10 Sayings in German We Should All Be Using

It’s no secret that Germans have a reputation for being direct. And while there are some sayings in German that reflect this (we’ll get to those later), there are also plenty of German sayings that are funny, poetic, and even a little bit romantic. Here are 10 sayings in German we should all be using:

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1. Aller Anfang ist schwer – All beginnings are hard.

This saying is often used to describe how starting something new can be difficult, but once you get going, it gets easier. Yes, exactly like learning a new language!

For example:

Sich mit deutschen Zeitformen vertraut zu machen, kann anfangs schwer sein, aber hey, aller Anfang ist schwer.

Getting your head around German verb tenses can be hard at first, but hey, all beginnings are hard.

2. Die Katze im Sack kaufen – To buy a cat in a sack

This German saying is the equivalent of the English expressions “to buy a pig in a poke” or “to buy a lemon”. It’s used to describe situations where you buy something without knowing what you’re getting, and it’s often used when talking about second-hand cars, or houses, or… just a bad date!

For example:

Wir haben das Haus gekauft, ohne es vorher zu sehen. Das war wie die Katze im Sack kaufen.

We bought the house without seeing it first. That was like buying a pig in a poke.

3. Jemandem einen Bären aufbinden – To tie a bear on someone.

Sayings in German, just like their English counterparts, are full of animal puns and metaphors. This curious expression is used when someone tries to trick or fool someone else. The “bear” is probably a reference to the fact that these animals are notoriously difficult to catch, so if you try to tie one on someone, well, let’s just say you’re not likely to succeed.

For example:

Ich weiß, dass du versuchst, mir einen Bären aufzubinden, aber ich bin nicht darauf reingefallen.

I know you’re trying to trick me, but I’m not falling for it.

4.  Etwas auf die lange Bank schieben – To put something on the long bench.

If you never do today what you can leave for tomorrow, this will be one of your favourite German idioms, as it’s used to talk about people who tend to procrastinate or put things off. The “long bench” in the saying is probably a reference to the fact that benches in old German courthouses were very long, so if you put something on the far end of the bench, it’s easy to lose sight of it and forget all about it once you stand up and leave.

For example:

Ich habe den ganzen Tag lang nichts gemacht und alles auf die lange Bank geschoben. Jetzt muss ich bis spät in die Nacht arbeiten.

I did nothing all day and put everything off until later. Now I have to work late into the night.

5. Jemandem etwas vormachen – To make something in front of someone.

This German idiom is similar to the English sayings “to pull the wool over someone’s eyes” or “to fool someone”. It’s used when a person tries to trick or deceive you to get something from you. Like, when an ‘old friend’ shows up out of the blue to casually tell you about ‘a great business opportunity.’

For example:

Das klingt definitiv nach einem Ponzi-Schema. Du versuchst mir etwas vorzumachen.

This definitely sounds like a Ponzi scheme. You’re trying to fool me.

6. Jemandem etwas hinterherlaufen – To run after someone

The literal translation of this German saying may sound romantic (or disturbing!), but its real meaning is quite simple. This expression is used to describe someone who’s always trying to get something from people, whether it’s money, favours, or just their attention.

For example:

Ich habe ihm schon so oft geholfen, aber er läuft mir immer noch hinterher.

I’ve helped him so many times, but he’s still running after me.

7. Jemandem auf den Kopf hauen – To hit someone on the head

German people are very direct, so it is hardly surprising that there are German idioms to talk about speaking your mind. This German expression is a pretty literal way of saying “to give someone a piece of your mind”. It’s used when you’re fed up with a person and you want to tell them what you really think.

For example:

Ich habe ihm schon so oft gesagt, dass er sein Zimmer aufräumen soll, aber er hört einfach nicht auf mich. Irgendwann were ich ihm mal so richtig auf den Kopf hauen!

I’ve told him so many times to clean his room, but he just doesn’t listen to me. One of these days, I’m going to give him a piece of my mind!

8. Klappe halten – To keep your mouth shut

This German expression is used when you want someone to stop talking. It’s the equivalent of saying “shut up” or “keep your mouth shut”. So, yeah, it’s not the friendliest of German idioms. But it’s definitely useful!

For example:

Kannst du nicht einfach die Klappe halten? Ich versuche zu arbeiten!

Can’t you just keep your mouth shut? I’m trying to work!

9. Die Kurve kriegen – To get the curve

This German idiom has a few different meanings. It can be used to talk about improving your behaviour, straightening out your life, or even just passing your exams. So, if you need some motivation to study for those finals, just tell yourself that you need to get the curve, I mean, kurve!

For example:

Ich weiß, dass ich nicht immer die beste Tochter bin, aber ich werde die Kurve kriegen und mich bessern.

I know I’m not always the best daughter, but I’m going to turn things around and improve myself.

10.  Auf die Bretter, die die Welt bedeuten – Onto the boards that mean the world

This is one of my favourite German idioms because it’s just so poetic. It’s used to describe someone who is about to perform on stage, but it can also be used more generally to talk about anyone who is about to do something important (like learning German!). A possible translation would be “conquer the world stage”.

For example:

Morgen ist mein Vortrag über Deutschland, auf die Bretter, die die Welt bedeuten.

Tomorrow is my presentation about Germany, I’ll get on that stage and conquer the world!

Sayings and idioms are an important part of any language because they provide insight into the culture and history of the people who speak that language. But they also add colour and personality to day-to-day interactions. So, if you’re learning German, make sure to learn these sayings and idioms!

Oh, and if you know any other sayings or idioms in German that we should all be using, feel free to share them on our social media!

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