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Eight of the most common (and funniest) mistakes German learners make

Sarah Magill
Sarah Magill - [email protected]
Eight of the most common (and funniest) mistakes German learners make
A dispenser for 'Leitungswasser' in Cologne in summer 2019. Photo: DPA

The German language is filled with false friends and words that sound dangerously close to something else with a completely different meaning. Here are some of the most common mistakes non-native speakers make.


Let’s face it, German is not an easy language to master. Most of us who have made Germany our home and managed to get to grips with the language have unwittingly made fools of ourselves along the way by making ridiculous-sounding errors to native speakers.

Here are some of the best mistakes I have heard, been told of and made myself.


Ich will, ich werde

Another common pitfall for native English speakers, is using the word will instead of werde thanks to the falscher Freund (false friend) that is will

READ ALSO: The 10 false friends English and German speakers keep muddling up


In German, ich will means "I want", whereas ich werde means "I am going to". This mix up can lead to a lot of confusion, especially when it comes to making plans. 

The only tip I can give is to try to think of the word will in German meaning “I have the will” 

Leistungswasser or Leitungswasser?

Asking for tap water can be a bit awkward at the best of times, so it doesn’t help if you throw a confusing mispronunciation into the mix. 

The German word for tap water is Leitungswasser meaning water from the Leitung (pipeline). If you insert an “s” into the word, you are creating a brand-new German word, which translates into English as “performance water.” 

It may not be correct but it could certainly be a great name for an energy drink, right?

Trying to speak German can be thirsty work. Photo: DPA

Ich bin heiß

For native English speakers, this is a mistake which comes naturally, as it is a literal translation of how we would say “I am hot.”

If you say this to a German, however, you may find the conversation taking a risqué turn, as you will have in fact told them that you’re horny. 

Heiß is however, one of the adjectives which are used with the dative mir (others examples are “kalt - "cold", langweilig - "boring", peinlich - "embarrassing"). 

So make sure you say mir ist heiß instead.

Versorgt or besorgt?

This is a tricky one which I have seen trip up many competent German language-speakers, much to the hilarity of the natives. 

The problem is, that in the infinitive, the verbs versorgen and besorgen have very similar meanings: besorgen is to obtain, or to provide, versorgen is to provide for, to tend to. 

But the past participle is a different story, if you want to say “I am well taken care of/I have everything I need” the correct word is versorgt. If you choose besorgt then you are saying “I am worried”.

An example of how this mistake typically arises in an exchange like this:


“Hast du alles, was du brauchst?“

Do you have everything you need?

"Ja, ich bin besorgt, danke.“

Yes, I’m worried, thank you.

Don't ask for financial advice in a bike shop. Photo: DPA

Pleiter Reifen?

If you turn up to your local bicycle repair shop and declare “meiner Reifen ist pleiter”, as a friend of mine once did, expect confusion. What you will be telling them is that your wheel is bankrupt. 

What you need to say is “ich habe einen platten Reifen” – using the word platt meaning “flat”, as most bike shops won’t be able to help you with matters of financial insolvency. 

schwül oder schwul

Watch out for this one. A failure to pronounce your ü umlaut correctly will have you calling weather homosexual (schwul) when you want to say it’s humid (schwül). 

READ ALSO: Funniest mistakes that Germans make in English



Entspannt or gespannt

This is another case where two German words with the same Stamm (stem) alter the meaning of the word significantly.

A common phrase in German is “ich bin gespannt“, which is a way of saying “I’m curious” or “I’m looking forward to it”. This is a common and polite way to round off a conversation about a planned date or announcement. 

However, if you say instead “Ich bin entspannt” (relaxed) it may sound like you’re not that interested. 

Mixing up trays and tablets can become a problem. Photo: DPA

Tabletten, Tabletts

Another friend of mine, whilst working as a waiter, once loudly asked a colleague in a packed restaurant:

“Wo sind die Tabletten?” 

The German customers must have thought that he was suffering from a bad headache.

What he meant however, was to ask where the trays were. These words are almost identical – a tablet or pill in German is die Tablette and the plural is die Tabletten. A tray, on the other hand, is das Tablet (plural die Tablets). Oops.


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Alex 2023/05/25 18:22
Re, 'ich will', I was told that 'ich mochte' is the more adult way of saying you'd like something. Ich will is more what children say.
lyssa77 2022/11/09 13:38
For humid I usually say dampf to avoid a difficult mispronunciation.
[email protected] 2020/10/20 20:39
Interested to see this list as most of the examples are ones I used to use when teaching German to teenagers!
[email protected] 2020/06/07 16:53
I find that about six times out of ten, Germanifying or even just inserting an English word will get you understood, but don't try this with the English word 'gift'as in Germany if you say you're going to give someone this, they may call the police. (Das Gift=poison)
[email protected] 2020/06/02 14:57
My favourite is "Ich bin gefüllte" which doesn't have the same meaning in German... in fact I'm not sure what it makes a native German speaker think! In English "I'm stuffed" is pretty clear... just not like a stuffed pizza apparently!

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