Germanic Words in English: A Study of Lasting Linguistic Influences

Ellison Clapton6 min
Created: Jul 4, 2023Last updated: Feb 13, 2024
Germanic Words in English

If you’ve ever pondered the eclectic nature of English, you may be surprised to discover its intricate relationship with German. This intertwining of linguistic paths results from shared roots and historical encounters, leading to many German words in English. From everyday conversation to scientific terminologies, these loanwords enrich the vocabulary with unique meanings and nuances. Read on to explore the fusion of languages and uncover this integral part of our daily lexicon.

Historical Context: Why Do We Have Germanic Words in English?

Languages evolve, adapting and borrowing from one another. It shows how cultures have mixed through history, trade, migration, or even war. The English language, in particular, is a beautiful mix of influences from different tongues. Among these, the German language holds a notable position. But why do we find Germanic words so firmly embedded in English? To understand it, we must travel back to both languages’ roots. 

English and German are part of the same family tree – the Germanic languages originated in the tribes living in Scandinavia and Germany around 500 BCE. These tribes migrated, bringing their language, which branched out into different Germanic dialects, including Old English and Old High German. Hence, the English language shares significant vocabulary and grammatical features with German due to these common ancestral ties.

Furthermore, history has witnessed numerous instances of English and German paths intersecting. In the 5th and 6th centuries, Germanic tribes such as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes invaded Britain. Their dialects amalgamated to form Old English, the precursor to today’s English. Thus, Germanic words in English back to these historical migrations.

In recent history, increased global mobility, trade, cultural exchange, and scientific advancements have also contributed to the proliferation of Germanic words in English, especially in specialized fields such as medicine and engineering. German words that sound like English have been adopted to express concepts or describe objects without an exact equivalent.

So the influence of German on English is not arbitrary but rather a reflection of their shared roots and the interweaving of cultures and histories. These linguistic imprints provide a fascinating insight into the dynamic nature of languages and their evolution over time.

English Words that Come from German: A Look at the Familiar Terms

German terms have effortlessly made their way into our daily vocabulary, covering many areas, from our dining table to intricate psychological concepts. With a closer look, we can unravel their German roots and appreciate the diverse influences shaping the language we speak and learn daily. Here’s the list of German words that are used in English:

  • Kindergarten [ˈkɪndərˌɡɑrdn].
  • Angst [æŋkst].
  • Wunderkind [ˈvʊndɚˌkɪnd].
  • Zeitgeist [ˈtsaɪtɡaɪst].
  • Schadenfreude [ˈʃɑːdənˌfrɔɪdə].
  • Hinterland [ˈhɪntərˌlænd].
  • Über [ˈuːbɚ].
  • Wanderlust [ˈwɑːndɚˌlʌst].
  • Rucksack [ˈrʌksæk].
  • Autobahn [ˈɑːutoʊˌbɑːn].
  • Kaput [kəˈpʊt].
  • Hamster [ˈhæmstər].
  • Flak [flæk].
  • Gesundheit [ɡəˈzʊnthait].

The above catalog of words underscores the significant influence of the German language on English. Each one paints a vibrant picture of linguistic exchange and serves as a reminder of the shared cultural and historical ties. 

So, the next time “angst” seizes you or “wanderlust” stirs within, remember these emotions’ Germanic origins. The English pronunciation may not always reflect the original German phonetics, yet these words provide a clear link between the two langu

Exploring English Words that Come from German

Germanic English Words in Technology and Science

Adopting Germanic words in English is particularly noticeable within technology and scientific endeavors, where innovations often lack proper translation or easier synonyms. As a result, we see an abundance of German terms enriching the specialized vocabularies used in these fields. Below, we will provide a few such German words used in English:

  • Diesel [ˈdiːzl̩].
  • Wankel [ˈvɑːŋkəl].
  • Zeppelin [ˈzɛpəlɪn].
  • Fahrenheit [ˈfærənˌhaɪt].
  • Ampere [ˈæmpɪr].
  • Ohm [oʊm].
  • Poltergeist [ˈpoʊltɚˌɡaɪst].
  • Gestalt [ɡəˈʃtɑːlt].
  • Quark [kwɑːrk].
  • Bildungsroman [ˈbɪldʊŋs.ˌroʊˌmɑn].
  • Volkswagen [ˈvoʊksˌwɑːɡən].
  • Realpolitik [ˌreɪˈɑːlpoʊliˌtiːk].
  • Doppelgänger [ˈdɑpl̩ˌɡɛŋɚ].
  • Festschrift [ˈfɛstʃrɪft].

These Germanic terms in English highlight the shared advancements and collaborations in science, linking languages, ideas, and innovations. Including German expressions facilitates communication among experts and reflects the linguistic diversity and historical borrowings that make English a language without borders.

Words We Borrowed from German Food and Drinks

Even when it comes to satisfying our gastronomic cravings, the influence of German is quite evident in English. Many food and drink-related terms we casually toss around in our culinary discussions have German roots. Here are a few German words similar to English:

  • Pretzel [ˈprɛtsl̩].
  • Bratwurst [ˈbrɑːtvʊrst].
  • Strudel [ˈstruːdl̩].
  • Sauerbraten [ˈzaʊɚˌbrɑːtən].
  • Sauerkraut [ˈsaʊɚˌkraʊt].
  • Hefeweizen [ˈhɛfəˌvaɪzn̩].
  • Pilsner [ˈpɪlznər].
  • Lager [ˈlɑːɡər].
  • Lebkuchen [ˈleɪbˌkʊxən].
  • Riesling [ˈriːslɪŋ].
  • Marzipan [ˈmɑːrzɪpæn].
  • Noodle [ˈnuːdl̩].
  • Frankfurter [ˈfræŋkfɝːtɚ].
  • Delicatessen [ˌdɛlɪkəˈtɛsən].

These culinary terms offer a flavorful representation of German’s influence on English. The impact extends beyond basic vocabulary; many terms have become staple food items worldwide.


Unraveling the Influence of German on English Music Terminology

In the vibrant music sphere, the German language has strummed significant chords. Many terms defining musical elements, forms, and styles stem from Germany, mirroring the rich history of German contributions to the music world. Delve into some of these German-to-English words:

  • Lied [liːt].
  • Leitmotif [ˈlaɪtmoʊˌtiːf].
  • Gesamtkunstwerk [gəˈzɑmtˌkʊnstˌvɛrk].
  • Kapellmeister [kʌˈpɛlˌmaɪstɐ].
  • Singspiel [ˈzɪŋʃpiːl].
  • Klangfarbenmelodie [ˈklaŋˌfaːrbənmeˌloːdi].
  • Motet [moˈtɛt].
  • Fugue [fjuːg].

These terms represent a small sample of German’s substantial contribution to the lexicon of English music terminology. The next time you come across these words, you’ll know their German roots and the cultural interplay that enhances the music we enjoy.

The Influence of German Words on English War Terminology

Germany’s historical military prowess and innovation have significantly influenced the development of English military terminology. During times of conflict and cooperation alike, German strategic brilliance and technological advancements have prompted the English language to adopt various military-specific German words. Below is a list of such terms, underscoring the extensive impact of German military expertise on English vocabulary:

  • Blitzkrieg [ˈblɪtsˌkriːɡ].
  • Flak [flæk].
  • Luftwaffe [ˈlʊftvafə].
  • Panzer [ˈpænzər].
  • U-boat [ˈjuːboʊt].
  • Gestapo [ɡəˈstɑːpoʊ].
  • Führer [ˈfjʊɚ.ɚ].
  • Reich [raɪk].
  • Feldwebel [ˈfɛltveːbəl].
  • Kaiser [ˈkaɪzər].
  • Zeppelin [ˈtsɛpəliːn].

These terms have become entrenched in the English military lexicon, providing a direct link to the tactics and innovations of German military history. For instance, the word “blitzkrieg” remains synonymous with Germany’s lightning war strategy in World War II. Similarly, “flak” designates the anti-aircraft fire employed by Germans during that period.

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To bring our exploration to a close, the infiltration of German words into the English language significantly enriches our daily conversations or scientific discourses. Each borrowed word carries a story – a tale of cultural exchange and an emblem of shared knowledge. 

The interweaving of German and English demonstrates the fluid boundaries of languages and their shared journey through time. By recognizing these influences, we gain insight into the beautifully complex nature of our language, an evolving mosaic formed by numerous linguistic effects.


Are there English words used in German?

Language exchange is a two-way street. Just as English has adopted words from German, the German language has also borrowed extensively from English. It is especially true in fields like technology, business, and entertainment. For instance, words like “Computer,” “Internet,” “Manager,” and “Marketing” are common in German, reflecting the global influence of English, particularly in the realm of modern technology and culture.

Do English speakers need to know German to understand German loanwords in English?

Not necessarily. Common German words in English have been fully integrated into English and can be understood in their context without knowing German. However, familiarity with German can help understand these words’ deeper nuances and original meanings.

Does the use of German words impact English spelling rules?

The use of German words in the English language has not significantly impacted the standard spelling rules used in English. However, it is worth mentioning that some German loanwords may retain their original spellings and pronunciations, which can create a challenge for those learning to read or speak them correctly. Nevertheless, this does not affect the overall consistency of English spelling conventions.

Are there resources that learners can use to understand German loanwords?

As an English learner eager to comprehend German loanwords, numerous digital resources are at your disposal. For a more comprehensive look at language etymology, you might want to explore the Etymonline website. The Oxford English Dictionary also offers an extensive online database, shedding light on words of all origins, including German.


Maya LunsSep 5th, 2023
I never realized just how many everyday words have germanic origins until I read this article. It's a testament to the enduring influence of the germanic languages on english.