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

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.

The German words we use every day - that are actually French
Sanssouci palace in Potsdam. Photo: DPA


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

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Six German expressions to entice your Wanderlust

The German word 'Wanderlust' means "the desire to travel" and is used even in other languages. Here are some of the other words commonly used in Germany to describe the nation's love affair with travelling.

Six German expressions to entice your Wanderlust

Germans are very connected to nature and a lot of the activities they routinely do, even in winter, involve staying outdoors. So it’s no wonder the language also reflects that passion for walking, travelling, and spending time in nature.

Some of the German words that are most famous to speakers of other languages reference this passion. Perhaps most notably, the term “Wanderlust” which has made its way to other dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster, with the definition “a strong longing for or impulse toward wandering”.

The word is composed of “wandern“, which means to hike or roam about and “lust“, meaning “pleasure or delight”.

READ ALSO: Holiday like a local: Five of the best camping regions in Germany

This is not the only unique expression the German language has related to travelling. Another of the hard to translate ones is “Fernweh“. It comes from “fern“, meaning “far”, and “Weh“, meaning “pain”. It is used to describe the longing for far-off places – in contrast to “Heimweh”, a feeling many immigrants might be very attuned to and could be translated to homesickness.

The German language also has several interesting and even funny expressions for walkers and travellers alike. The Local talked with German teacher and travel enthusiast Lutz Michaelis to collect a few of the best expressions.

“So weit dich deine/mich meine Füße tragen”

It literally means “as far as my feet will take me” (or alternatively, “as far as your feet will take you”). It is often said as an answer to the question, “where are you going?”.

READ ALSO: Waldeinsamkeit: Five of the best forest walks around Berlin

“Die Sieben-Meilen-Stiefel anhaben”

“To wear the seven-league boots”. This means being able to walk long distances fast. Lutz explains that it was actually based on a trope in French mythology, in which magical boots could help the wearer cover long distances in a short amount of time. Having been used in The Little Thumb by Charles Perrault, the term was brought into the German language by writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

“Wer rastet, der rostet”

The translation would be “he who rests, rusts”. It is used in the German language to say that being in motion is a good thing, not only with travelling but also to incentivise people to keep learning new things.

“Das Reisen kost’t Geld, Doch sieht man die Welt.”

It’s a very common rhyme used to show the downsides and benefits of travelling: “travelling costs money, but one sees the world”.

“Reisende soll man nicht aufhalten.”

It literally means that “travellers shouldn’t be stopped”. However, Lutz explains that the expression is not only used to refer to travellers but also to anyone that might be going through a transitional situation – such as someone wanting to change their jobs, for example.

Rhododendren park Bremen

Rhododendrons bloom in the Rhododendron Park in Bremen. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

“der Weg ist das Ziel.”

One of the most beautiful ones, and many languages have their own version of it. It translates to “the road is the destination”.

Of course, coming back home, especially for those suffering from Heimweh, can also be something beautiful. One common saying is “Wiedersehen macht Freude“, which means that to meet again brings happiness, used among those looking forward to seeing someone again after a long trip.

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

And one more…

In Germany, there is a common joke about finding German people abroad. The rhyme goes “Hüte dich vor Sturm und Wind, und Deutschen, die im Ausland sind“, which could be translated as “Be on your guard for storm and wind, and Germans in a foreign land”.

“It refers both to the bad behaviour of Germans on holidays or travels and a dark joke and a funny nod to the fact that German troops have invaded other countries”, Lutz, who is a German himself, explains.