20 Common German Idioms to Sound Like a Native

Ever find yourself totally baffled in the middle of a German conversation?

Struggling to make sense of seemingly irrelevant comments?

Like, things are going great until your friend says something bizarre about a dancing bear, or dumpling broth. What gives?

Did they mean to say that? Or did you totally misunderstand the vocabulary?

Congratulations!  This confusion means that your German is solid enough to understand what your friend is saying literally. Now, it’s time for you to learn idioms and take your German skills to the next level.

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The Value of Learning German Idioms

After you take some time to learn common idioms, you’ll find yourself understanding new nuances of your favorite books and TV shows. Not only will learning idioms improve your German comprehension, but it will also give you insight into German culture and history. German idioms are chock-full of references to popular German foods like sausages, bread rolls, and mustard. Language learning suddenly got delicious (and if you want to get even hungrier, be sure to check out our post on German food vocabulary).

Moreover, to sound like a proficient speaker of German you will have to use idioms. Sometimes only an idiom can help you express exactly what you mean. Ultimately, everyone uses language differently to express their unique ideas and personality. Idioms can help you to find your unique and distinctive style of German. You don’t want to sound like your textbook – or worse, like someone’s grandma or grandpa by using outdated sayings. Peachy keen and spiffy, any one? How swell! That doesn’t sound like you in English, so why should you talk that way in German? Knowing the right idioms can help you sound more like yourself than ever before!

Are you finding yourself a bit intimated by all the possible idioms? Wondering how to distinguish between hackneyed and modern?

Here we have provided a fantastic list of German idioms, along with their literal translations, their English equivalents, and examples of how to use them. Start incorporating them in your German as soon as possible to impress your German-speaking friends!

20 Common German Idioms to Sound Like a Native

20 common german idioms sound native 20 Common German Idioms to Sound Like a Native

1. um den heißen Brei herumreden

Literally: to talk around the hot porridge
English equivalent: to beat around the bush

Da die Wahl bald ist, spricht der Politiker oft um den heißen Brei herum.
(Since the election is soon, the politician beats around the bush often.)

 

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2. Da kannst du Gift drauf nehmen

Literally: You can take poison on that
English equivalent: You can bet your life on that

Eines Tages wird er berühmt sein. Da kannst du Gift drauf nehmen.
(One day he will be famous. You can bet your life on that.)

 

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3. sich zum Affen machen

Literally: to make an ape of oneself
English equivalent: to make a fool of oneself

Hans wird die Arbeitsstelle nicht bekommen. Während des Interviews hat er sich zum Affen gemacht.
(Hans will not get the job. He made a fool of himself during the interview.)

4. zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen

Literally: kill two flies with one swat
English equivalent: to kill two birds with one stone

Da ich zwei Besorgungen im Standzentrum machen muss, kann ich zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen!
(Since I must run errands to run in the city center, I can kill two birds with one stone!)

5. eine Extrawurst verlangen

Literally: to ask for an extra sausage
English Equivalent: to ask for special treatment

Da er der Sohn des Chefs ist, verlangt er immer eine Extrawurst.
(Because he is the son of the boss, he always asks for special treatment.)

 

20 common german idioms sound native 20 Common German Idioms to Sound Like a Native

6. Himmel und Hölle in Bewegung setzen

Literally: put heaven and hell in motion
English equivalent: to move heaven and earth

Er wird Himmel und Hölle in Bewegung setzen um zwei Karten für das Konzert zu bekommen.
(He will move heaven and earth to get two tickets to the concert.)

 

party 20 Common German Idioms to Sound Like a Native

7. Da steppt der Bär

Literally: The bear dances there
English Equivalent: It will be a good party

Ich gehe heute Abend zu Maria. Da steppt der Bär!
(I’m going to Maria’s tonight. It will be a good party!)

A close relative to the dancing bear is the burning air. It’s a similar phrase with an identical meaning:

Da brennt die Luft!

 

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8. Tomaten auf den Augen haben

Literally: to have tomatoes on one’s eyes
English Equivalent: to be oblivious to what is going around you

Der Freund von Anna betrügt sie aber sie hat Tomaten auf den Augen.
(Anna’s boyfriend is cheating on her but she’s oblivious to what’s going on.)

 

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9. den Nagel auf den Kopf treffen

Literally: to hit the nail on the head
English Equivalent: to hit the nail on the head

Du hast recht! Du hast den Nagel auf den Kopf getroffen.
(You are right! You’ve hit the nail on the head.)

 

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10. Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof

Literally: I can only understand “train station.”
English equivalent: It’s all Greek to me.

Kannst du seinen Dialekt verstehen? Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof.
(Do you understand his dialect? It’s all Greek to me.)

20 common german idioms sound native 20 Common German Idioms to Sound Like a Native

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20 common german idioms sound native1 20 Common German Idioms to Sound Like a Native

11. weggehen wie warme Semmeln

Literally: to go like warm rolls
English equivalent: to go or sell like hot cakes

Die Kekse, die Stefan gebacken hat, gehen weg wie warme Semmeln.
(The cookies that Stefan baked are going like hot cakes.)

 

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12. seinen Senf dazugeben

Literally: to add their mustard
English equivalent: to put their two cents in

Peter spricht zu viel. Er muss immer seinen Senf dazugeben.
(Peter talks too much. He always has to put his two cents in.)

 

wish want 20 Common German Idioms to Sound Like a Native

13. jdm. die Daumen drücken

Literally: to squeeze your thumbs for someone
English equivalent: to keep one’s fingers crossed for someone

Viel Glück! Ich drücke dir die Daumen!
(Good luck! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you!)

14. etw. wie seine Westentasche kennen

Literally: to know something like one’s waistcoat pocket                    
English equivalent: to know it like the back of one’s hand.

In Berlin werde ich mich niemals verirren. Ich kenne es wie meine Westentasche.
(I will never get lost in Berlin. I know it like the back of my hand.)

 

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15. Man soll den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben

Literally: Don’t praise the day before the evening.
English equivalent: Don’t count your chicks before they hatch.

Sag nicht, dass Argentinien die Weltmeisterschaft gewinnen wird. Man soll den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben!
(Don’t say that Argentina will win the World Cup. Don’t count your chicks before they hatch!)

 

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16. jdm. ein Ohr abkauen

Literally: to chew someone’s ear off
English equivalent: to talk someone’s ear off

Dieses Kind kann nicht still sein. Es kaut mir ein Ohr ab.
(This child cannot be silent. He is talking my ear off.)

 

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17. klar wie Kloßbrühe

Literally: clear as dumpling broth
English equivalent: crystal clear

Verstehst du mich? Ist es klar wie Kloßbrühe?
Do you understand me? Is it crystal clear?

 

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18. dumm wie Bohnenstroh

Literally: as dumb as a bean straw
English equivalent: as thick as a brick

Er redet nur Quatsch. Er ist dumm wie Bohnenstroh.
(He talks only nonsense. He is as thick as a brick.)

 

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19. die Kirche im Dorf lassen

Literally: to leave the church in the village
English equivalent: to not get carried away

Der Film war nur OK. Bitte lass die Kirche im Dorf.
(The film was only OK. Please don’t get carried away.)

 

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20. Schwein haben

Literally: to have a pig
English equivalent: to have a stroke of luck

Obwohl er nicht für den Test gelernt hat, hat er den Test bestanden. Er hat Schwein gehabt!
(Although he didn’t study, he passed the test. He had a stroke of luck!)

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