False Friends Explained – 1

eventually-eventuell-false-Hello everyone,

and welcome to a brand new mini series. Or should I say YET another mini series… seriously, I feel like, we got quite a few seriesseses here :).
Anyway, the new one is all about

false friends

There are a lot of false friends between German and English and some of them can actually lead to real misunderstandings. So I thought, let’s have a look at some of them every once in a while. But of course we’ll not just check what they mean, what the misunderstanding is and how to avoid it. We’ll also explore WHY they became false friends to begin with – or in other words:

Who screwed up? 

German or English? Who’s the true meaning mangler? Yeah, I hear many are screaming “German”… but who knows. So what do you say… does it sound rad? Great, then let’s roll ;).
And the first pair is…

eventual(ly) – eventuell

This is one pair I got wrong for AGES and I was worried that eventually I would never learn it. But I have, because I just used it correc… oh … oh shit. I screwed it up again. It’s that bad.
And what makes this one particularly tricky is the fact that years can go by without anyone noticing that there’s something lost in translation. I would say things like this:

  • Tomorrow, I eventually have time….  yeah, using the future took me while, too :)

And the other person would be like: “Well, that’s great. I hope I see you tomorrow then.” and we’d walk away not knowing that we just misunderstood each other.
So… what’s the problem? Eventually basically means finally, at long last or sooner or later. It tells us that something WILL happen (or has happened) while at the same time adding the idea of a substantial “waiting period”.
Eventuell on the other hand means maybe, perhaps. It tells us that something MIGHT happen but it is by no means sure of it. And if you’re at a meeting for a difficult project and you try to lift the spirits by saying

  • (We’ll get it done eventually!)
  • Wir schaffen das “eventuell”.

… well… that’s not the confidence you need to get promotion.
So… who messed with the meaning? Well, both words are related to the word event. Event comes from the Latin verb evenire which is pretty much to come out (ex + venire) and across all languages that have it an event is something that does happen. Based on that the English eventual(ly) is very logical, right. So did German screw up?
The answer is: no. Both German and English, most likely imported eventual (eventuell) from French. And there the word means pretty much exactly the same as the German eventuell. And in fact also in Spanish and Italian the words mean possibly, maybe. They all go back to a Latin word with the same meaning. And in fact there’s a is a related word for which English has kept the notion of possible.

  • Wir sind auf alle Eventualitäten vorbereitet.
  • We prepared for all eventualities/contingencies.

So technically English is the one to blame for the confusion. But then again… the English meaning makes much more sense and why Latin would give a word that comes from event the meaning maybe remains a mystery.
Cool. Now we’re left with the question what would be a good translation for eventually. But I am afraid there is not a short, pregnant answer for that. There are too many options, sometimes it’s one word, sometimes it’s a phrase, sometimes it’s nothing and it totally depends on context. If you’re interested we can go over some examples in the comments but for now let’s move on to our next false friend…. and in fact… I just fell for it :)

prägnant – pregnant

This pair is certainly not one that is causing a lot of problems simply because the words aren’t used all that much. But it’s kind of funny and a great example for how a language REALLY messed up the meaning. Place your bets on which one it is :).
So, the English pregnant talks about carrying a baby in you,which in German word is schwanger.

  • Maria macht einen Schwangerschaftstest.
  • Maria takes a pregnancy test.
  • “Bist du schwanger? Oder hast du zugenommen?”
    “WAAAAAAAAAS?!?!?!”
  • “Are you pregnant? Or did you gain weight?”
    “WHAAAAAAAAAT?!?!”

The German prägnant on the other hand is something completely different. It means concise, succinct or catchy… something that is short, to the point and that gets people’s attention is prägnant. That can be a sentence, or a presentation but also a melody. Or an example.

  • Ich brauche ein prägnantes Beispiel für prägnant.
  • I need a catchy/ memorable example for prägnant.
  • Aphorismen sind prägnante, kunstvolle Sinnsprüche.
  • Aphorisms are succinct, artful words of wisdom.

And the questions is: how on earth could that happen? Time warp back to ancient Rome. Frrrrruiiiiiiiii…
uh.. that was a time warp sound, just in case you’re wondering….
In Latin there was a word praegnans which literally meant pre-birth, and the second part, gnans, actually belongs to the same family as gene and generic and genisis. So the meaning is Latin was pretty much the same as it is today in English. And that means, German scores because it really messed it up. To be fair though, it’s not the sole culprit. German imported the word from French some 300 years ago. And by that time, the French version had tinkered with the original sense and meant  “filled with thought/meaning” while for  “filled with child” the French had chosen a different word: enceinte... a funny word by the way because the literal idea is “surrounded”.
Anyway, so the word German took over was basically expression the idea that something contains a lot of sense or meaning. And it has’t changed much. Something that is succinct and catchy does convey a lot with a bit, right?
But the whole baby thing on the other hand was never part of the German version.
By the way … I think all Romance languages (at least French, Spanish and Italian) do use a different word for baby-pregnant. So saying this:

  • Je suis pregnante.

in French is about as off as

  • Ich bin prägnant.

in German.
However, some of these meaning changes that occurred in French and German seeped over into English. And that leads us to the wonderful German word  Imprägnierspray. Any idea what that could be? Sure sounds kind of funny with the pregnancy thing in your head. Well, here’s what the spray is used for

  • Ich imprägniere meine Schuhe.

I spray something on my shoes to make them waterproof. And here’s where both languages do line up because  to impregnate can mean to make pregnant but also soak something with something (usually for the purpose of having some kind of residue… some proof or coating. You can impregnate wood for example, or spray your shoes to make them water-proof. And that’s pretty much what imprägnieren is, though in German the focus is on the coating, rather than the soaking.
Now you might be like “Wait… this soaking meaning has ZERO to do with anything. Where the hell is that coming from?
Well, the verb impregnate already existed in Latin and it already had that double meaning there. The main meaning was to get someone pregnant but it was also used in a general sense of fill, soak, imbue something, which is where the modern meaning of impregnating shoes comes from.  How the Romans got from one to the other we can but guess … here’s mine.

And with that imagine in our head, let’s wrap this up (get it? because they could use some wrapping too).
This was our look at two pairs of false friends and I really hope you had just as much fun as I had with this. Let me know in the comments, if you did and if we should do more of this every once in a while… mini series style :). And tell me your favorite couple, the one that really confused you.
And of course if you have any questions about today’s words or if you need some examples, just leave me a comment too.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

** vocab **

eventuell – maybe, perhaps
die Eventualität – the contigency, the possible option
schwanger – pregnant
der Schwangerschaftstest – the pregnancy test
die Schwangere – the pregnant woman
der Schwangere – duh!
die Schwangerschaftsstreifen – stretch marks, striae (pregnancy striae)
prägnant – succinct, catchy
die Prägnanz – the catchy-ness, straight-to-the-point-ness
imprägnieren – impregnate (make water proof)

4.3 4 votes
Article Rating

Newsletter for free?!

Sign up to my epic newsletter and get notified whenever I post something new :)
(roughly once per week)

No Spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Your Thoughts and Questions

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
82 Comments
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Matus Goljer
6 years ago

Will Durant in his 1926 “The Story of Philosophy” writes (about Bacon’s Essays)

> no man in english literature is so fertile in pregnant and pithy comparisons

So at least some time in the past English and German went hand in hand :)

squeezeboxgoddess
6 years ago

False friends are actually one of my favorite parts of learning German! Since your audience is typically not a group of 8 year olds on this blog, I don’t recommend doing an article on the following words. However these pairs have given me more than one good chuckle:
Dick vs. Dick (there is a candy you can buy called Super Dickmanns…ooh boy!)
Gross vs. Gross
Fahrt vs. Fart
Boot vs. Boot
Potti vs. Potty (I discovered this one while trying to diagnose a problem with a microphone system. In English we shorten the word “potentiometer” to “pot”, and we use the word “potty” to refer to a toilet. In German, Potti refers to a potentiometer. Probably this is not that funny for most people but I really had to hold back a laugh when my friend was talking about testing out the Potti in my microphone system.)
Gang vs. Gang
Damit vs. Dammit

There are so many similar-sounding, or same words in German and English, it reminds me of watching the surface of a wind-swept lake, trying to figure out if the flash of color that you’re looking at is a reflection on the surface, or something under the water. I like it that you are choosing to focus on examples which resist contextual disambiguation.

squeezeboxgoddess
6 years ago

Oh yeah, not to forget “Rathaus” vs. Rat house…

Annika
Annika
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ziemlich sicher dass das was regionales ist, aber bei uns bedeutet “der Pott” auch “der Topf” und wird generell für Toilette benutzt (nicht nur speziell für Babys).
Und “die Potte” war mir neu, hab’ ich noch nie gehört.

Blöder Typ
Blöder Typ
6 years ago

When my dad was visiting he bought a box of Super Dickmanns and while we were walking around I kept making comments about how proud he was about his Super Dickmanns until he hid them in a bag.

Do you giggle at “Einfahrt” too? (Good thing it’s not “Zweifahrt”!)

*Not 13, I swear.

“Absolvieren” confused me. (You can get a priest to absolve you of school, too??)

Jacinda
6 years ago

That was great! As some people already noted, in English pregnant also has a secondary meaning which is “to be full of meaning; significant or suggestive” similar to the French meaning; e.g. a pregnant pause.

If you do more false friends here are some that have caught me while I’ve been learning German.
aktuell vs actual
also vs also
Fabrik vs fabric (this one never confused me, but I think the etymology is interesting because English also has the word fabricate which seems closer to the German Fabrik than the English fabric).

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

That was really interesting! French is my first language and your post made me realise for the first time that “eventually” and “éventuellement” are false friends. I didn’t understand your explanations at first, because I misunderstood the meaning of “eventually” all this time… Thank you!

Chris
Chris
6 years ago

False friends are great, especially when trying to imagine if German or English is at fault :-) Another great one:
Gestern war ich mit meiner Freundin sprechen und sie hat ‘sensibel’ benutzt. Ich dachte sie meinte ‘vernünftig’, aber… Es macht für ein bisschen Verwirrung bei mir..

berlingrabers
6 years ago
Reply to  Chris

Ha, yeah, “sensibel/sensible” is a good one.

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

What about “Du bist ein Ass” ?

berlingrabers
6 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Better than “Du bist ein Aas”…

Erlend
Erlend
6 years ago

Nice post! In Norwegian, we use both ‘eventuelt’ and ‘pregnant’ like they do in German. ‘Eventuelt’ means ‘maybe’, and ‘pregnant’ means ‘clear’ / “to the point”. Our word for ‘pregnant’ is ‘gravid’ (but we also use ‘svanger’, a la the German ‘schwanger’). We also use ‘svanger’ for “filled with something”:
“Å gå svanger med en plan” => “To have a plan” (lit.: “To be filled with a plan”)
Skjebnesvanger => Fateful

Alberto
Alberto
6 years ago
Reply to  Erlend

‘Gravida’ is also the word used in portuguese for ‘pregnant’. I wouldn’t have expected such a coincidence :)

berlingrabers
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

“Gravid” exists in English too – it means “pregnant” but as far as I can tell applies only to animals, and it’s definitely not an everyday or layman’s word. Might be antiquated, or just technical. And if dictionary.com is to be trusted, it is indeed related to “gravity” – referring to being heavy with babies or eggs or whatever.

Alberto
Alberto
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I just checked ‘grávida’ in Spanish (my mother language) and it also means ‘pregnant’, but I have never heard anyone use that word, ’embarazada’ and ‘preñada’ being by far and large more common. The first mean of ‘grávida’ in Spanish is ‘something that weights’ so I guess that as you said the meaning has to be related to ‘gravity’. In Portuguese there’s ’embaraçoso’ (’embarazoso’ in Spanish, a loan from Portuguese), but they mean ’embarrasing’. ‘Prenhe/prenha’ also means ‘pregnant’ but I don’t know if it’s only for animals or for women as well. I’m not a native Portuguese speaker, and even though dictionaries have ‘gravida/prenhe’ as synonims, reading forums it seems it would be quite impolite to say that a woman is ‘prenhe’. Finally, there’s ‘encinta’ in Spanish, which means ‘pregnant’, but there’s no equivalent in Portuguese

Brightstar
Brightstar
6 years ago

Great idea about series. It’s stickiness increase the rate of retention.

Keep thinking out of the square pls for some of us this method is a useful aid

Brightstar

Ikaxas
Ikaxas
6 years ago

Hallo, toller Artikel wie immer.

Ich wollte dich nur kurz darauf hinweisen, dass “means as much as” nicht so gut auf Englisch funktioniert als “bedeutet so viel wie” auf Deutsch. Da würde ich eher “basically means” oder einfach “means” benutzen. Ich kann mir jetzt im Moment keine Situation ausdenken, wo “means as much as” komplett natürlich klingt, das heißt aber nicht, dass es keine gibt. Aber so wie du es im Artikel benutzt hast, klingt’s nicht genau richtig.

Gila Halleli
Gila Halleli
6 years ago

Brilliant! How about also and also?

eknehr
6 years ago

Sehr interessant. Ich würde gerne weitere solche Artikel lesen. Diese Wörter sind gute Wahlen.

Wenn ich kurzlich in Deutschland zu Besuch war, meine deutschen Verwandten haben mir etwas lustig davon erzählt. Nach dem zweiten Weltkrieg kamen Lastwagen mit Lebensmittel, Kleidung usw. Auf der Lastwagen standen “Gift from America.” Die armen Amerikaner könnten nicht verstehen, warum niemand Gift wollten!

Vielen Dank, noch einmal. Bei diesem Blog wird mein Deutschlernen interessanter.

Eric

eknehr
6 years ago
Reply to  eknehr

oops…auf DEN Lastwagen.
meine deutschen Verwandten oder soll es deutsche? Arrrgh die Grammatik!

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Vielen Dank. Was habe ich gedacht!??

Carlo Toribio
6 years ago

Hi Emanuel, finished reading. Thanks again for the post. One more question, are “Eventuell” and “Vielleicht” interchangeable?

Carlo Toribio
6 years ago

Hi Emanuel. Thanks for your post. I haven’t finished reading, but I saw something that really caught my eye. Spanish and English are both my first languages (geography had a lot to do with that), and “Eventually” and “Eventualmente” mean exactly the same thing in both languages. “I will eventually have enought money to get a car”, means the exact same thing as “Eventualmente tendré el dinero para comprarme un auto”. In Spanish it doesn’t mean “perhaps” or “maybe” at all.

Anyway, gonna keep reading now. Thanks again :)

Alberto
Alberto
6 years ago
Reply to  Carlo Toribio

Where did you learn Spanish? At least in Spanish spoken in Spain ‘eventually’ has the same meaning as in German, something like maybe/uncertain/at some unpredictable moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if in Spanish spoken in South America ‘eventually’ shared the meaning with English. There are some huge vocabulary differences after all

Alberto
Alberto
6 years ago

I’d totally be in for a false friends series. Out the the top of my head I can only think of become/bekommen. By the way, there’s another word for pregnant in spanish besides ’embarazada’, it’s ‘preñada’. Also coming from praegnare, but with the typical gn->ñ change. And it can also mean “including untold meaning”

Félix LeChien
Félix LeChien
6 years ago
Reply to  Alberto

Funny! The french word “prégnant” is not commonly used at all, and even its pronounciation is unusual. In fact, in French, “gn” usually sounds like the spanish “ñ”, but not here where both letters are pronounced separately. And according to Le Petit Robert dictionary, “une idée prégnante” is an idea that imposes itself to the mind. French is quite close to German on this one!

Keep up the good work. This blog is awesome!

Jason Harrison
Jason Harrison
6 years ago

This is great! Eventuell caught me out for a while too. It also took me a while to work out aktuell, which I thought never seemed to really fit until I realised it is more along the lines of current/latest.
One I cam across recently was (sich) blamieren, which I thought “must be ‘to blame’ right?” Appears ironically it is not! Hab’ ich mich blamiert?…Actually don’t answer that.

NN
NN
6 years ago

Sehr nett.
Ich mag auch ‘fast’ auf Englisch gegen ‘fast’ auf Deutsch.

NN
NN
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Auch Der Mist vs. The mist :)

Ruth
Ruth
6 years ago

Am I right to think that schwanger applies only to humans? Any animal that bears live young can be pregnant, even, I think, live bearing sharks and gastric-brooding frogs. …….Perhaps circumstances where English has only one word but German has one for most animals and another for the human ones could be a topic for a future post or two. (Should check that you haven’t already done it.)

Pregnant is now sometimes applied to couples and to fathers. Does the same happen with schwanger (From der Schwangere’s entry in your vocabulary list, it seems not.) or are other expressions used?

Apparently English usage of the meaningful meaning of pregnant is recorded earlier than the incubating young meaning, so English seems to have gone round in a circle. While the German may now seem messed, up at least it was decisive.

Ruth
Ruth
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Not common, but the example you suggest could definitely be used among people who know only Thomas and not the woman involved. Once, any reference to a man being pregnant would have been obviously intended as a joke, but it’s harder to tell now.
It is becoming more common for a man to say “we’re pregnant”, rather than “whatever-her-name-is is pregnant” or “we are expecting a baby”, perhaps as a short way of both stating the fact and declaring an intention to be involved… and maybe half joking. Support services are talking of pregnant fathers, too.
I think I’ve even heard “we’re pregnant” meaning my pet is!

Beatriz
Beatriz
6 years ago

I like this blog. Just to add, to me it also helps to consider that the German word “praegnant” might share some common root with the English “pragmatism”, which meaning they also share.
On “eventually” I think the meaning in its Latin version makes sense if you have a Mediterranean concept of time. If in Spain you say “I will do it eventually” it is commonly understood as “Maybe, one day, perhaps I will do it” (which in the end might be never) :)

George
George
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

“Pragmatic” is from the Greek πρᾶγμα (“pragma”), meaning “deed, act, matter, business,” etc. It comes from the verb πράττειν (“prattein”), which means “to do,” and ultimately from the same Indo-European root which yielded πέρα (“pera”), which meant “beyond”, and which also lead to the English word “far”. The Romans also borrowed the Greek word to get their Latin word “practicus”, from which English gets “practical”. The “gene” family is unrelated.

Krasser Typ
Krasser Typ
6 years ago

“Maria makes a pregnancy test.”
Takes, right? She’s not manufacturing it or something is she?

“die Schwangerschaftsstreifen – striae (pregnacy striae)”
Do you mean stretch marks?

I agree with Jo’s note that “impregnate” means something soaked into something, rather than coated.

I can’t think of any other false friends besides “quasi.” But there’s a good chance I haven’t realized they’re different words yet (I actually just found about about “eventuell” a couple weeks ago.

Jo
Jo
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

“Take a test” works for any kind of test in English – in school, driver’s licence test, drug test, etc.

How about a false friends pair on machen and make? I mean they half mean the same thing, but they often don’t translate to each other, because “machen” can mean “tun” but “make” is not synonymous with “do”.

So my impression is that German “machen” often translates to “do” in English – as Krasser Typ indicates, “make” really does mean create or manufacture. Ok except when it doesn’t (e.g. “make you do something”, “make the grade”, “make the bed”, etc*). But that’s language for you… “Do” is a real go-to word for English: it should generally work where German “machen” is a synonym for “tun”. So in your example, “does the test” is fine too – but “takes the test” is more idiomatic.

*OMG so many other meanings: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/make#Verb
…Though the idiomaticity of “The ship could make 20 knots an hour” may depend on dialect – I’d actually find “do” more idiomatic; “make” sounds rather quaint to me. “My car can do 160 km/hr” is fine, “My car can make 160 km/hr” is odd.

Jo
Jo
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ja, nachdem ich meinen Kommentar gepostet hat, habe ich gedacht, sie sind nicht “falsche Freunde”. Aber die Übersetzung ist schwierig.

Gia
Gia
6 years ago

Holy cow, that finally clarifies for me why we say, “a pregnant pause.” It’s a pause full of (unspoken) meaning! Honestly, I’ve never really questioned it before, but after reading this, I have no idea why I didn’t! Thanks for this post–very helpful!

ron arnett
ron arnett
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

In English, …a comment, sentence, movie, book or a post (such as yours) may be …pregnant with meaning. It suggests devoting more attention to the subject at hand.