English for Purchasing: Talking about quality

Quality management has become extremely important in today’s manufacturing business. With a “zero defect” tolerance, the issue of quality in produced parts is crucial.

Englisch für Einkäufer

English for Purchasing: quality

In the field of purchasing, your questions regarding materials or products will not only be about pricing and delivery schedules. These subjects were the topic of this newsletter in the past few months. Good quality materials for your company’s products or parts are critical, and your suppliers may be in countries where you have to negotiate and discuss quality issues in English.

In this issue of English for Purchasing, I would like to introduce different groups of words that have to do with quality. Some of these words are very similar in meaning, but are often confused by Germans, because there is only one word in German.

Let’s have a look at the word “prüfen”

In English, “prüfen” or “überprüfen” can be translated in different ways. The most common ways in the manufacturing sector are:


The verb control in English means more “steuern” than “prüfen”. “Qualitätskontrolle” or “Qualitätssteuerung” is translated as “quality control”.


Die Waren haben wir kontrolliert.

Then the correct translation in English is:
We checked the goods. NOT: We controlled the goods.

“Control” in English is more about a process and being in charge of that process.


The verb check in English can be correctly translated as “prüfen”, “nachprüfen” or “überprüfen” in German.


Unsere Qualitätsabteilung hat die Lieferung geprüft.

Our quality department has checked the goods that were delivered.


Die Teile sind noch nachzuprüfen.

The parts must still be checked.


Wir haben die Teile auf Qualität überprüft und sind zufrieden.

We “checked” the parts and are satisfied with the quality.

“Check” in English is a shorter, less detailed look at numbers, objects, or facts.


The verb monitor in English can be translated as “überprüfen” but usually means more “überwachen” or, again, “kontrollieren”.


Unsere Produktionsprozesse werden ständig kontrolliert.

Our production processes are monitored continually.


Die Anlieferung der Rohmaterialien wird von unserem Lageristen überwacht.

The raw materials are monitored by our warehouse personnel when delivered.

“Monitor” in English is a formal, structured process that can be done electronically or by people.

Now let’s have a look at the word “Fehler”. There are four different translations for this word in English, and almost all mean something different:


A mistake is an action that is done incorrectly or wrong. It is usually used in a more informal context, such as when a mistake was made on an invoice, or if there was a mix-up with dates or schedules.


Wir haben einen Fehler in Ihrer Rechnung entdeckt.

We have discovered a mistake in your invoice.


Wir bedauern den Fehler und bemühen uns, ihn zu korrigieren.

We are sorry for the mistake and will do all we can to correct it.


Error is a more formal word for mistake and is often used in the collocation “human error” which means “menschliches Versagen”.


Dieser Fehler ist leider auf menschliches Versagen zurückzuführen.

This mistake is unfortunately due to human error.


Der Fehler in der Kalkulation wurde von unserem Finanzdirektor entdeckt.

The error in the cost estimation was discovered by our director of finance.


A failure is when a machine or service does not work, for example power supply or a data transmission. A failure is usually due to a chain of events of things not working properly.

Es gab einen Fehler im Produktionsprozess.

There was a failure in the production process.

Aufgrund eines Stromausfalls ist unsere Produktion etwas verspätet.

Due to a power failure, we are a bit behind in our production schedule.

defect (OR defective as an adjective)

A defect is a problem or characteristic with a part or material that causes a problem. It can make the part or material unusable or make something not work properly.

Die Platten weisen Fehler auf.

The sheets have defects. OR The sheets are defective.

Wir können fehlerhafte Teile nicht akzeptieren.

We cannot accept the parts with defects/the defective parts.

There are also several different words that mean “Vorschriften” in English. When ordering parts or materials for your company, you may need to make clear to the supplier that there are certain regulations, standards, or specifications that your company has regarding your purchase.

Here is a short overview of the difference between these three words mentioned above:


These can be laws, rules or other orders prescribed by some kind of authority. This can be either a country, city, company or whoever or whatever makes the rules.

Ihre Produkte entsprechen nicht den Vorschriften.

Your products do not comply with the regulations.

Deutschland hat sehr strenge Vorschriften.

Germany has very strict regulations.


An average or normal requirement, quality, quantity, level or grade is a standard. It can also be something that has been evaluated and found to be generally accepted. We often talk about something being “above standard” or “below standard” when discussing quality.

Die angelieferte Ware entspricht nicht unseren Vorschriften.

The delivered goods are unfortunately below standard.

Unsere Vorschriften sind sehr streng und benötigen einen hohen Standard.

We require goods to be above standard in quality due to our strict regulations.


Specifications are usually of a technical nature and is a detailed description of what is required for dimensions, materials, or production.

Specifications can be short or long, and describe quality, size, or ingredients. Another translation in German for this word could be “Angaben”.

Die technischen Vorschriften für unsere Produkte sind im Anhang.

The technical specifications for our products can be seen in the attachment.

In English and German there are quite a few “false friends” , as seen above with the example of “prüfen” – if there is anything you should not say, it is “proof ”!


negotiate verhandeln
manufacturing sector Produktionsbranche
invoice Rechnung
mix-up Verwechslung
collocation gängige Wortverbindung
power supply Energieversorgung
data transmission Datenübertragung
characteristic Eigenschaft
unusable unbrauchbar
not work properly nicht einwandfrei funktionieren
prescribed by laut Vorschrift
requirement Anforderung, Bedarf
evaluated ausgewertet, bewertet
due to wegen
ingredients Bestandteile, Zutaten



Autor: WEKA Fachredaktion