Advent Calendar 5 – Pretending in German

Written By: Emanuel Updated: December 5, 2023

“Pretending in German”


Hello everyone,

and welcome to day number 5 of this year’s Advent Calendar.
And behind today’s door is a piece of yummy little “How to say in German”-candy.
Because today, we’ll find out

How to translate pretend

And this verb really is one where dictionaries can lead you astray.
Like… here’s a typical list of translations.

to pretend

  • vorgeben
  • vortäuschen
  • so tun als ob

And now which one would you pick?
I mean, now you’re probably thinking like
“Hmmm, it’s probably that last one, otherwise he wouldn’t be talking like this.”
And you’re right, that’s the one.

But without the context, I think most people would pick vorgeben, because it seems to be the most basic one. Or vortäuschen, if you happen to know täuschen.
And so tun als ob looks like this weird phrasing that’s just kind of there as another option, but the reality is… so tun als ob is by far the best translation for to pretend. We could say it is THE translation for to pretend.
And it makes perfect sense as a phrasing because literally, it is “do as if” and that is in essence the same as English phrase to act as if. That’s the best way to remember it, actually. When Germans say to pretend, they say “act/do as if“.

Time for some examples.

  • “Was ist der wichtigste Skill für einen Barmann in Berlin?”
    “Mit seinen Freunden reden und so tun als ob man die Gäste nicht sieht.”
    “Sehr gut, du bist eingestellt.”
  • “What’s the most important skill for a bartender in Berlin?”
    “Talking with your friends and pretending not to see the customers.”
    “Very well, you’re hired!”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Thomas, warum hast du gestern im Restaurant so getan, als ob wir uns nicht kennen?
  • Thomas, why did you pretend like/act as if we don’t know each other in the restaurant yesterday?
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • “Lernst du?”
    “Nein, ich tu nur so.”
  • “Are you studying?”
    “No, I’m just pretending.”
    (we can skip the als ob, if it’s clear what we’re pretending)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And what about the other translations, vorgeben and vortäuschen?

Well, we could swap in vorgeben in the examples above but it would sound quite stilted and no one really talks that way, unless it’s some official or formal context.

Vortäuschen on the other hand is a little different in that it’s actually mainly connected with nouns. So it’s actually more like to feign or to fake.  And that can be practical sometimes, simply because it’s shorter.

  • Hast du schon mal einen Orgasmus vorgetäuscht?
  • Have you ever feigned /faked an orgasm?
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

If you want to express this with so tun als ob, you’d need to completely rephrase it into an action.

  • Hast du schon mal so getan als ob du einen Orgasmus hattest?
  • Have you ever acted as if you had an orgasm?

I mean… not really that much longer but the version with vortäuschen is more lean for sure.

Now, there is one common use of to pretend where so tun als ob doesn’t fit – pretending in the sense of imagining. Here’s something you could hear at a team meeting for instance:

  • Let’s pretend for a minute that we only have one week to complete the project…

This is a fairly common phrasing in English and the core idea is that people “visualize” the situation. Using so tun als ob would sound like people are actually ACTING as if the situation was real… like, leaving the meeting to go to their desk and acting like they’re working.

The proper translations for this imaginary “to pretend” are sich vorstellen (to imagine) or annehmen, which is kind of to assume.

  • Lasst uns mal annehmen, dass wir nur eine Woche für das Projekt haben…

But other than that, I think so tun als ob really is the best translation for to pretend and you should absolutely add it to your active vocabulary.

And that’s it for today :).

If you have any questions about the usage or you want to try out some examples, just leave me a comment.
Have a great day and I’ll see you tomorrow.
Bis dann!


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