week.
  • Die Kräfte, die beim Sprinten auf die Gelenke wirken, sind unglaublich.
  • The forces that act on the joints during sprinting are incredible.

And there are loads of super useful compounds with Kraft.

  • Wasser- und Windkraft können Atomkraft noch nicht komplett ersetzen.
  • Energy from water and wind cannot fully replace nuclear energy yet.
  • Wir haben zu wenig Arbeitskräfte.
  • We don’t have enough staff (“work forces”).
  • Das Zusammenspiel von Schwerkraft und Fliehkraft hält die Erde in ihrer Bahn.
  • The interplay of gravity and centrifugal force is what keeps earth in its orbit.
  • Die Organisation des Festivals war ein Kraftakt, aber es hat sich gelohnt.
  • Organizing the festival was a feat/strenuous piece of work but it was worth it.

Oh and not to forget the wonderful Kraftfahrzeug, literally “force drive thing“, is the bureaucratic word for car. I mean, why say Auto if you can say Kraftfahrzeug.
Now, of course there are also related words. The most useful one is probably the adjective kräftig which means strong (not crafty!!!) but there are some verbs, too so let’s look at some examples:

  • Du musst kräftig ziehen. Die Tür klemmt ein bisschen.
  • You have to pull strongly. The door is jammed a little.
  • Ich habe Appetit auf eine kräftige Rinderbrühe.
  • I have a craving for a hearty beef broth.
  • Entkräftet aber glücklich stehen die Bergsteiger auf dem Gipfel.
  • Exhausted but happy the climber are standing on top of the summit.
  • Marias Freundin hat ihre Trennung gut verkraftet.
  • Maria’s friend got over her break up well.
  • Der Politiker hat nochmal bekräftigt, dass er nicht antreten will.
  • The politician reinforced that he is not planning to run.
    (bekräftigen really only works in sense of claiming something again, not for reinforcing a wall)

So this is Kraft and the related word, and they’re all about power in some way. What about craft then? What is craft in German?
The answer to that is not “It depends on context”.
It is “It totally depends on context.”
Yeah, I know… that wasn’t well crafted.
But seriously, there are many possible translations for craft. For carpentry or bakery you’d say they are a Handwerk, as soon as it gets a little more artsy, like gold smith or making small carvings from wood you’d say Kunsthandwerk. But a master of his craft would be Meister seines Fachs  and an arts and crafts store would be called Bastelbedarfsladen or also simply Hobbyladen.

And then there’s the verb to craft. Dict.cc suggests anfertigen, von Hand anfertigen and that kind of works but they sound a bit dry, and not “crafted” as to craft. For a well crafted piece of writing you’d never say gut angefertigt. You’d say gut geschrieben, probably actually just gut.
I’m sorry I can’t give you a better answer but German just doesn’t really have an equivalent for craft.
But I don’t think you’ll need that very often anyway. Just make sure that you don’t use Kraft, because that would be really confusing.

And I think that’s it for to… oh wait. There’s a call. Lisa from Ohio, welcome to the show…
“Hey Emanuel, great topic but I have a question that keeps bugging me.”
Sure, go ahead.
“So, Kraft means power, strength and kräftig means strong. But I thought ‘stark’ means strong in German and Macht means power. Are they all synonyms??”
Pheeeeeeew, great question.

Who would win – Kraft, Macht or Stärke

 Die Macht is power in sense of power over others or at least potential power over others. So Macht makes no sense for electricity for instance. But kräftigand stark... boah,  that’s a tough one. You… you can’t really use them synonymously, but I think it largely comes down to which one just happened to be idiomatic in a given context.

  • Es regnet stark/((kräftig)).
  • It’s raining heavily.
  • Vor Gebrauch kräftig/((stark))) schütteln.
  • Shake well before use.

In the first one, stark is the idiomatic one and kräftig sounds odd but in the second one it’s reversed. And it’s the same for the nouns.

  • Ich habe nicht genug Kraft/((Stärke)), um das Glas aufzumachen.
  • Don’t have enough strength to open the jar.
  • Der Politiker will Stärke/(((Kraft))) zeigen.
  • The politician wants to show strength.

“Wow, that’s really messy.”
Yeah, it is. I feel like… a general trend is that the words without umlaut are more common and more often the idiomatic choice. So stark and die Kraft while kräftig and die Stärke are somewhat special. It’s by no means a rule or anything, just a little trend to go by. That’s all I can say here.
“Wow, Emanuel, you can’t translate craft, you can’t tell stark and kräftig apart… you really suck today.”
Oh… I … uh… I’m sorry
“Naaaah, just kidding. It’s cute how you apologized, though (snickering in the background).”
Haha… stop making fun of me. So… do you have any more questions?
“Nope, I think it’s all clear. Well, except what happened with Steve and that girl you had a cru….”
Hello? Lisa? Are you there? Oh, the connection was interrupted. What a pity. I  really would have loved to continue this conversation.
Anyway, time to wrap this up.

This was our false friends special on craft vs Kraft and while English craft is about skill and dexterity, Kraft is about strength, power and it’s much more useful than craft. The word, I mean. As always, if you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

** vocab **

die Kraft, die Kräfte – the power, force
Superkräfte – super powers
die Lehrkraft – the teaching staff member
die Arbeitskraft – the working staff member, energy put into work
die Atomkraft – nuclear energy
die Windkraft – wind energy
das Kraftwerk – the power plant
der Kraftakt – the strenuous act

die Schwerkraft – the gravity
die Fliehkraft – the centrifugal force
die Magnetkraft – the magnetic force

bekräftigen – reinforce (by making a statement again)
entkräftet – exhausted
verkraften – cope with  something , get over something (for people, usually in a mental sense)
in Kraft treten – come into effect (for laws and such)

kräftig – strong, hearty (for food)
kraftlos – without power/energy (for people)

the craft – das Handwerk, Kunsthandwerk, Kunst, Fach
to craft – machen, per Hand fertigen
crafty – listig, schlau

stark – strong, intensively
die Stärke  – the strength, also: starch
die Macht – the power , might

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1 year ago

I know this is old, but I just had an insight while looking at a recipe today. One of the ingredients was “Stärkemehl” aka (Stärke). The role of this ingredient is to make the Kartoffelknödel more stiff and rigid. And this is why the same word means both “strength” and “starch”. 

2 years ago

I’m using kraft for my atelier which is about craft 100%! I admit i thought i could just replace the letter as if it’s the same anyway, like kraft should be the german version for craft.

After i found the meaning i thought kraft is more relevant due to the values i base my work on and my personal prefference.
I’m in the begining stages and i’m hesitating a bit about this word because people feel so good about critizing and they will most probably find it more relevant to believe it’s a mistake compared to a choice!

Since i’m selling furniture under this name i can’t afford this confusion, based on your material kraft has no place in a crafting context and yet many brands use it!!! even though i would love to keep the letter K i would rather stay coherent in my initiative.

What ar your thoughts on this?

5 years ago

Just a supposition, that ‘kräftig’ might work in context of action, where one uses his muscles, and ‘stark’ in sense of something being generally strong, not weak.

5 years ago

“Don’t have enough strength to open the glass”

Meinst du vielleicht “jar”? Ich habe kein “glass” gesehen, das man nur mit Kraft oeffnen kann – ausser ein Fenster, das ein starker Mensch mit einem Stein zwar oeffnen koennte. (Benutzte ich da “Kraft” und “starker” in den richtigen Stellen?)

In Bezug auf “Arbeitskraft” und “Lehrkraft”, geht das auch fuer andere Berufe? ZB. “Baukraft” oder “Forschungskraft”?

Und danke fuer einen weiteren interessanten Post!

5 years ago
Reply to  TimM

Boah, das ist mir gar nicht aufgefallen… Stimmt, “glass” heißt im Englischen “Becher aus Glas” und auf keinen Fall “Glas mit Deckel.”

Martin Bachmann
Martin Bachmann
5 years ago

Look at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Force and
https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kraft, in physics its the same, SI unit is N(ewton)

5 years ago

One would say ,, starker Kaffee ” or ,,starker Käse” instead of kräftig?

5 years ago

Thank you for the lesson, Emmanuel !
Also woud like to thank people making me able to read this blog thanks to the people who donated extra so people like me, could enjoy a free membership. Vielen Dank!!

5 years ago

Kraft ≈ force. Do you know if physicists, engineers and pedants avoid using Kraft in the power and energy senses to avoid the possibility of confusion with force?? Or is it just accepted that Kraft represents different concepts in Atomkraft etc. and Schwerkraft etc.? It’s hurting the tattered remnant of my brain.

“Come into force” would also be reasonable English for “in Kraft treten”.

5 years ago
Reply to  Ruth

Power is “Leistung” and energy is “Energie” (potenzielle Energie = potential energy, kinetische Energie = kinetic energy), work is “Arbeit” and momentum is “Impuls”. But the letters you use in formulas are mostly the same as in English. You can generally say that if you have a different SI unit, you will need another name for the physical quantity.

5 years ago
Reply to  Ruth

As an American scientist working in Germany, I can tell you my German scientific colleagues do not avoid the use of the word “Kraft” when talking about power and energy in the societal sense. I believe “Kraftwerk” is THE German word for “power plant”. But IMO you could just as well ask why English speakers say “power plant” and not “energy plant” or some other term–is the SI unit important when designating the factory that produces the power/energy/force used by our society? To my knowledge, there is no difference between the English expression “nuclear power” versus ” nuclear energy” when discussing societal energy issues.

5 years ago

Hey, there… Like I want to extend a very grateful virtual-hug to the GermanIsEasy community for being generous enough to pay a little extra so that people like me can access this incredible service for free… Your contributions are not being sucked into a void and you’ll always have a very grateful friend in Frankreich!

Francesca Greenoak
Francesca Greenoak
5 years ago

As a beginner, I’m finding this material useful and interesting. I couldn’t download the PDF for this one though. The last came through fine. Any hints please.

5 years ago

Just leaving this comment to thank the community of this wonderful blog. Thanks for the free membership :).

5 years ago

I think for English Stark is more power and Kraft is more strength, even in the more idiomatic expressions. For example, I don’t have the power/authority to respond to this vs I don’t have the strength to respond to the question (I’m tired). I see what you mean though, they just feel right in different expressions and it’s hard to tell why.

5 years ago
Reply to  BieneMaya

Mmm… You could really just about reverse that, though (especially since “Kraft” refers to various types of power or force).

Emanuel, for the example “Ich habe nicht genug Kraft/((Stärke)), um das Glas aufzumachen,” could you just as well say “Ich bin nicht stark genug…” or would that still carry the same oddness of “Stärke” there? Just wondering how much potential overlap in meaning there is between the umlaut-free forms.

To me “stark/Stärke” feels maybe a little more figurative or like a personal characteristic than “Kraft/kräftig” can be, but I’m sure there are all sorts of counterexamples.

5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Yeah, I definitely thought “stark” would be totally normal and idiomatic. Just to check, how about “stark” vs. “Kraft” (so both “umlautfree” versions)? Like:

– Ich habe nicht genug Kraft, um das Glas aufzumachen.
– Ich bin nicht stark genug, um das Glas aufzumachen.

Would you say these are equally normal ways to say this?