The German words we use every day - that are actually French

Jörg Luyken
Jörg Luyken - [email protected]
The German words we use every day - that are actually French
Sanssouci palace in Potsdam. Photo: DPA

Long before German became “Denglished”, it was en vogue to sprinkle one’s German with un peu français. In fact we still use French while speaking German every day without realizing it.



This is perhaps the most obvious Gallicism on the list - but it is a pretty absurd one when you think about it. Every time we order our Currywurst mit Pommes, we are actually asking for apples.

Pommes comes from the French pomme de terre, meaning potato. But since that literally means “apples of the ground”, ordering just Pommes means you are asking for apples - which must be hilarious for the French.


Photo: DPA

This is another one that must have the French scratching their heads. Although Friseur, meaning hairdresser, comes from the French, there is actually no directly equivalent word in the Gallic tongue. It is derived from the word friser, meaning to curl, which is rather more than the one expects when one pays €10 for the biannual barber's visit.

Why Germans didn’t just directly take the French word coiffeur, we don’t know.


You probably aren’t so familiar with this word for pavement if you live in the north of Germany. But in states near the border to France, such as Baden-Württemberg, it is still commonly preferred over the German Bürgersteig, which (let’s face it) is much less pleasing to say.


This is another one that has to do with the infrastructure of a city, and again it is more common in the south of Germany than the north. If you live in Munich you have surely come across streets like Amalienpassage. And even in Berlin, many people are no doubt familiar with the Passage Kino.

Well, this is just another word pinched from those suave Frenchies. Not that we would do something like that in English…


Photo: DPA

While the word Geldbeutel is very commonly used, it is also far from unusual to see a German frantically checking their pockets and muttering to themselves “Mist! Ich habe mein Portemonnaie verloren.”

This word for wallet is another Gallicism and is written Porte-monnaie in the original.


The great advantage for English speakers about the prevalence of French words in German, is that they often give us an easier alternative to remember.

Can’t make Gelegenheit stick in your head? No worries, thanks to French, Chance is a perfectly normal German word. And is Gleichgewicht just too long to memorize? Go for Balance instead, but remember to give the pronunciation a French twist.


Photo: DPA

The beautiful palace of Sanssouci in Potsdam is one of Germany’s most famous tourist attractions. Ironically, though, the name is very French. The palace was built by Frederick the Great in 1745 and was supposed to be his retreat from the hectic life in Berlin. That’s why he named it “worry-free” or sans souci in French.


It makes sense that a word that conjures up images of sophisticated evening soirees, where arriving guests are directed to the Garderobe comes from the land of the Belle Époque.

The German word for wardrobe or coat room is often a bit more humdrum in its everyday use these days, though. You are most likely to use it after entering a museum or a nightclub when you need a place to put your coat.

It comes from the French words garde (safe-keeping) and robe (dress).


This is a word that Germans often use when they want to change the subject but pretend they are talking about them same thing.

Imagine you still haven’t paid back that €50 you owe your friend. You are telling her how you needed five cups of coffee to stay awake today, when she replies: “Apropos der Zahl fünf, du schuldest mir immer noch €50”.

But because she used a French word, she can get away with such an indiscreet reminder of your tardiness.


Whenever you buy an Abo to ride of the U-Bahn for a year or for unlimited access to city museums, you are actually using a French word. Abo is short for the word Abonnement, which comes from French and means subscription.

If you are a language purist, you could always use the German word Bestellung instead.

SEE ALSO: 10 German words becoming extinct thanks to English


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