False Friends (wollen vs. werden vs. bekommen) — Or why Germans become hot dogs

Screen Shot 2011 04 10 At 19 07 52

False Friends (wollen vs. werden vs. bekommen) — Or why Germans become hot dogs

If there is one caveat that most people hear when learning a second language, it is to be aware of false friends. English and German are full of these false friends. I’m not going to get into all of them of even very many but there are three that you need to be careful of and they are all verbs: werden (to become), wollen (to want), bekommen (to get).

A) Werden is often used for the future tense, that is built similarly to the will-future form in English. The confusion comes from the conjugation of wollen though, which looks like the English will. Wollen means “to want” though. Let’s compare.

You can avoid this mistake easily if you build the future form with the present simple plus when.


  1. Nächste Woche werde ich fach Berlin fahren.
  2. Nächste Woche fahre ich nach Berlin.
  • I’m going to Berlin next week.
  1. Meine Schwester wird am 9. November in Kuba heiraten.
  2. Meine Schwester heiratet am 9. November in Kuba.
  • My sister is getting married in Cuba on November 9th.
  1. Am 14. und 15. Mai wird Stilrad am Kreislauf 4+5 teilnehmen.
  2. Am 14. und 15. Mai nimmt Stilrad am Kreislauf 4+5 teil.
  • Stilrad will participate in the Kreislauf 4+5 on May 14th and 15th.

B) Bekommen looks and sounds like the English word become. But it means to get. This causes problems for Germans and English speakers alike. How often have German speakers turned into something. For their part though English speakers often get things they should be turning into. Unlike with the werden/wollen there is no easy way to avoid having to use this verb.


Ende Woche bekomme ich mein neues Fahrrad.

  • I’m getting my new bike at the end of the week.

Hanspeter bekommt Briefe von seiner Frau per Post.

  • Hanspeter gets letters from his wife with the post.

Bei Marathon Sprachen bekommt man personalisierten Sprachunterricht.

  • One gets personalized language instruction at Marathon Sprachen.

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