The True Meaning of the Verb ‘Bekommen’: A Guide to Avoiding Common Mistakes

Learning a new language is always an adventure, filled with new words, expressions, and grammar rules. But sometimes, things can get a little tricky, especially with “false friends.” False friends are words that look similar in two languages but have very different meanings. They can lead to misunderstandings and funny situations if you’re not careful. Today, we’ll explore one such false friend in German: the verb “bekommen.”

The German Verb “bekommen” – To Receive/To Get

Let’s take a look at how to use the German verb “bekommen,” which is a classic false friend. You might think it means “to become” because of its similarity to the English word, but that’s not true at all. In German, “bekommen” means to receive or to get something. Let’s take a closer look at how to use this verb correctly.

Common Uses of “bekommen”

1. To Receive Something

Ich bekomme viele E-Mails. → I receive a lot of emails.

Hast du meine E-Mail bekommen? → Did you receive my email?

Ich habe ein Geschenk bekommen. → I received a present.

Hast du mein Paket bekommen? → Did you receive my package?

Er hat viel Kritik bekommen. → He received a lot of criticism.

Heute habe ich einen Anruf von Frau Meier bekommen. → Today, I received a call from Mrs. Meier.

2. To Have a Child

Andrea bekommt ein Baby. → Andrea is having a baby.

3. To Get Something

Er hat eine Gehaltserhöhung bekommen. → He got a salary raise.

Ich bekomme keine Luft. → I can’t breathe or literally, I’m not getting any air.

Ich habe Angst bekommen. → I got scared.

Wir haben Hilfe bekommen. → We got help.

Wir haben die Erlaubnis bekommen, hier zu parken. → We got permission to park here.

Nach dem Essen habe ich Bauchschmerzen bekommen. → I got a stomachache after eating.

Ich habe endlich einen Termin beim Augenarzt bekommen. → Finally, I got an appointment at the eye doctor.

Wir haben einen guten Rat bekommen. → We got good advice.

If you need help pronouncing the verb bekommen and listen to it being used in sentences that native speakers would use, check out this video with Jacqueline!

Formal Alternative: “erhalten”

You can also use the verb “erhalten,” but it’s much more formal than “bekommen.” You would use it in a formal situation, like in an office environment.

Ich habe eine Einladung erhalten. → I received an invitation.

Haben Sie meine Nachricht erhalten? → Did you receive my message?

Common Expressions with “Bekommen”

Ich bekomme langsam Hunger. → I’m starting to get hungry.

Ich habe einen Sonnenbrand bekommen. → I got a sunburn.

Sie hat Gänsehaut bekommen. → She got goosebumps.

Peter hat eine Blase bekommen. → Peter got a blister.

Wenn wir das machen, bekommen wir Ärger. → If we do that, we’ll get into trouble.

Ich habe Anschiss bekommen. → I got into trouble. Note: “Anschiss” is not the nicest word, so if you’re not sure how or when to use it, you should better use “Ärger.”

Sie hat das in den falschen Hals bekommen! → She took that the wrong way!

Wie viel bekommst du? → How much do I owe you?

Er bekommt immer eine Extrawurst gebraten. → He always gets special treatment, literally: He always has someone fry him en extra sausage.

Der Kaffee ist mir nicht bekommen. → I didn’t react well to the coffee.

Regional Differences: Germany vs. Switzerland

When you’re in a restaurant in Germany, it’s very common to order using “Ich bekomme” followed by what you’re ordering. However, this is considered impolite in Switzerland, where you should say “Ich hätte gerne” instead. But in Germany, it’s perfectly fine.

Ich bekomme die Suppe. → I’m having the soup.

Ich bekomme die Tomatensuppe. → I’m having the tomato soup.

Ich bekomme die Lasagne. → I’m having the lasagna.

Differences Between “Holen” and “Bekommen”

You can find an explanation on the difference between “holen” (to fetch) and “bekommen” (to receive) in the video below.


Getting the hang of the German verb “bekommen” is a big step toward sounding more natural in German. It might be a bit tricky at first, especially since it’s a false friend for English speakers, but once you know it means “to receive,” you’ll find it super useful.

Whether you’re talking about getting emails, gifts, feeling hungry, or even ordering food at a restaurant, “bekommen” is your go-to verb. Just remember, it’s all about receiving, not becoming. Keep practicing, and soon enough, using “bekommen” will be a breeze. Happy learning!

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