Freundlich by any other name

I like the idea of helping my already wonderful Englisch speakers become even more advanced. It may be encouraging to know that Englisch is made of 50% Latin, but 50% of Deutsch. So if you already know Deutsch, you’re halfway there!

For deeper practice with Englisch, today we’re going to look at various ways to say freundlich in Englisch… and why there are so many.

In my chats with native speakers, I find it very interesting that some Deutsch words seem to cover so many Englisch definitions. One of my penpals commented “wow, freundlich has 20 definitions in Englisch!” But I can see how it might feel overwhelming having 20 different ways to say basically the same concept. Understanding what the subtle differences are between the Englisch words, the situations they are used in, and where they originate can help a person understand which word is the right word to pick from for such a big list of possibilities.

Let’s look up “freundlich” and see the Englisch equivalents. Wow, that is a long list. I really enjoy LEO, but one of the disadvantages is getting a big list of synonyms in alphabetical order, with no feeling for which ones are used in what context by natives… so, I’m going to rearrange the list in order of most used to least used, and also tell you the context. There are also at least two that LEO doesn’t touch on that are also in this same group of “things Americans will use freundlich in place of”. Hopefully you will gain a better understanding of which ones to use (or avoid) in American Englisch. Always remember: American and British Englisch have a variety of differences, and I can only speak to the American versions.

  • friendly – the most commonly used of all of possible meanings. We tend to use it because it sounds similar to “freundlich” (and likely the Englisch word probably has its roots in the Deutsch to begin with). When an American says freundlich, friendly is probably the first definition they thought of.  Friendly implies that the other person is easy to befriend and being around them is enjoyable. It also implies that the person makes an effort to form a friendship with those they meet, or that they are charismatic.
  • nice – I’m aware that translators tend to use schön as the equivalent, but it’s important to know that Americans use “friendly” and “nice” interchangeably when describing a person.
  • sweet – Slang usage, but the tricky part is it can be used in an exclamation context, an admiration context, OR in a flirting context. You may say someone is sweet meaning they are enjoyable to be around. You may exclaim “sweet!” meaning “that is great!”. But it may also be said when someone finds someone else to be romantically attractive, and the word is used like a bait to initiate the courting process. The difficulty is: short of asking the person who said it, you really can’t tell which context they meant.
  • kind & kindly – Adjective and adverb versions of the same concept. A “kind” person is not only friendly, but sometimes this word implies that the person is also quite calm. People don’t speak this one as often as they write it.
  • considerate – Interestingly enough, we use this one interchangeably with “thoughtful,” but it doesn’t seem that “thoughtful” is interchangeable with “freundlich” according to the translator. Usually “considerate” is only used if the person has done some action that others thought to be self-less. If for example a person talked with you on the bus, you would say they were friendly. But if they also gave up their seat for you, you’d say they were considerate.
  • pleasant & pleasant-natured – We tend to be too lazy to say the “natured” part, but it is sometimes written in entertainment or poetic usage. We’ll talk more about “natured” further down the word list… as for pleasant, it has a different context than friendly does for us. A friendly person makes the effort to grow the relationship between themselves and the other person. A pleasant person is enjoyable to be around whether or not they are attempting to build a friendship.
  • personable – Now we begin to see words that are more often written or used in formal speaking/entertainment speaking (movies, plays, etc). This is one such word. It carries a connotation of one who is compelled to be social. It is not only that they are pleasant and friendly, it’s as if they can’t help but be that way.
  • amicable – A more formal word that you will tend to see in writing more than speaking, and if you hear it in speaking, it’s usually only from geeks like me. The word comes from the latin “amicus” meaning “friend”. One who is amicable is the same as friendly, it’s just an older form of the word based in Latin instead of based in Deutsch.
  • cordial & cordially – Rarely spoken, and the few times you’ll see it written will be old traditional sayings such as “you are cordially invited to attend a party” on an invitation.
  • amiable – not only does this cover “friendly” but it implies that the person generally agrees with things and doesn’t try to cause trouble. Seldom used, and even more seldom understood by Americans with a less educated background.
  • gracious – This one is more similar to “considerate” than “friendly”. It tends to be used to describe someone who is patient and doesn’t get upset by things in addition to being friendly.
  • good-natured & good-naturedly – So this is a good opportunity to talk about the usage of “natured”. Basically it is used as if to say “it doesn’t matter what the person’s actions or thoughts are, by their very nature, they are this way”. In this case, it is “good” natured. A “good” natured person is assumed to always do good things because it is their instinct to do so. They don’t seem to consciously make the choice to be good, it just happens. We tend to not use this saying as much in speaking, and you may see it in older writings or editorial writings. The “good-naturedly” has particularly fallen out of use.
  • mellow – We actually tend to say this one more for describing a person as being unable to be angered, more so than commenting on how friendly they are. A “mellow” person is not quick to become angry. They may not always be pleasant though, so I find it interesting that this word is used for freundlich.
  • suave – We tend not to use this in a “friendly” context. Usually it is either for flirting, or it can actually sometimes be used like an insult. Basically you might refer to an attractive and well-groomed man as being “suave.” But one could also use the word sarcastically to describe someone who is *trying* to be clever and/or sexy but in a way that comes of pretentious or annoying instead. You can usually tell the difference by inflection.
  • neighborly – This word seems to be slowly going out of use. It was quite popular during say the 1950-1970 range perhaps? Usually it’s spoken among smaller communities to describe people around them who make their home, street, or town an enjoyable place to live. Younger Americans will think it peculiar if you use this word to describe someone. It’s considered to be old-fashioned.
  • smiling – So we use this word BUT we don’t use it for “friendly” as much any more. That style of use is fading rapidly. Instead we may describe someone as being “smiling” only if their face is frequently making that expression. It’s also very common knowledge that one who smiles may not always be doing so because they are friendly. Like how a dog wagging its tail does not mean it is happy – it can also mean it is aggressive. So too is it with smiling, and people use it less and less to automatically = friendly.
  • genial & genially – Few Americans can actually tell you the meaning of this one if you said it to them. It’s no longer used in casual conversation, and no one writes it any more when they have 10 other more well known choices available. It’s supposed to imply that the person warms the world around them, but you’re pretty much only going to see the word used in older literature.
  • affable – So this one is supposed to describe a person who is easy to approach. No one uses it any more, and hardly any remember its meaning. You can probably skip learning it all together unless you’re studying old writings.
  • benign & benignant – Same for this one, although once in a while you may see the word written in an essay or news article. It implies that someone is not only friendly, but also harmless and with no ill intent.  Someone who is not considered a threat.
  • boon – The only place I have actually seen this word used is in Pen and Paper RPGs to describe character traits.  Even then, it’s usually for the purpose of saying something is a benefit to be thankful for, and not in regards to a person. It’s supposed to be friendly + jolly. No one uses it like that any more… and really it’s more that no one uses the word at all.
  • couthie – Ironically you will see this one in writing… but not in this form. You’re more likely to see its opposite: uncouth. People don’t say this one any more, and I have never seen this form written, nor heard it spoken. It’s supposed to be friendly as in “social”.
  • chummily– I have never heard this form spoken, seen it written in modern or old literature, and the closest usage I’ve seen in my life is someone being called a “chum” as in “a friend”. Even “chum” has fallen largely out of use. Another word you can probably skip knowing.

So interestingly enough, you can actually sometimes tell the education level of an Englisch speaker by how many of these words they know and/or use in writing – and even more so in speaking. Of the 25 Englisch words on that list, the average American will only know about 7 or so (and will probably actively use only 4 in casual conversation). A well-read American will know the meanings of probably all of them, but will have only used 12 in anything they’ve personally written… and they’ve probably only used 8 in an actual conversation with someone. If you learn all of these words and their proper context, you likely will know more about Englisch than the natives do.

About Tolero / Mer'lask

Lover of Languages

Posted on September 9, 2011, in Englisch üben and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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