The two seem to have pretty different meanings, one meaning a mistake and the other meaning an order. The usual "be- as transitive marker" explanation doesn't really seem to help here either. What could be going on?

  • 2
    keep it simple and ask what's happening with the verbs befehlen and fehlen. I don't think you need to go to the substantives.
    – c.p.
    Jun 3, 2014 at 16:04
  • @c.p. what would be the difference if we were checking the relationship between the verbs or the substantives? also, the meaning is a different one :(
    – Vogel612
    Jun 3, 2014 at 16:14
  • @Vogel612 oh, there is a difference: the prefix be- making some verbs transitive (which is what the OP supposes as an inconsistency or strange case or whatever) is, well, precisely for verbs.
    – c.p.
    Jun 3, 2014 at 19:15
  • Usually it's a mistake to follow orders ;) .. sorry, had to
    – user6485
    Jun 3, 2014 at 21:32

3 Answers 3


According to the respective DWDS-articles for fehlen und befehlen, both word have no common etymology.

befehlen is derived from Old High German bifelahan (to entrust, to bury).

fehlen is derived from Middle High German vælen (to miss, to fail), which is a loanword from Old French falir (to miss, to fail, to be amiss).

They only look similar because of phonetic developments and standardization of German.


No, there isn't any relationship.

  • 2
    Welcome to German Language! while your answer may be correct it would really be nice if you could add some more explanation on why that is the case.
    – Vogel612
    Jun 3, 2014 at 16:12

Befehl means Command; Fehler means Error. Except both words are German and norm, I'm afraid there is no any other obvious similarity.

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