A German lady once told me she’d swum in the sea on her holiday. I assumed she’d been on holiday in Italy or Spain, or even in northern Germany. But she didn’t mean that at all. She’d spent her holiday in landlocked Bavaria – by a lake. So why did she make this vocabulary mistake?

The German word See has two meanings:

Die See (also: das Meer) is a large area of water connected to the oceans – sea in English. Some examples are the North Sea (die Nordsee), the Baltic Sea (die Ostsee) and the Mediterranean Sea (das Mittelmeer).

Der See, however, is an area of water surrounded by land – lake in English. Examples of lakes are Lake Constance (der Bodensee), Lake Starnberg (der Starnberger See) and Lake Garda (der Gardasee).

So, if you’re a German speaker, the next time you tell someone about the sea, make sure that’s what you really want to say. If you tell them you want to swim across the sea, it could sound a little ambitious – swimming across a lake is a bit more realistic!

What’s your favourite sea or lake?

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