A list of false friends: Why Denglisch is not the way to go

Handy shortcuts for translating

During the translation process, I find it very helpful to look out for so-called “false friends”. False friends are words, phrases or idioms that you might be tempted to translate literally, even though the literal translation is not 100 % accurate or even misleading. At the very least, this can lead to “Denglisch”, a confusing mixture of German words and English grammar or style. In order to avoid this, it is crucial to identify false friends. In this blog post I have compiled a list which will help you distinguish between English and German phrases easily.

In another blog post I describe my encounter with a “false friend” in a novel and why it completely changed the meaning of a scene.

Not every use of Denglisch is wrong, some uses are simply considered less common and might sound unusual to your readers. Some forms are increasingly common (e. g. translating “I think” as “ich denke”), so it really is up to you as a translator to decide which form to use.

You will find that in many cases there is no right or wrong, but when in doubt go with the version that sounds the most natural.

I thinkich denkeIch glaube
with all due respectbei allem gebotenen RespektMit Verlaub
to have a pointeinen Punkt habenda ist etwas Wahres dran/gutes Argument
in terrorin Schreckenschreckerfüllt/schreckerstarrt
in 1870in 18701870/im Jahr 1870
in the general directionin die generelle Richtungungefähr in die Richtung
to overhear somethingetwas überhörenetwas belauschen
sharp looksscharfes Aussehenelegantes Aussehen/geschniegelt und gebügelt aussehen
to eye someonejemanden beäugenjemanden mustern
to bet the farmdie Farm verwettenalles auf eine Sache setzen
that’s torn itdas hat es zerrissendas hat es verdorben