Picture the following situation:
Maria walks up to the coffee machine where her colleague Gabi is standing with the new Italian Sales Manager, Stefano. Gabi makes the introductions. And Maria says “Yes, we met on the floor yesterday.” Stefano looks confused and a bit embarrassed. Gabi grins and says “I think you mean you met in the corridor.”

She’s right, of course, the English word floor (Fußboden, Stockwerk) and the German Flur (corridor) are false friends – words which look or sound alike, but have different meanings.  

I’ve written about false friends before in Don’t call it a beamer! and Can I become a beefsteak?  This post looks at a few more that I hear fairly regularly. Test yourself and see whether they’re mistakes you’d make.


Over to you

In each of the sentences below there’s a false friend. Try to find it and replace it with the correct word.

In a meeting: Who’s responsible for writing the protocol this time?

I think you’ve overseen a  mistake in the third line. 

If you’re training a puppy you have to be very consequent.

It’s no good being too sensible in her job. She’ll have to toughen up a bit.

I’ve finished the report. Could you just control the figures for me?


How did you do? 

Here are my suggestions for replacing the false friends – there are often other possibilities too, of course – and some explanations:

In a meeting: Who’s responsible for writing the minutes this time?

Protokoll = minutes
protocol = Protokoll in the sense of a system of rules (What’s the protocol for royal visits?) or an international agreement.


I think you’ve overlooked a  mistake in the third line.

übersehen = overlook
oversee = beaufsichtigen, überwachen oder leiten (e.g. Who’s responsible for overseeing this project?)


If you’re training a puppy you have to be very consistent. 

konsequent = consistent
consequent  = daraus resultierend   (e.g. The problem is number of cars in the inner cities and the consequent pollution.)


It’s no good being too sensitive in her job, so she’ll need to toughen up a bit.

sensibel = sensitive
sensible = vernünftig (e.g. I’m sure he can make the journey alone. He may only be 12, but he’s very sensible.)


I’ve finished the report. Could you just check the figures for me?

This one’s a little trickier.
kontrollieren (prüfen) = check
If kontrollieren is used to mean beherrschen, regeln, steuern it is often possible to translate it as control (e.g. She was so angry, she could hardly control herself.)


As you may have guessed from the title, my favourite false friends have to be eagle and Igel. Eddie the Igel – what a great name for a British skier!



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. » more