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English and German Are Estranged Sister Languages- Interesting Facts About The German Language

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

In this blog series, I will post interesting facts about the German language. In the first part, I explained why German is a more important language than many people would assume. Today, I will tell you why English and German are like estranged sisters.


Sister languages, also known as cognate languages, are languages that descend from a common ancestral root ("proto language"). English and German form part of the West Germanic languages. As such, they share approximately 60% of their vocabulary, that is, the majority of words are similar in both languages. Let’s look at some examples.


Mutter- mother

Vater- father

Bruder- brother

Sohn-son

Tochter- daughter

Onkel- uncle

Familie- family


However, there are a lot of so-called false cognates in English and German, so words that look and sound the same but have totally different meanings.


Gift- poison (rather than present)

Chef- boss (rather than cook)

brav- well-behaved (rather than courageous)

Become- to get (rather than to become)

Spenden- to donate (rather than to spend)

Schmuck- jewellery (rather than the swear word)

Meinung- opinion (rather than meaning)


Looking beyond vocabulary, certain sentence structures and grammatical patterns are also similar between the two, such as similar stem changes in the past tense, the retention of the genitive case in English, the word order in indirect questions etc. However, most of English grammar is a heavily simplified version of German grammar. It doesn’t have grammatical genders and it doesn’t follow a strict case system anymore. This makes it more challenging to learn for English native speakers than it is for Germans to study English. Fortunately, German grammar is quite logical and can be learned with the right tutor.



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