When you learn German, learning German idioms (Redewendungen) is a fun and effective way to boost your language fluency.
You'll hear numerous references to sausages, condiments, bread, and other delicious German foods. These phrases also provide valuable insights into German culture and history that will help you become familiar with the German way of life.
While some German idioms sound similar to their English counterparts, others are entirely different. Literal translations don't always make sense, which is why even advanced learners have trouble identifying the meaning of a phrase.
The 90 German idioms below are essential phrases you'll need to become fluent in German. You'll find the literal translations along with the English equivalent and a short description. I hope some of these German idioms give you a good laugh and inspire you to keep learning the German language!
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1. Um den heißen Brei herumreden
Literal Translation – Talk around the hot porridge.
English Meaning – Beat around the bush.
Although you may not need this phrase very often with your direct German friends, it could come in useful if you want to sound more like a native speaker. If you want someone to get to the point, tell them:
- Rede nicht um den den heißen Brei herum. (Don't (you) beat around the bush.)
2. Da kannst du Gift drauf nehmen
Literal Translation – You can put poison on that!
English Meaning – You can bet your life on it!
This following German idiom doesn't sound very friendly, but it means that something is a sure thing. For example, if someone asks if you think you'll pass your next German exam, you can respond with this phrase.
- Ich weiß, dass ich die Prüfung bestehen werde. Da kannst du Gift drauf nehmen! (I know that I'll pass the exam. You can bet your life one it!
3. Sich zum Affen machen
Literal Translation – Make an ape of yourself
English Meaning – Make a fool of yourself
Instead of making a fool of themselves, Germans turn into monkeys or apes. If you think someone is misbehaving, you can say:
- Mach dich nicht zum Affen! (Don't make a fool of yourself!)
4. Zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen
Literal Translation – Hit two flies with one swat.
English Meaning – Kill two birds with one stone.
The next time you do two things at once, remember this German idiom that has been around since the 8th century.
- Du kannst zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen. (You can hit two flies with one stone.)
5. Eine Extrawurst verlangen
Literal Translation – Demand an extra sausage.
English Meaning – Demand special treatment
Imagine the entitlement someone must have to demand an extra sausage! Although this German idiom includes a food reference, use this expression to speak about entitled individuals in a disapproving tone.
- Warum verlangst du immer eine Extrawurst?! (Why do you always demand special treatment?!)
6. Himmel und Hölle in Bewegung setzen
Literal Translation – Set heaven and hell in motion.
English Meaning – Move heaven and earth.
When you think of a romantic phrase to say to your loved one, you probably don't think about including the word “hell.” In German, it's completely acceptable to say you'll do anything to achieve a goal.
- Ich setze Himmel und Hölle in Bewegung. (I'm moving heaven and earth.)
7. Da steppt der Bär
Literal Translation – The bear dances there
English Meaning – A party that's off-the-hook
In German, the idea of a dancing bear signifies a party you won't want to miss! The next time you want to get everyone rushing to a party, remember to tell them:
- Du musst dort sein. Da steppt der Bär. (You have to be there. The party is off-the-hook.)
8. Tomaten auf den Augen haben
Literal Translation – Have tomatoes on the eyes.
English Meaning – Blind to something
Sometimes in life, we can all be oblivious to facts staring us straight in the face. In German, you might have tomatoes on your eyes that are distorting your perception of reality.
- Hast du Tomaten auf den Augen? Sie will dich nur für dein Geld. (Are you blind? She only wants you for your money.)
9. Den Nagel auf den Kopf treffen
Literal Translation – Hit the nail on the head.
English Meaning – Hit the nail on the head.
This German idiom is the same as the English version. When someone is spot-on doing something correctly, let them know.
- Du hast den Nagel auf den Kopf getroffen. (You hit the nail on the head.)
10. Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof
Literal Translation – I only understand train station.
English Meaning – It's all Greek to me.
When your German friend uses an idiom that you don't understand, you can respond with this idiom, which means you can't make heads or tails out of the conversation.
- Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof. Kannst du nochmal erklären? (It's all Greek to me. Can you explain again?)
11. Weggehen wie warme Semmeln
Literal Translation – Leave like warm rolls.
English Meaning – Sell like hotcakes.
The word Semmeln is a colloquial term for Brötchen (bread rolls). You can use this phrase to talk about a product or service that's selling fast and in high demand.
- Mein neues Design geht weg wie warme Semmeln. (My new design is selling like hotcakes.)
12. Seinen Senf dazugeben
Literal Translation – Add his mustard to it.
English Meaning – Give your two cents worth.
Once again, a favorite German food makes its way into a well-known idiom. Instead of giving your two cents to express your opinion, you add your mustard.
- Er muss immer seinen Senf dazugeben. (He always has to give his opinion.)
13. Jemandem die Daumen drücken
Literal Translation – Press the thumbs for someone.
English Meaning – Cross your fingers.
In English, we cross our fingers for someone to wish them luck. But, in German, you have to press your thumbs into the palm of your hand.
- Sei nicht nervös. Wir drücken dir die Daumen! (Don't be nervous, we have our fingers crossed for you!)
14. Etwas wie seine Westentasche kennen
Literal Translation – Know something like your vest pocket.
English Meaning – Know something like the back of your hand.
Similar to the English expression, this German idiom stresses how well you know something.
- Ich wohne seit zwanzig Jahren in Berlin. Ich kenne die Stadt wie meine Westentasche. (I've lived in Berlin for 20 years. I know the city like the back of my hand.)
15. Man soll den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben
Literal Translation – One shouldn't praise the day before the evening.
English Meaning – You shouldn't count your chickens before they hatch.
When you celebrate prematurely, you could risk disappointment later. You can warn others in German by telling them not to praise the day before the evening arrives.
- Wir haben Fortschritte gemacht, aber wir sollten den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben. (We made progress, but we shouldn't count our chickens before they hatch.
16. Jemandem ein Ohr abkauen
Literal Translation – Chew off someone's ear.
English Meaning – Talk off someone's ear.
Some people don't know when to stop speaking. At times, you might even feel like your ear is about to fall off. In German, chewing off someone's ear means you're annoying them with your endless rambling.
- Ich habe Martha an ihrem Geburtstag angerufen, und sie hat mir ein Ohr abgekaut für zwei Studen. (I called Martha on her birthday, and she talked my ear off for two hours.)
17. Klar wie Kloßbrühe
Literal Translation – Clear as dumbling broth
English Meaning – Crystal clear
Ironically, German dumpling soup isn't a clear liquid but a milky white. Nevertheless, you can confirm that you fully understand your German friends with this colloquial expression. Don't be surprised if you hear someone exchange Kloßbrühe for a different but similar brothy dish.
- Du musst dich nicht wiederholen. Die Anweisungen sind klar wie Kloßbrühe! (You don't have to repeat yourself. The instructions are crystal clear!)
18. Dumm wie Bohnenstroh
Literal Translation – Dumb as bean straw
English Meaning – Dumb as a post
This idiom's origin came from a centuries-old tradition when peasants used leftover plant cuttings, or bean straw, to fill their mattresses. Because poorer classes were assumed to be unintelligent, the term dumb as bean straw emerged.
- Die Kandidaten sind dumm wie Bohnenstoh. (The candidates are as dumb as posts.)
19. Die Kirche im Dorf lassen
Literal Translation – Leave the church in the village.
English Meaning – Don't get carried away.
When someone gets carried away with excitement, you might need to remind them that their ideas are becoming overwhelming. Before the invention of electricity, a town crier would announce important events at the church. Hence, the origin of this unusual German idiom, which means, settle down.
- Wir müssen die Kirche im Dorf lassen. (We have to keep a cool head.)
20. Schwein haben
Literal Translation – Have a pig.
English Meaning – Be lucky.
In German, you'll often find pigs symbolizing good luck. When something incredible happens to you, let everyone know you've had a pig using this German idiom.
- Heute habe ich Schwein gehabt! Ich habe 50 Euro auf dem Boden gefunden. (I got lucky today! I found 50 Euros on the floor.)
21. Die Salamitaktik anwenden
Literal Translation – Use the salami tactic.
English Meaning – The Salami tactic is a stealthy approach to admit the truth.
A Salamitaktik is the name given to a distinct method someone uses to reveal the truth bit by bit.
Expensive German salami comes in extra-thin slices. You might need to eat hundreds of slices before you get to the end, which is where the meaning of the expression originates.
The person using the Salamitaktik is trying to soften the blow of whatever they are trying to say.
- Versuchst du die Salamitaktik anzuwenden? (Are you trying to use the salami tactic?)
22. Da haben wir den Salat
Literal Translation – There, we have the salad.
English Meaning – We're in a big mess.
Sometimes you warn somebody about the consequences of their actions, but they just don't listen. You know that a trainwreck is about to happen, but there's nothing you can do about it. Similar to “I told you so,” you can use this German idiom to remind someone that you foresaw the entire predicament.
- Du hast die Regeln ignoriert. Jetzt haben wir den Salat. (You ignored the rules. Now we're in a mess.)
23. Das fünfte Rad am Wagen sein
Literal Translation – Be the fifth wheel on the wagon.
English Meaning – Be the third wheel.
Instead of saying someone is the third wheel, Germans say someone is the fifth wheel when they are the odd man out. If somebody tags along uninvitedly, this German idiom could be appropriate.
- Ich möchte nicht das fünfte Rad am Wagen sein. (I don't want to be a third wheel.)
24. Einen Vogel haben
Literal Translation – Have a bird.
English Meaning – Crazy
Someone who has a bird in German must be out of their mind. The expression originates from the belief that crazy people must have a little bird in their heads. Typically, Germans use this idiom as an insult.
- Du hast einen Vogel! (You're insane!)
25. Geld aus dem Fenster werfen
Literal Translation – Throw money out the window.
English Meaning – Throw money out the window.
Some German idioms are the same as their English counterparts like this one. When someone is wasting money or overspending, this expression can come in handy.
- Warum wirfst du Geld aus dem Fenster? (Why are you throwing money away?)
26. Eine Leiche im Keller haben
Literal Translation – Have a (dead) body in the basement.
English Meaning – Have skeletons in the closet.
Some German idioms seem to paint the most atrocious images in your mind, and this one is no exception. The English phrase of having skeletons in the closet is a tamer way of saying you have secrets from the past. As the Germans say, a skeleton in the closet, or body in the basement, can also be an embarrassing or unpleasant memory you keep to yourself.
- Es scheint ihnen gut zu gehen, aber die Familie hat eine Menge Schulden. Das ist nicht ihre einzige leiche im Keller, die sie haben. (They seem to be well-off, but the family has a lot of debt. That's not their only skeleton in the closet.)
27. Lügen haben kurze Beine
Literal Translation – Lies have short legs.
English Meaning – You won't get far with lies.
This German idiom is a reminder that the truth always comes out eventually and that lies won't get you very far. You can use this phrase to say, “you won't get away with this,” to a liar. The expression is also similar to the English idiom, “liar, liar, pants on fire.”
- Vergiss nicht, dass Lügen kurze Beine haben. (Don't forget that lies get exposed.)
28. Fix und fertig
Literal Translation – Quick and ready
English Meaning – At the end of your rope.
When you're worn-out, exhausted, or at your wit's end, this German idiom could be the perfect way to describe your emotional and physical state. After powering through a long workday or challenging activity, it's not unusual for a person to feel fix und fertig.
- Nach zwölf Stunden Arbeit bin ich fix und fertig. (After 12 hours of work, I'm completely exhausted.)
29. Ich glaube ich spinne
Literal Translation – I think I spider.
English Meaning – I can't believe it.
Sometimes, you can't believe what you're hearing or seeing. In this case, you can use the popular German idiom that doesn't make any sense when translated literally. Similar to “you've got to be kidding,” or “I think I'm losing my mind,” this phrase is appropriate to use when you hear a shocking announcement.
- Du hast ein neues Auto gekauft ohne mich zu fragen? Ich glaube ich spinne. (You bought a new car without asking me? You've got to be joking.)
30. Die beleidigte Leberwurst spielen
Literal Translation – Act like the offended liver sausage
English Meaning – Act like a prima Donna.
Use this German idiom to describe anyone who is easily offended, a sore loser, or acting difficult. Typically, the liver sausage is the last sausage of choice for most Germans, who tend to choose the more appealing varieties first.
- Du hast nur eine Runde verloren. Jetzt spiel nicht die beleidigte Leberwurst. (You only lost one round. Don't act like a sore loser now.)
31. Einen Kater haben
Literal Translation – Have a tomcat.
English Meaning – Be hungover.
After a night of drinking too much German beer or wine, you might end up with a hangover or Kater. Originally, Kater comes from the word Katarrh, a condition involving inflammation of the mucous membranes. Over time, the pronunciation of the word became Kater.
- Viele Deutsche klagen über einen Kater am Neujahrstag. (Many Germans complain about a hangover on new year's day.)
32. Alles hat ein Ende, nur eine Wurst hat zwei
Literal Translation – Everything has an end. Only a sausage has two.
English Meaning – Nothing lasts forever.
Everything ends at some point, which is where the following German idiom gets its roots. The sausage reference adds a dash of humor to an otherwise depressing reminder of our mortality.
- Sei nicht so traurig. Alles hat ein Ende, nur eine Wurst hat zwei. (Don't be so sad. Everything has to come to an end eventually.)
33. Ein Affentheater aufführen
Literal Translation – To throw an ape theater performance.
English Meaning – Throw a fit.
If you can imagine a group of apes throwing a fit, you'll easily understand this German idiom. A person who is overreacting and beginning to behave like an uncivilized animal may inspire you to bust out this phrase.
- Hör auf so ein Affentheater aufzuführen! (Stop throwing such a fit!)
34. Unter einer Decke stecken
Literal Translation – Hide under a blanket.
English Meaning – Be in cahoots.
When you keep a secret between yourself and someone else, or a small group of people, you may be in cahoots. If you're keeping the secret from others, Germans say you're “hiding under a blanket.”
- Wir müssen die Überraschungsparty geheim halten. Er darf nicht wissen dass wir unter einer Decke stecken. (We have to keep the surprise party secret. He can't find out that we're in cahoots.
35. Das Ei des Kolumbus
Literal Translation – The egg of Columbus
English Meaning – A light bulb moment.
Ever spend hours searching for a solution to a problem, only to discover that the answer was strikingly straightforward the entire time? Once you know how to do something, it seems easy enough, but getting to that point doesn't always happen immediately. Germans call this phenomenon finding the egg of Columbus.
- Endlich habe ich das Ei des Kolumbus gefunden. (I finally found the simple solution.)
36. Das Haar in der Suppe suchen/finden
Literal Translation – Search for/Find the hair in the soup.
English Meaning – Find fault with something.
Overly-critical and pessimistic individuals in German are often referred to as searching for hairs in the soup. One way to remind someone to be less negative is with this idiom that expresses your disapproval of the person's outlook.
- Manche Menschen müssen immer das Haar in der Suppe suchen. (Some people always have to find fault with something.)
37. Ich glaube mein Schwein pfeift
Literal Translation – I think my pig is whistling.
English Meaning – When pigs fly!
Express your astonishment during the most unexpected moments with this useful German idiom. Like the English phrase, “when pigs fly,” the German version uses the verb whistle instead of fly. This expression is also valuable to express sarcasm when you believe something is nonsense.
- Ich glaube mein Schwein pfeift! Ich hätte nie gedacht, dass er über 40 ist. (I don't believe it! I never would have thought that he's over 40.)
38. Es ist alles in Butter
Literal Translation – It's all in butter.
English Meaning – It's all good.
Everything is better when it's covered in butter in this German idiom. If someone asks how you are, you can use this phrase to let them know you feel fine and that everything is hunky-dory.
- Es ist alles in Butter. Ich mach mich gemütlich. (I'm fine. I'm making myself comfortable.)
39. Da fresse ich glatt einen Besen
Literal Translation – I'll smoothly chow down on a broom.
English Meaning – I'll eat my hat if that's the truth.
Yet another sarcastic way to reply to a statement you find hard to believe is the phrase, “I'll eat a broom.” In English, you might say, “I'll eat my hat,” to express your reluctance to believe something.
- Wenn du recht hast, fresse ich einen Besen. (If you're right, I'll eat my hat.)
40. Wir sitzen schōn in der Tinte!
Literal Translation – We're sitting in ink nicely.
English Meaning – We're in a lot of trouble.
When you find yourself in a jam, use this German idiom. Many times, this phrase implies someone is having financial difficulties.
- Warum sitzt du so tief in der Tinte? (Why are you in so much trouble?)
41. Mich laust der Affe
Literal Translation – The ape is delousing me.
English Meaning – Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle.
One way to announce that you're surprised in German is with this exclamation of bewilderment. Sometimes, you might hear something that takes you off-guard. This knowledge could even be as shocking as a random monkey coming up and delousing you.
Next time you're blown away by a story, you can put your feelings into words with this fun German idiom.
- Ich glaube, mich laust der Affe. (Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle.)
42. Nach jemandes Pfeife tanzen
Literal Translation – Dance to someone's flute.
English Meaning – Do everything someone else's way.
If anyone expects you to bend over backward to please them, you might end up dancing to their flute instead of your own. In English, you might say you're dancing to someone's tune, blindly obeying, or doing their bidding.
- Ich muss nicht nach deiner Pfeife tanzen! (I don't have to do everything you say!)
43. Voller Bauch studiert nicht gern
Literal Translation – A full stomach doesn't like to study.
English Meaning – Fat belly, lean brain
Most Germans know that it's essential to take a break after eating before returning to your mental tasks. This phrase is helpful after lunch when you start to feel sleepy and not at your most productive.
- Ich brauche noch 15 Minuten. Voller Bauch studiert nicht gern. (I still need 15 minutes. A full stomach doesn't like to study.)
44. Jemanden ausnehmen wie eine Weihnachtsgans
Literal Translation – Tear someone apart like a Christmas goose.
English Meaning – Take someone to the cleaners'.
Although this phrase might sound like an intimidating remark or threat, it refers to shamelessly taking someone's every last penny. When you prepare a Christmas goose, you typically remove the insides to insert the stuffing. A similar English idiom is, “to rob someone blind.”
- Die Organization hat uns ausgenommen wie eine Weihnachtsgans. (The organization robbed us of everything we had.)
45. Schlafen wie ein Murmeltier
Literal Translation – Sleep like a marmot.
English Meaning – Sleep like a log.
Marmots are known for sleeping particularly long and deep. The animals also have long hibernation periods, making them an ideal analogy. If you've had a similarly restful slumber, you can let others know how rejuvenated you are with this German idiom.
- Ich habe wie ein Murmeltier geschlafen. (I slept like a baby.)
46. Schlau wie ein Fuchs sein
Literal Translation – As clever as a fox
English Meaning – As clever as a fox
You must be as smart as a fox if you're brilliant. This idiom, which is the same in German and English, stems from the fact that foxes are skilled at finding food and shelter in many different environments.
- Du hast alle Antworten richtig. Du bist schlau wie ein Fuchs. (You got all the answers correct. You're as bright as a fox.)
47. Wie Pilze aus dem Boden schießen
Literal Translation – Shoot out of the ground like mushrooms.
English Meaning – Spring up everywhere.
When something proliferates within a short time, it's said to shoot out of the ground like mushrooms, at least in German. Under the right circumstances, mushrooms start growing everywhere in the forest, where this German idiom gets its origins.
- Online-Shops sind überall. Sie schießen wie Pilze aus dem Boden. (Online shops are everywhere. They're springing up like mushrooms.)
48. Krokodilstränen weinen
Literal Translation – Cry crocodile tears.
English Meaning – Insincere display of remorse.
Someone pretending to feel sorry about something is shedding crocodile tears. The saying stems from the notion that crocodiles don't feel guilty about eating their victims. Once the animal bites down on its prey, the pressure of its jaw closing presses on the tear ducts. Although the crocodile appears to be crying, it's not remorseful.
- Er weint immer Krokodilstränen wenn er erwischt wird. (He always sheds crocodile tears when he gets caught.)
49. Wer zuerst kommt, mahlt zuerst
Literal Translation – Whoever comes first eats first.
English Meaning – First-come, first-serve.
If a limited supply of something is available, you might only have the chance to get it on a first-come, first-serve basis. This similar German idiom means the same thing. Whoever is the first person in line at the bakery is the first to get their bread, so you better not be last. Another meaning could be, “the early bird gets the worm.”
- Die Konzertkarten sind auf einer wer zuerst kommt, mahlt zuerst Basis angeboten. (The concert tickets are offered on a first-come first-serve basis.)
50. Wie Kraut und Rüben
Literal Translation – Like cabbage and turnips.
English Meaning – topsy-turvy
Traditionally, farmers planted cabbage and turnips together in the field. In contrast to other vegetables, farmers mix these two chaotically. After harvesting, the cabbage and turnips also cook well together. Now, the expression means something is all mixed up or a mess.
- Deine Wohnung sieht aus wie Kraut und Rüben. (Your apartment looks like a mess.)
51. Das Zünglein an der Waage
Literal Translation – The pointer on the scale.
English Meaning – Tip the scale.
This is one of those German idioms that's relatively straightforward. Use the phrase to describe a deciding factor that tips the scale or balance. The Zünglein is the pointer on a scale that shows an exact measurement. Additionally, this phrase can mean “tie-breaker.”
- Die entgültige Abstimmung ist das Zünglein an der Waage. (The final vote is the tie-breaker.)
52. Jacke wie Hose
Literal Translation – Jacket like pants.
English Meaning – It doesn't matter.
Most jackets and pantsuits are made from the same fabric, which is where the meaning of this phrase comes from. When you use this expression, you're saying that it doesn't matter whether you choose option A or option B. The outcome will be the same.
- Es ist Jacke wie Hose. (It doesn't make a difference.)
53. Turteltauben sein
Literal Translation – Be turtle doves.
English Meaning – Be lovebirds.
Two turtle doves are a sign of love, both in German and English. This is one of those German idioms to talk about two people who can't get enough of each other.
- Kommt ihr zwei Turteltauben, oder nicht? (Are you two lovebirds coming, or not?)
54. Seine Felle davonschwimmen sehen
Literal Translation – See his furs floating away.
English Meaning – Watch your hopes and dreams fade away.
Another melancholy German saying describes the tragic phenomenon of watching your hopes and dreams disappear before your eyes.
The traditional work of tanning hides had the potential to become a lucrative business. The craftsmen had to be careful not to lose the pelts while cleaning them in the river. If your grip wasn't firm enough, you might end up watching your dreams float away.
- Wir haben plötzlich unsere Felle davonschwimmen gesehen. (We suddenly saw our dreams fading away.)
55. Auf der Leitung stehen
Literal Translation – Stand on the wires.
English Meaning – A mental block
Similar to “I have my wires crossed,” this phrase is another way of saying that you're confused or don't understand something.
Years ago, when the telephone connections were poor, some would say that someone was standing on the line, causing the bad signal. Consequently, communication and understanding were missing.
Today, the expression means that someone is slow to catch on to what's happening.
- Stehst du auf der Leitung? (Are you slow to catch on?)
56. Jemanden übers Ohr hauen
Literal Translation – Go over someone's ear.
English Meaning – Cheat, pull a fast one.
A blow above the ear line is against the rules and dangerous to the opponent in a fencing game. Because this type of move involves brutality, the term evolved to mean lying, cheating, or stiffing somebody.
- Du hast mich übers Ohr gehaut! (You set me up!)
57. Jemanden über den Tisch ziehen
Literal Translation – Pull someone over the table.
English Meaning – Use somebody, mop the floor with someone (in a game)
Pulling someone over the table can mean that you ripped someone off, exploited them, or beat them mercilessly at their favorite board game. The phrase gets its origins from a traditional Alpine competition in which two players hook their middle fingers together with their elbows on the table. Then, both pull until one pulls the other over the table and wins.
- Du versuchst mich über den Tisch zu ziehen. (You're trying to rip me off.)
58. Gift und Galle spucken
Literal Translation – Spit poison and bile.
English Meaning – Fly off the handle.
Someone furious might reach their boiling point and start spitting fire, or in German, poison, and bile.
- Er spuckt Gift und Galle, weil er nicht mehr das Sagen hat. (He's flying off the handle because he doesn't have the say anymore.)
59. Butter bei die Fische
Literal Translation – Butter with the fish.
English Meaning – In all honesty/Give more effort.
This grammatically incorrect phrase is interesting because the accusative die follows the dative preposition bei. Another peculiarity is that this saying has two different meanings.
First, you can use this German idiom to mean, in all honesty, to be frank or to cut to the chase. A second use for this expression can mean giving your best effort or give it some elbow grease.
- Jetzt mal Butter bei die Fische. Hast du die Schule geschwänzt? (In all honesty, now. Did you skip school/play hooky?)
- Gib ein bißchen Butter bei die Fische und du kannst in einer Stunde fertig sein. (Give some elbow grease and you can be done in an hour.)
60. Den schwarzen Peter zuschieben
Literal Translation – Pass the black Peter.
English Meaning – Pass the blame.
Pointing the finger at or shifting the blame to someone else is known as passing the black Peter in German.
The idiom stems from an old children's card game. What we now think of as the Joker in a card deck was called the black Peter. When you put an inconvenient task into someone else's lap or play the blame game, you're passing them the Joker or most unwanted card in the deck.
- Diesmal kannst du nicht deinem Bruder den schwarzen Peter zuschieben. (You can't pass the blame onto your brother this time.)
61. Eine Schwalbe macht noch keinen Sommer
Literal Translation – One swallow doesn't make a summer.
English Meaning – There's still a ways to go.
Celebrating too soon could set you up for disappointment down the line. With this German idiom, you can remind someone not to count their chickens before they hatch.
- Wir haben den ersten Schritt gemacht, aber eine Schwalbe macht noch keinen sommer. (We took the first step, but there's a long way to go.)
62. Da brat mir einer einen Storch
Literal Translation – Someone is roasting a stork for me.
English Meaning – Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle.
This is one of those creepy-sounding German idioms, but don't take it literally. Storks are thought to bring good fortune, which is why Germans traditionally protect and cherish them. The idea of roasting one is unimaginable, which is where this exclamation of surprise gets its roots.
- Da brat mir einer einen Storch! Sowas habe ich noch nie gesehen. (I'm shocked! I never saw something like that.)
63. Den Schalk im Nacken haben
Literal Translation – Have the joker on the neck.
English Meaning – Be up to mischief.
If you're dealing with a prankster, joker, or another mischievous person, this German idiom can describe someone who's a pain in your neck.
- Er hat den Schalk im Nacken. (He's up to mischief.)
64. Auf Wolke 7 schweben
Literal Translation – Float on cloud seven.
English Meaning – Float on cloud nine.
Achieving the highest level of euphoria, bliss, and ultimate happiness is known as floating on cloud nine in English or cloud seven if you're German. According to the saying, God lives in the clouds in seventh heaven. This cloud is where the happiest angels live. Usually, this expression means someone is falling in love.
- Seit dem Urlaub schweben wir auf Wolke sieben. (We're floating on cloud nine since the vacation.)
65. Kleider machen Leute
Literal Translation – Clothes make people.
English Meaning – Clothes make the man.
Based on a short story in Swiss literature, you might recognize this German idiom from the similar English version. This phrase can remind someone of the importance of making an excellent first impression by dressing appropriately.
- Kleider machen Leute ist besonders wahr in einem Geschäftsumfeld. (Clothes make people is especially true in a business setting.)
66. Tabula Rasa machen
Literal Translation – Smoothly scraped board.
English Meaning – Start from a clean slate.
The term tabula rase stems from a Latin phrase meaning a smoothly scraped board or clean slate. If you're getting a fresh start or a new beginning, this idiom could provide an excellent opening line when meeting new friends. You can also use this phrase negatively to emphasize that your point is not to start over from scratch.
- Wir wollen keine Tabula Rasa machen. (We don't want to start from scratch.)
67. Eine Rabenmutter sein
Literal Translation – Be a raven mother.
English Meaning – Be a bad mother.
In German, if a mother fails to meet her parental responsibilities, she must be a raven mother. Because the bird's babies leave the nest before they can fly, the misconception arose that they are bad parents. Although the superstition isn't true, the idiom is still commonplace.
- Ich fühle mich wie eine Rabenmutter. (I feel like a bad mother.)
68. Die Büchse der Pandora öffnen
Literal Translation – Open Pandora's box
English Meaning – Open Pandora's box
Here's one of those German idioms you'll probably recognize from its English counterpart. When you open Pandora's box, you're likely to set off a chain reaction, whether that's for the better or worse.
- Wie oft muss du noch die Büchse der Pandora öffnen? (How many more times do you have to reopen Pandora's box?)
69. Sich ins gemachte Nest setzen
Literal Translation – Sit in the made nest.
English Meaning – Have it made.
Whether you marry rich or are born with a silver spoon in your mouth, the idea behind this German idiom is that you can just sit back and relax in the nest someone else made. The phrase comes from the actions of the cuckoo bird, which steals pre-built nests from other birds instead of making its own. You can use this expression in various ways.
- Sie hat sich ins gemachte Nest gesetzt. (She married for money.)
- Wir haben die ganze Arbeit gemacht. Sie hat sich einfach ins gemachte Nest gesetzt. (We did all the work. She just rode along on our success.)
70. Einen Eiertanz aufführen
Literal Translation – Perform an egg dance.
English Meaning – Walk on eggshells.
A story from Goethe describes a scene with a floor full of eggs and a girl who danced carefully through them without touching a single one. Now, the idiom often depicts how careful you have to be around susceptible subjects or people.
- Sie führt immer einen Eiertanz auf weil sie niemanden auf die Füße treten will. (She always walks on eggshells because she doesn't want to offend anyone.)
71. Den Kürzeren ziehen
Literal Translation – Pull the shorter one.
English Meaning – Get the short end of the stick.
Where there's a winner and a loser, the loser typically ends up with the short end of the stick. In one children's game, everyone has to pick a straw, one of which is shorter than the others. The person with the short straw loses. This idiom describes someone disadvantaged, short-changed, or who had bad luck.
- Jedes mal ziehst du den Kürzeren. (You lose every time.)
72. Wie du in den Wald hineinrufst, so schallt's heraus
Literal Translation – The forest echos back what you shout into it.
English Meaning – Treat others how you want to be treated.
Similar to “you reap what you sow,” this German idiom serves as a reminder that what goes around comes around.
- Bevor du die Beherrschung verlierst, denke daran, dass hier gilt: wie man in den Wald hineinruft, so schallt es heraus. (Before you lose control, remember the rule that what goes around comes around.)
73. Jemanden den Hof machen
Literal Translation – Make someone's farm.
English Meaning – Court someone
When love is in the air, an interested person may decide to woo that special someone with dates, gifts, and other thoughtful gestures. In German, the phrase, make someone's farm, describes the process of courting someone or paying attention to them.
- Er hat mir Blumen und Schokolade geschenkt! Er macht mir ganz schön den Hof. (He gifted me flowers and chocolate! He's really making an effort to court me.)
74. Viele Wege führen nach Rom
Literal Translation – Many roads lead to Rome.
English Meaning – Many roads lead to Rome.
There's more than one way to get something done, which is meant in this following idiom. This is one of those German idioms that's nearly identical to the English saying, this expression means there could be multiple solutions to a challenge.
- Man weiß nie. Eine neue Denkweise könnte die Lösung sein. Viele wege führen nach Rom. (You never know. A new way of thinking could be the solution. Many roads lead to Rome.)
75. Das macht den Kohl auch nicht fett
Literal Translation – That doesn't make the cabbage fat either.
English Meaning – It won't make a difference.
German idioms about cabbage are a thing. Here's another one that gives you a way to say something doesn't matter or won't help significantly.
- Schöne Worte machen den Kohl nicht fett. (Nice words don't change anything.)
76. Sich die Hörner abstoßen
Literal Translation – Shed one's horns.
English Meaning – Let one's guard down.
Someone who's feeling uptight and unrelaxed might need to let their guard down, or in German, shed their horns. Horns are often a sign of stubbornness and difficulty letting go. By shedding them, you're ready to have fun, go wild, and let loose.
- Die Studenten wollen sich die Hörner abstoßen bevor Semesterbeginn. (The students want to have some fun before the new semester begins.)
77. Den Faden verlieren
Literal Translation – Lose the thread.
English Meaning – Lose your train of thought.
If you start to tell a story and forget your point mid-way through, you may have lost the thread in German. In English, you'd say you lost your train of thought or got derailed.
- Lass uns nicht den Faden verlieren. (Let's not get off-track.)
78. In Teufels Küche kommen
Literal Translation – Come into the devil's kitchen.
English Meaning – Be in a sticky situation.
The devil's kitchen isn't a safe place to be, which makes this reference a suitable way to say you're in deep trouble.
- Wir kommen alle in Teufels Küche mit deinem Fehlverhalten. (All of us are getting into trouble with your bad behavior.)
79. Nach Strich und Faden
Literal Translation – According to stitch and thread.
English Meaning – Good and proper.
When something is done correctly or in tremendous detail, this phrase can emphasize that someone took the utmost care in doing it.
- Du verwöhnst uns nach Strich und Faden. (You spoil us rotten.)
80. Jemanden an der Nase herumführen
Literal Translation – Lead someone around by the nose.
English Meaning – Give someone the runaround.
If someone leads you on a merry chase or gives you the runaround, they're most likely trying to deceive you. In the world of German idioms, someone is leading you around by the nose to fool you.
- Ich lass mich nicht länger an der Nase herumführen. (I won't be fooled any longer.)
81. Zur Strecke bringen
Literal Translation – Bring to the stretch.
English Meaning – Take someone down.
Imagine taking down a robber, criminal, or opponent often results in a chase when you hear this German idiom. The home stretch is the final fight before catching the wrong-doer in their actions.
- Die Polizei haben den Täter zur Strecke gebracht. (The police took down the perpetrator.)
82. Oberwasser haben
Literal Translation – Have headwater.
English Meaning – Have the upper hand.
Having headwater can have several different meanings in German. First, the idiom can mean having a good time. A second meaning is to have the upper hand. Finally, the phrase can mean someone who wants to be first.
- Wir werden endlich Oberwasser haben. (We'll finally have fun.)
- Er muss immer Oberwasser haben. (He always wants to be first.)
- Nach der letzten Stimmenzahl hat die Partei wieder Oberwasser. (After the last vote count, the party has the upper-hand again.)
83. Ungeschoren davonkommen
Literal Translation – Get off scot-free.
English Meaning – Get off scot-free.
This German idiom is describing a narrow escape where you get off unscathed or with only a slap on the wrist. Use this expression after a close call that could have had you in severe trouble.
- Ich kann kaum glauben, dass du ungeschoren davongekommen bist. (I can hardly believe that you got away with it.)
84. Man hat schon Pferde kotzen sehen
Literal Translation – You already saw horses vomiting.
English Meaning – Crazier things have happened.
Although extremely rare, horses can occasionally vomit if they eat the wrong food. This vulgar German idiom means, you never know, anything could happen.
- Natürlich hast du keine große Chance, aber man hat schon Pferde kotzen gesehen. (Of course you don't have much of a chance, but nothing is impossible.)
85. Schuster, bleib bei deinen Leisten
Literal Translation – Shoemaker, stick to your strengths.
English Meaning – Stick to what you know.
You can break out this German expression to remind someone to stop talking about subjects outside their realm of knowledge.
- Schuster, bleib bei deinen Leisten. Ich bin hier der Architekt. (Don't meddle in affairs you don't understand. I'm the architect here.)
86. Ein Brett vor dem Kopf haben
Literal Translation – Have a board in front of the head.
English Meaning – Have your head in the sand.
Farmers sometimes use boards or other blinders to keep cattle calm while leading them to a new pasture. In German, someone may have a board in front of their head if they overlook the obvious.
- Er war schon immer in dich verliebt. Hast du ein Brett vor dem Kopf? (He has always been in love with you. Are you blind?)
87. Die Katze im Sack kaufen
Literal Translation – Buy the cat in the bag.
English Meaning – Buy a horse sight unseen.
Making a purchase without checking the terms and conditions first could have dire consequences. When someone buys something without understanding all the details, you can pull out this German idiom.
- Einkaufen für Mystery-Boxen ist wie eine Katze im Sack zu kaufen. (Shopping for mystery boxes is like buying a horse sight unseen.)
88. Mit den Wölfen heulen
Literal Translation – Howl with the wolves.
English Meaning – When in Rome
When in Rome, do what the Romans do. This German idiom is a way of saying, do what the locals do by blending in with everyone else.
- Man muss mit den Wölfen heulen. (When in Rome.)
89. Das Gelbe vom Ei sein
Literal Translation – Be the yolk of the egg.
English Meaning – The bee's knees
The best thing since sliced bread, the cream of the crop, and something to write home about are equivalent English expressions for this German idiom. Something that's the absolute best is coined the yolk of the egg. Similarly, a negative connotation means something isn't anything the greatest.
- Die Suchfunktion ist nicht gerade das Gelbe vom Ei. (The search function needs improvement.)
90. Im Dreieck springen
Literal Translation – Jump in a triangle.
English Meaning – Go off the deep end.
Jumping in a triangle is another way of expressing how angry you are in German. Like going off the deep end in English, this idiom is an ideal way to put your inner unrest into words.
- Ich springe gleich im Dreieck. (I'm about to go off the deep end.)
Final Thoughts On German Idioms
I hope you enjoyed learning all of these German idioms. As you continue to learn German, you'll discover new and entertaining expressions all the time.
Language learning requires your committed dedication, and what better way to stay motivated than by adding practical, everyday phrases to your knowledge bank.
So now look out for these German idioms when you listen to German podcasts or read in German. Or even when you watch German TV shows and watch German movies.
Until next time, Ich drück dir die Daumen!