German Language Stack Exchange is a bilingual question and answer site for speakers of all levels who want to share and increase their knowledge of the German language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I've recently encountered the verb "bekommen", which, to my surprise, is not "to become" but "to receive". This is one example of a false friend English/German. One other, more evident example is also, which does not correspond to the English "also" at all.

Apart from those (unsatisfactory) lists of false friends you can easily find on the Internet, like the one in,

do you know better references? And, more importantly, what is the reason behind such a phenomenon in two strictly related languages?

share|improve this question

closed as too broad by Emanuel, Vogel612, Em1, Baz, unor Jul 6 '13 at 14:46

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

In the end, every word has its own history and you had to look at every word to figure out why they mean something different. For some words you still find the same definition in both languages but it's archaic for one of them (e.g. ordinär/ordinary). Other words just happen to be spelled or pronounced the same (yes, there are also words which are false friends in spoken language only). And there are words which are sometimes false friends, and sometimes not. Depending on context (e.g. critical, comfortable) – Em1 Jul 1 '13 at 19:42
Actually in 1831 there was a conference in which they agreed, among other things, on a list of words which should not be directly translatable so as to make it more confusing for the then dominant French to learn the other language. Before that conference, all the words meant exactly the same. – Emanuel Jul 2 '13 at 10:23
What was the name of this conference/some reference? – martina Jul 2 '13 at 10:53
@Emanuel: I've never heard of such a conference. Could you please provide some reference? – Johannes Kloos Jul 5 '13 at 21:36
Wenn man nur die Frage im Titel liest, wäre 1966 Fussballweltmeisterschaftsfinale keine total falsche Antwort :) – c.p. Jul 20 '13 at 18:16
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Languages develop. During the middle ages, when the European languages developed into a relatively stable state, most people had a small area of influence with little contact to outside of this area. Consequently, the languages German and English developed independantly grom one another. (Some details below.)

If you take the words become and bekommen: Both derive from the same Germanic root biquomen, which was a prefix-root-combination itself meaning to come about/around. In English the meaning developed into become probably, because one had to come around in order to learn a profession. In German the meaning developed into receive probably, because one had to come around in order to get special objects. (Personal guessing)

Details on the development: English and modern German developed out of Low German, which was spoken by the people around the cost of Germany and the Netherlands. English developed, when these people got to England and came in contact with Norman French and the Viking language. Modern German developed, when these people moved further south (away from the coast line) and came in contact with other Germanic languages. So, when Old English and Old High German started developing into Modern English and Modern German, both languages had nearly no contact at all.

share|improve this answer
Ab der Mitte (Bedeutungsentwicklung bekomm/bekommen) wird es schräg. Wanderung von der Küste bis in die Schweiz nach der Besiedlung Englands? – chirlu Jul 1 '13 at 20:03
@chirlu Nein, nicht nacheinander. Ziemlich zeitgleich von verschiedenen Gruppen durchgeführt. Die Wikipedia nennt 7. Jhd bis 12. Jhd für die Entstehung des Altenglischen und 8. Jhd bis 11. Jhd für die das Althochdeutsche (jeweils Schriftsprache). – Toscho Jul 1 '13 at 22:27

Additionally (to Toscho's answer), sometimes loanwords are used in a different range of the meaning of the original word. Compare for instance Butterbrot (Brot mit Butter geschmiert) vs. бутербро́д (Ru., belegtes Brot) or Handy (mobile phone) vs. handy (geschickt, griffig).

share|improve this answer
Damit hast du natürlich Recht. Die modernen False Friends habe ich verdrängt. – Toscho Jul 2 '13 at 8:30
Rückkopplungen sind auch noch möglich, wie Sinn machen, wo's dann wieder zusammenläuft. Ich hoffe, bei bekommen passiert das mal nicht. – äüö Jul 2 '13 at 9:30

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.