I study chemical engineering at my university in Brazil and I started a German course not long ago. I was wondering if the German scientific terms from chemistry, physics and math follow a pattern as it does in English. That's because I've got to look for English books, papers and articles all the time (there aren't as many in Portuguese and sometimes the translations aren't as precise as I need it to be). The last terms I searched were (all from organic chemistry) :


resonance effect

inductive effect

I'd also like to apologize in advance if I'm posting this in the wrong place and ask where the best place would be.

Edit: the pattern I refered to is that most scientific words in English are similar to the Portuguese ones, probably because the words come from Latin. Here are some translations:

Hyperconjugation = hiperconjugação

resonance effect = efeito de ressonância

inductive effect = efeito de indução

There are other words such as

derivative = derivada

chain rule = Regra da cadeia

These are very intuitive translations and I'd like to know if the same occurs when I translate English scientific language to German.

  • 4
    Welcome. What's exactly the question? You claim to have detected a pattern in scientific English. Which is that pattern?
    – c.p.
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 18:15
  • 1
    @c.p. I liked your Stickstoff example: the English (nitrogen) and French (azote) terms derive from two different Greek roots.
    – Jan
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 21:57
  • Thank you guys. Guess this will make the learning process more interesting now.
    – vribish
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 22:11
  • li.hamburg.de/contentblob/3850454/…
    – äüö
    Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 13:29
  • chain rule = Kettenregel. You'll also find no difficulties with Adiabate, Isochore, Isotherme, Isobare, or an Isosbestischer Punkt (Spektroskopie), nor with Absorption vs. Adsorption. In my experience, glassware terms differ more. Flask = Kolben (though I expect flask to be related to Flasche = bottle), funnel = Trichter, and I have no idea how KPG-Rührer are called in English..., Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 1:41

4 Answers 4


Where the words used derive from their Latin or Greek technical terms, most are very similar to identical.

However, you need to be careful of specific differences. For example elements can be named differently (sodium versus Natrium). And also, sometimes there is a pair whereof the English name derives from Latin while the German name doesn’t (acetic acid and Essigsäure). Or, since you specifically listed that: derivative is often Ableitung in German; a native German word rather than a Latin-derived one. One particularly terrible one is nitrogen where the German term is Stickstoff — but the French one is azote which derives from a different Greek term than the English one!

  • But the chemical derivative is Derivat in German. Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 0:47
  • ... and the salts of Essigsäure are Acetate. French azote is related to the Azogruppe. And the companion of sodium is potassium = Kalium with Kaliumcarbonat = Pottasche. Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 0:59
  • @cbeleites Yes, but that all just reinforces the point of having to know things and having to be careful.
    – Jan
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 22:11
  • 1
    There are very few false friends in these lists. Which means that if you have very good knowledge of one language but not the other, you'll be able to make quite good guesses. And it will allow you to communicate surprisingly well because you can guess what terms mean and even if you "derive" a term that happens to have a different name there's a decent chance colleagues will understand you (and anyways ask back): "Acetische Säure" would be wrong but understandable. My Italian is bad, and I worked there "in English" but it was easier to follow seminar talks than everyday conversation. Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 13:43

You have to look up every single term.

In the 19th century effects have been often named after their discoverers, even if the discoverer himself had another idea. For example Röntgen's X-Strahlen are X-rays in English, a literal translation, while in German they are named Röntgenstrahlen, and no one knows what X-Strahlen should mean.

As you asked about chemistry, for example a lot of minerals have completely different names in English. Plus, the international nomenclature follows the German Strunz systematic while the Anglo-American Dana systematic is also widely used. So you have to lookup both.

Trivial names of substances also differ a lot.

EDIT: After you clarified your question, I looked up inductive effect and found it's called Induktiver Effekt in German, while resonance effect is called Mesomerie in German. So the statement is still valid: you have to lookup every term.

  • Mesomerer Effekt. Mesomerie ist zwar ähnlich, aber nicht identisch.
    – Jan
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 22:39
  • Ich hab nur LK-Kenntnisse in Chemie.
    – Janka
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 22:41
  • @Janka what would a LK-Kenntnisse be?
    – vribish
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 23:14
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    LK is short for "Leistungskurs" meaning you have 5 hours of the subject per week in 12th and 13th school year and a 6 hour school exit exam on it. That makes you no chemist but may prove an initial interest in the subject.
    – Janka
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 1:09
  • "Trivial names of substances also differ a lot." - somewhat related, there seems to be a certain tendency to use words with Latin or Greek roots also in everyday English for medical concepts. Possibly, something similar happens with respect to other scientific topics. Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 9:55

I can only speak about German/English but would expect that similar rules apply to Portuguese as well. From my experience as a physicist, terms that derive from recent (from 2nd half of 20th century onwards) are more often than not the same or direct translation s of an English term since most research/publications are in English.

On the other hand commonly used terms like common elements (Natrium/sodium...) tend to be very different. More obscure elements on the other hand can have the same name.

At some point (early 20th c.) German was a major language of science, so there might even be some German origin words like eigen, x-Strahlen...

  • 1
    What are "x-Strahlen"? X-Ray?
    – Iris
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 13:15
  • 1
    Yes, that's how they were originally called by Mr. Röntgen. Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 15:22
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    Example of possibly back-and-forth translations: Extinktion -> absorbance -> Absorbanz. Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 1:33
  • Natrium/sodium and Kalium/Potassium: K2CO3 = Pottasche. But careful: in German Na2CO3 * 10 H2O = Soda, NaHCO3 = Natron. Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 1:33

There is also some overlap in the other direction, i.e. because German terms were installed in English:

Zitterbewegung (coined by Schrödinger), Bremsstrahung (breaking radiation), Nullstellensatz (Hilbert's pivotal algebraic geometry theorem), Eigenvalues and Eigenvectors, (un)gerade wave functions (only in chemistry, though), and general common procedures like Gedankenexperiment (thought experiment) and Ansatz (educated guess)

are used in English but are German words. I'm sure the list is far larger.

  • see e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. AFAIK gerade/ungerade in English is restricted to wave functions/quantum chemistry/physics, "normal" functions are odd/even (of course, in German all kinds of functions can be gerade or ungerade). They are all examples of @user1583209's German was major language of science in the early 20th century. Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 10:33

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