Spelling Differences

Orthographical differences in English, French and German words

Orthographical Differences in Similar Words

I typically use more than one language in the course of a day, which sometimes leads to some confusion or uncertainty. One area this affects is spelling, as there are some nearly identical words among a set of languages with subtle spelling differences. The following is a compilation of such words.

French English German other
abandonné abandoned
abréviation abbreviation
accordéon accordion Akkordeon
adresse address Adresse
agressif aggressive aggressiv nl. agressief
alarme alarm Alarm it. allarme
ambassade embassy
appartement 1 apartment
auteur author Autor
bagage baggage
ballet ballet Ballett
café coffee Kaffee
calendrier calendar Kalender
caractère 2 character Charakter nl. karakter
carotte carrot Karotte
chili chili/chilli3 Chili
comité committee Komitee
coton cotton
courant current
danse dance
défense defense (US), defence (UK)
dépendant dependent
dette debt
environnement environment
exemple example
exercice exercise (never -ize)
galerie gallery Galerie
garantie guarantee 4 Garantie
garde(r) guard
gouvernement government
gril grill Grill
guitare guitar Gitarre
horizon horizon Horizont
indépendance independence
licence license (US), licence (UK) Lizenz
littérature literature Literatur
loterie lottery Lotterie nl. loterij
mariage marriage
marier to marry
mécanique mechanical mechanisch
négocier negotiate
parlement parliament Parlament nl. parlement
plateforme platform Plattform
protocole protocol Protokoll
ressource resource Ressource
rhétorique rhetoric Rhetorik nl. retoriek
rythme rhythm Rhythmus
squelette skeleton Skelett nl. skelet
symétrique symmetric(al) symmetrisch
tendance tendency Tendenz
terrasse terrace Terrasse
trafic traffic
transfert transfer Transfer
yaourt, yogourt yogurt Jogurt, Joghurt

Arabic names

The way Arabic names are transliterated depends on the language and is often inconsistent within the language itself. The guttural /q/ sound is usually represented with Q in English, producing transliterations such as Qatar and Quran. French and German, on the other hand, tend to prefer a K in such cases.

Thus, the difference between /k/ and /q/ can be seen in English transliterations (Kuwait vs. Qatar), whereas they usually fall together in French and German (de. Kuwait and Katar). In French, Qatar became the preferred transliteration as an influence from English; Katar was the preferred spelling previously.

French English German
Qatar (Katar) Qatar Katar
Coran Quran (Koran) Koran
Koweït Kuwait Kuwait

The name Gaddafi has a ridiculous number of different transliterations. The first letter typically being a G in English and German boils down to the fact that the usual Q is pronounced as /g/ in Libya, lending to the spelling Gaddafi (and similar). However, the French press seems to prefer Kadhafi for some reason.


  1. There are a few words where French has an additional syllable: appartement, département, environnement, gouvernement. If you speak French you might notice that the extra e (compared to English) is usually omitted in French speech. ↩︎

  2. Having c and not ch as in the other languages makes sense given the pronunciation of /k/, but actually most words of Greek origin have a ch pronounced as /k/: chrétien, chromosome, psychologue, technique. So one must remember by heart whether there is a c or a ch↩︎

  3. American English prefers "chili" while "chilli" dominates in British English. ↩︎

  4. This is a pattern—English often has gu where you only find g in French. [Etymology of gu-↩︎