I suppose we’ve all heard about the man sitting in a restaurant and asking the waiter “Can I become a beefsteak?” And of course you’d never say that, would you? Would you??!!

Become means werden, of course, and not bekommen. It’s a false friend. And there are many others out there waiting to trip you up – leading to puzzled looks (or big smiles) from native speakers.

Test yourself

Here’s a chance to see how good your knowledge of false friends is. In each of the following sentences, one word is wrong. Find it and replace it with a better one.

  1. She was upset by her boss’s critic.
  2. Can you write your name on the backside, please?
  3. I need a beamer for my presentation.
  4. Can you send me the actual version of the report, please?
  5. We don’t send gifts to our customers at Christmas, we spend money to charity instead.

Check your answers

Here are my suggestions – others are possible too, of course – and the explanations:

She was upset by her boss’s criticism.
critic = Kritiker                                         Kritik = criticism

Can you write your name on the back, please?
backside = Po                                            Rückseite = back (e.g. of
a sheet of paper)

I need a projector for my presentation.
Beemer = slang for BMW                        Beamer = projector

Can you send me the current version of the report, please?
actual = tatsächlich                                  aktuell = current

We don’t send gifts to our customers at Christmas, we donate money to charity instead.
spend = (Zeit) verbringen,                      spenden = donate
(Geld) ausgeben

How did you do?

Perhaps you’d like to share a funny or embarrassing situation in which you were caught out by a false friend. I’d love to hear about it!

 

Porträt Nicola Bartlett
Nicola Bartlett
I’ve been an English trainer for over 25 years, helping adults to get their message across in English – clearly and appropriately. Successful communication in English requires more than just a good knowledge of the language. An understanding of different mentalities and a feeling for the best approach are vital, too.