10 common Germanisms you should avoid when writing in English

German is a wonderful language. In fact, it is so wonderful that many Germans still try to use German grammatical patterns when writing in English! This makes your text look like, written by…umm…a German. And since you would like to qualify as a perfect English speaker/writer, we suggest you avoid these 10 common ‘Germanisms’:

Avoid these errors and pretend to be a native user of English

German & UK Flags (German English languages translation jigsaw)

  1. Capital problem: A common Germanism is the random use of upper case or capital letters in nouns. In English, only proper nouns are written in upper case (Tom, Hamburg, Kodak), but not common or abstract nouns (school, potato, freedom).
  2. Separable verbs: Unlike German, English does not have separable verbs and this fact creates a lot of problems. Example: He ran away from home [English] —> He ran from home away [German-influenced English]. Besides, it is a mistake to write ‘run away’, ‘throw away’, etc. as ‘awayrun’, ‘awaythrow’ (‘weglaufen’, ‘wegwerfen’).
  3. Comma (,) vs decimal point (.): In English-speaking countries, a full stop or period is used as the decimal mark (123.45), while a comma (,) is used to group digits (12,345). This system is the opposite of the Continental convention. As a result, German writers often use a full stop (aka period) to group digits (12.345), and employ the comma as the decimal mark (123,45).
  4. Words running into each other: Really long words packing in a lot of complex meaning are a common feature of the German language. This is often reflected when German-speaking writers translate such words into English. An example could be translating ‘Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften’ as ‘insurance-companies-providing-legal-protection’.
  5. ‘-sh’/’-sch’ confusion: The -sh ending in certain words often becomes -sch, turning ‘English’ into ‘Englisch’, ‘fish’ into ‘fisch’, or ‘foolish’ into ‘foolisch’.
  6. ‘c’/’k’ confusion: Many Germans confuse English ‘c’ with German ‘k’, thus spelling ‘doctor’ as ‘doktor’, or ‘coffee’ as ‘koffee’.
  7. Hyphen: German speakers seem to have a thing for the punctuation mark known as ‘hyphen’. In technical papers, words such as ‘SWOT analysis’, ‘Likert scale’, etc. are often (mistakenly) written as ‘SWOT-analysis’, ‘Likert-scale’, etc.
  8. Using progressive (or continuous) tense: It is an error to use the -ing form of a verb to mean simple past or present tense. Example: According to Wikipedia, the city of Hamburg is having a population of 1.751.775 (Incorrect). cf. According to Wikipedia, the city of Hamburg has a population of 1,751,775 (Correct).
  9. Preposition: English nouns, unlike their German equivalents, are not very inclusive—often they need prepositions to be meaningful. Thus, writing ‘I go to the movies Sundays’ would be grammatically incorrect. cf. ‘I go to the movies on Sundays’ (Correct).
  10. ‘and’ vs ‘und’: No discussion of Germanized English is complete without reference to the ‘and’/’und’ mix-up. This common habit-formed confusion stems from the phonetic (i.e. sound-related) and graphical (i.e. visual) approximation of the two words.

A correction by a foreigner helps to avoid Germanisms

To be honest, spotting these errors might be difficult for you, simply because you’re used to them and might not recognize them as errors in the first place. A solution could be to get your paper read by a foreign but English-educated person who has no knowledge of German—or better still, you send us your paper and we edit it for you. We’ll make sure that your academic paper is free of those little—sometimes embarrassing—Germanisms.

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  • German & UK Flags (German English languages translation jigsaw): treenabeena - Fotolia.com

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