False Friends Explained – “spenden vs to spend”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode of False Friends Explained, this time with a look at

spenden vs to spend

And those two are actually not THAT far apart. Still, there’s a lot of room for confusion.

  • I spend 150 Dollars on Sushi every day.
  • Ich spende jeden Tag 150 Dollar für Sushi.

Because while the English sentence makes you sound like a rich snob who is completely out of touch with the reality of the common man, the German sentence makes you sound like… uhm… a generous rich snob. Who is totally out of touch with the reality of the common man. I mean, seriously… donating 150 bucks for Sushi. Come on.
But yeah, that’s what spenden is…


… because spenden is the German word for to donate.

  • Maria hat 100 Euro gespendet.
  • Maria donated 100 Euro.
  • Haben sie vielleicht eine kleine Spende für was zu Essen? (typical line in the metro)
  • Do you maybe have a small donation for something to eat?
  • Thomas geht morgen Blut spenden.
  • Thomas is going to donate blood tomorrow.
  • Marias Opa hat eine Spenderniere.
  • Maria’s grandpa has a donor kidney.

Actually, it’s a bit broader than to donate and the translations can vary.

  • Der Baum spendet Schatten.
  • The tree gives shade.
  • Der Seifenspender ist leer.
  • The soap dispenser is empty.
  • Thomas kauft sich feuchtigkeitsspendendes Schampoo.
  • Thomas buys (himself) a (“moisture-giving”moisturizing shampoo.

Jesus Christ… feuchtigkeitsspendendes.?!?! Moisturizing the listener, this word. How is anyone supposed to pronounce this. And it’s sooo loooong. No wonder that the German version of Scrabble is called Scabbabbbligkeitsungität and has an edge length of 2 meters. And that’s the travel edition.
Anyway, even though the translation is not always to donate, the core of German spenden is kind of a selfless giving and it DOESN’T have this notion of investment or trade that the English to spend has.
And now the question is, which language messed up the meaning? Let’s take a look at the history and find out.

the surprising origin of “spenden”

As Germanic as they might seem, to spend and spenden actually come from Latin and are closely related to words like expensive and expense. That makes sense, right. Oh and dispenser is also related, so we have another parallel there.
The origin is the verb pendere which we also have in words like depend or pendulum. Pendere was about hanging and expendere was about weighing and paying. Wait… how does that any sense… let me read up real quick… uh… okay …  apparently, the meaning was inspired by a scale. Like… weighing the gold or silver for a trade by putting it out on a hanging dish. Oh man, I wonder what these Romans were smoking.
Anyway, so the Latin expendere already was about paying and expensive, expense and spend have stayed true to that, while spenden lost the aspect of commerce and shifted toward giving.
But the original meaning has survived in the related noun die Spesen. It’s a plural only noun and it’s the German word for expense. Well, actually it’s more business expenses so expenses you have for the job. But it’s at the heart of a really common idiom that describes that you put in a lot of effort without getting any benefit.

  • Außer Spesen nix gewesen.
  • Except for expenses, there was nothing.
    (is there an idiom in English? Danke :)
  • “Dieses Dinner geht auf die Firma”
    “Aber… meine Rechnung sind fast 100 Euro?!”
    “Passt schon. Das sind Spesen.”
  • “This dinner is on the company.”
    “But… my bill is almost 100 Euro?!”
    “Don’t sweat it. Those are (business) expenses.”

And this example actually brings us right to the next related word, which is quite the surprise, even though it is just an i away. Die Speise is a German word for … a meal.
And we don’t actually need much crazy mind yoga to understand the connection. The word was coined by monks. They spoke a lot of Latin and their main expense was food. Tadaah.
And by the way… in Italian there is la spesa and even though it can technically mean expense, you will see it a LOT in context of buying food.
It’s not the only word German has for that, and it’s not used that much as a stand alone but there are a few REALLY common compounds with it.

  • Könnten wir eine Speisekarte haben? (sounds a bit formal, only for higher class restaurants)
  • Could we have a food menu?
  • Ich nehm’ die Einhornsuppe als Vorspeise und das Kobe Unicorn Ribeye als Hauptspeise.
  • I’ll have the unicorn soup as an starter and the Kobe Unicorn Rib-Eye as the main course/entrée.
    (hey Americans, entrée for main course? Is that on purpose to tease the French?)
  • Sodbrennen kommt von Magensäure in der Speiseröhre.
  • Acid reflux/heartburn comes from stomach acid in the esophagus.

And there’s the verb speisen, which is a pompous snobby sounding option for to eat. And for some reason it’s also used in context of “giving electricity into a system” … I mean… it’s nothing you need to use actively. I just wanted to mention it because it might be confusing when you read the sentence word “Einspeisevergütungsgesetz.” in the context of renewable energies. But okay… I guess that is confusing either way.
Anyways,  last but not least, there’s the verb spendieren, and this one is kind of the little, light hearted brother of spenden. Like… spenden has this serious vibe of someone being in need. Spendieren is more about giving out treats.

  • Der Star spendiert den wartenden Fans Pizza.
  • The star treats/offers the waiting fans pizza.
  • Apple hat dem neuen iPhone eine dritte Kamera spendiert – die sogenannte Schoß-Cam an der Unterkante.
  • Apple treated its new iPhone to a third camera – the so called lap cam on the lower rim.
    (this wording is pretty common in tech talk that’s supposed to sound fluffy. Is that idiomatic English though?)
  • “Nimmst du noch ein Bier? Ich bezahle.”
    “Du hast doch schon die letzte Runde bezahlt?!”
    “Jooo, ich habe heute meine Spendierhosen an.”
  • “You want another beer? I’ll pay.”
    “But you already payed the last round.”
    “Yeah, I‘m in a generous mood.”
    (lit.: I’m wearing my treating-pants)
  • Thomas ist sehr spendabel.
  • Thomas is very generous (in terms of money).

Not super common but it’s one of those words that’ll really make you sound like a native speaker if you use it at the right moment.
Cool.
So now we know what spenden is and where it comes from. But there’s one more thing we need to answer: how to actually translate to spend.
And the answer to that is the answerest answer ever

“It depends.”©
Answer to all questions German language since 1834

For spending money, the word is  ausgeben (we’ve talked about it in detail in another article, I’ll link it in the vocab section) and for anything time based like weeks or vacations or child hoods, the word to go is verbringen.

  • Thomas hat 200 Euro für Sushi ausgegeben.
  • Thomas spent 200 Euro for Sushi.
  • Wegen seiner Fischvergiftung hat Thomas eine Woche im Bett verbracht.
  • Because of his fish poisoning, Thomas spent one week in bed.

And there are a few other options but they’re rather specific so if you have a context in mind that you’re unsure about, let’s just talk about it in the comment.
And that’s it for today. This was our look at the pair of false friends that is spenden and to spend.
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 **

spenden (gespendet) – to donate (also: to give)
die Spende – the donation
der Spender – the donor
spendieren (spendiert)  – give out as treat 
spendabel – generous

die Spesen (plural) – the business expenses

die Speise – the dish, meal, food
das Speiseöl  – cooking oil
die Speisekarte – the food menu
die Hauptspeise – the main course
die Speiseröhre – thing through which the food slides into the stomach

ausgeben – to spend money  (find the article here)
verbringen – to spend time (and time based things)

 

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Rich
Rich
1 year ago

Hallo
Ich habe mich ueber das Wort “beitragen”und seinen Unterschied zu “spenden” gewundert? Es scheint, dass “spenden” fuer monetaere Zwecke verwendet wird und “beitragen” fuer nicht-monetaere Zwecke?

Ich werde zu dieser Sache beitragen.
Ich werde Geld fuer diese Sache spenden.

Vielen Dank

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
4 years ago

Is there an Indo-European root behind the Latin? I recently came across σπένδω spendō in the Greek New Testament, there meaning “pour out as a libation/drink offering.” Seems to fit in there somewhere, although it’s hard to see much connection to the “pend” root.

“Spende/spenden” and “ausgeben” always screws up my English (and that of my German-speaking American friends) – it’s kind of funny that “spend” and “give out” have almost the exact opposite meanings to “spenden” and “ausgeben” respectively.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

Dankeschön! very useful for me as a beginner of learning Deutsch.

Ich nehm’ die Einhornsuppe als Vorspeise and the Kobe Unicorn Ribeye als Hauptspeise.
—>und das :)

Tim Muller
Tim Muller
4 years ago

Ich würde ‘treat’ in diesem Kontext (iPhone) nicht sagen. Ich weiß aber nicht, welches Wort richtig ist, außer ‘endowed’ (zu formal) oder ‘pimped’ (zu umgangssprachlich). ‘Treat’ würde ich nur in diesem Sinn sagen, wenn es um eine Person geht, zB ‘I’ll treat you to a coffee’.

Und für ‘Aus Spesen nichts gewesen’, könnte man vielleicht ‘today was a total waste of makeup’ sagen!

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

The closest English equivalent that I can think of for “Außer Spesen nix gewesen” – although not commonly used – is “BFH”, as explained here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullseye_(UK_game_show)
‘If they succeeded, they received the Star Prize and kept their previous winnings; if not, they lost all cash/prizes they had risked… the host would tell the team that they would receive only their “BFH” (bus fare home) if they lost.’

aoind
aoind
4 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

They did also get to “come and have a look at what [they] could have won”, which was delightfully cruel. Usually something really cool like a speedboat. Which was suspicious because whenever they did actually win the star prize it was a bottom-of-the-range British made hatchback car.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

You could say something like “The meeting was a waste of time – and they didn’t even give me[/but at least they gave me] my bus fare home!”

aoind
aoind
4 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I haven’t heard it used in a long time, probably because it’s 20 years or more since it was last on telly. Many of my housemates at university were from Preston, Lancashire and readily adopted “northernisms” off the telly (Jim Bowen from Bullseye has a broad Lancashire accent). They would use the phrase towards the end of a night out to signify that they had drunk all their money and were going home, or were seeking a consensus to do so. The conversation might go like this: Student 1: “BFH?” Student 2 “Aye”. Talkative bunch.

Alan
Alan
4 years ago

I think the word treated in the third camera context works.
For the other one perhaps, after bills there was nothing?

deidelta
4 years ago

I just found out that I am moving to Germany in less than five months! However, money has been tight after my motorcycle accident, and it’s hard to find a quality German language learning course on a tight budget. Thanks to the members that donated scholarships, I am able to study quickly and easily from an amazing course. Thank you all so much!

alanmarsee
alanmarsee
4 years ago

I’ve been away from this blog community for a while, but I’ve committed to becoming active again. I really like this blog.

alanmarsee
alanmarsee
4 years ago

I didn’t understand your question. Lap cam or fluffy being idiomatic English?

alanmarsee
alanmarsee
4 years ago

You will probably hear something like “all for nothing.” Example: I did this all for nothing. It literally means the same thing as Außer Spesen nix gewesen, just shorter. Sometimes, people may only use the idiom w/o a complete sentence. Example: I’m looking at all the work I just did after I find out that there is no pay off and I simply say, “all for nothing.”

alanmarsee
alanmarsee
4 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I think there are many levels of emotions associated with “all for nothing.” From minor irritations to down and out.

aoind
aoind
4 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

We often say “nothing to show for it”, as in “all that effort and nothing to show for it”. Also variations on “waste of time/money/energy/resources”, like “it was all a big fat waste of time”.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

In English, we often say something like, “After expenses, there was nothing left.” But this refers to money and not quite what you were talking about. Just thought I’d throw this in there.

Antonio
Antonio
4 years ago

I would like to earnestly extend my heartfelt gratitude to all the people who have contributed to the subsidy of memberships to those who may not afford it at the moment, such as inhabitants of countries wherein the acquisition of foreign currency is increasingly onerous and exorbitant. As soon as an opportunity to do so emerges, I plan to donate and thereby contribute to the continuance of such a virtuous and sympathetic purpose. I would have not concluded this comment without having expressed my indebtedness to Mr. Schuchart for everything! Saying thank you hardly suffices after all what you do.

Herzlichen Dank nochmal,

Antonio

RuthE
RuthE
4 years ago

Vielen Dank um auf noch einen falschen Freund hinzuweisen. Selbst wenn ich mich nicht erinnere, zumindest geht meine Warnglocke aus. (I couldn’t decide whether to use um or auf, so I used both for fun.)

Bezüglich “entrée for main course? Is that on purpose to tease the French?” :-D Ja, es ist Mehrzweck! Aber es ist doch keine dumm Amerikaner Verwendung. Ich habe hier eine Erklärung gefunden: https://www.casaschools.com/why-americans-say-entree-for-main-course/ Eine weitere Diskussion geht hier: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/101852/why-is-a-meals-main-course-referred-to-as-entree

alanmarsee
alanmarsee
4 years ago
Reply to  RuthE

Thanks for this info. I’m a history nerd and I found it very interesting.

RuthE
RuthE
4 years ago
Reply to  alanmarsee

You are quite welcome, fellow history nerd! :-D

aoind
aoind
4 years ago
Reply to  RuthE

Obwohl er zufrieden sein mag, Ihren hilfreichen Artikel zu lesen, dürfte ein Französischer noch in einem amerikanischen Restaurant geärgert werden, wenn er ein “French dip sandwich served “with au jus“” bestellen würde.

RuthE
RuthE
4 years ago
Reply to  aoind

Ich finde es mehr als eine Quelle der Belustigung. Unfähiges Marketing, das nicht auf Englisch beschränkt ist. :-)