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17 German Idioms That Will Make You Sound Like A Local

german girls talking-german idioms

Are you struggling to speak German fluently? Learning German idioms may give you the boost you need to improve your german speaking skills. Perhaps, after some time learning the language, you might feel that you’re at a plateau, stuck at a level where you cannot move forward— we know how you feel. That’s why today we bring you a series of German Idioms that will help you feel more confident when communicating with your German friends. You’ll be able to understand/perceive nuances of the language that you may not have gotten before. Are you interested? Los geht’s!

A Little About German Communication Culture

You might have heard that Germans are pretty direct, and that’s true. Unlike other cultures, where people tend to communicate more indirectly and implicitly, Germans tend to get straight to the point. 

This communication style makes some foreigners feel that Germans are a bit blunt. However, it is important to understand that their intention is not to offend but to speak clearly and avoid misunderstandings.

Another aspect of German culture that differs from other cultures is the concept of “throwing ideas in the air,” something very common in North American or Spanish-speaking cultures. Germans usually give an opinion when they have something concrete to say. Small talk is not something they do a lot.

In order to improve your German language skills, you need to understand the German communication style. By understanding their intent and the sense of humor hidden behind some of their phrases and idioms, you will be able to perceive much more than you would with common textbook phrases.

Let’s look at some popular German idioms that might be useful among your fellow Germans. 

german sausages-german idiom- literal translations

1-Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei

Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. We all know that every beginning has an end. This expression exists in most languages, but the Germans added a personal touch to it. If we translate it literally, “Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei” means “Everything has an end. Only a sausage has two.” But its English equivalent would be “everything comes to an end” or “All good things must come to an end.”

2-Jemandem ein Ohr abkauen

Have you ever come across a person who talks so much that you want to cut off your ear? Well, this expression could be very useful in a similar moment. This phrase means “chew someone’s ear,” it is used when you feel tired and bored of listening to a person talking non-stop.

3-Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof

I love this expression! The first time I heard it, I felt exactly like its meaning, clueless. It means “I only understand train station,” but its English equivalent would be “it’s all Greek to me.” You can use it when someone says something you don’t understand or are unfamiliar with.

4-Die Daumen drücken

I remember the first time a German friend wished me luck with an upcoming exam. We experienced a culture shock when it came to gestures. As I crossed my fingers, she pressed her thumb into the palm of her hand. I learned that day that this expression/gesture means “to press your thumbs for someone” and is used to wish someone good luck.

5-Ich bin fix und fertig

This expression is used when someone is extremely tired. Translated into English, it means “I’m all done and dusted” or “I’m exhausted.”

6-Da kannst du Gift drauf nehmen

Have you ever been so sure of something that you would bet your life on it? Well, the Germans added a little drama to the expression. “Da kannst du Gift drauf nehmen” literally means “you can take poison on that,” which means that you are almost 100% sure of something and are willing to “bet your life on it.”

7-Die Kirche im dorf lassen

Sometimes we get so excited or involved in something that we lose control of our emotions or behavior. In those moments, the phrase “die Kirche im dorf lassen” could remind us to keep our cool. Literally, it means “to leave the church in the village.” Its English equivalent would be “to not get carried away.”

german church-german speaking countries

8-Eine Extrawurst haben

Here is another example where Germans use sausages in their expressions/vocabulary. “Eine Extrawurst haben” literally means to ask for an extra sausage, and it is to ask for special treatment.

9-Lügen haben kurze Beine

The truth always comes out, and according to the Germans, “lies have short legs.” This means that a lie will not get very far.

10-Einen Kater haben

If you had a night out and had too much to drink, you might wake up the next day with a cat. In German, you use the expression “Einen Kater haben” to say you are hungover.

11-Tomaten auf den Augen haben

Has it ever happened to you that you have something right in front of your eyes and don’t see it? Something so obvious that you would have to be blind not to notice it? In situations like that, Germans might say that you “have a tomato in your eye.”

12-Die beleidigte Leberwurst spielen

Here’s another sausage expression! Die beleidigte Leberwurst spielen means “to play the offended liver sausage”. It’s used when someone is upset or mad about something simple or unnecessary. It’s making a big deal out of something.

13-Der Fisch stinkt vom Kopf her

This term generally indicates that a problem starts at the top of a company or organization. Despite its literal meaning (the fish stinks from the head), it is used as a metaphor for bosses who cause problems. 

14-Da haben wir den Salat

If we have expressions with sausages, why not add vegetables? For example, “da haben wir den Salat” means “there we have the salad,” indicating that a problem or an issue has arisen.

cows-german idioms-literal translations

15-Ich bin keine Kuh, die man melken kann

This expression is a little feisty! “Ich bin keine Kuh, die man melken kann meaning “I am not a cow to be milked.” It can be used to call someone out when they’re trying to advantage of you.

16-Da brennt die Luft

When there is tension in the air, the Germans say that the air is burning. Therefore, “da brennt die Luft” means the atmosphere is a little tense.

17-Die Kacke ist am dampfen

Finally, we have a slightly Stinky expression. “Die Kacke ist am dampfen” means “the poop is steaming” and is used to express that someone is in trouble.

There you have it! 17 German idioms that will not only allow you to understand the nuances of the language but will also help you to express yourself more fluently using the German sense of humor, which will bring you closer to your German peers.

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