25 Common German Idioms

Many German expressions have layers of meaning beyond the literal definitions of their words. “Tomatoes on the eyes”? What’s that about?

If you’re a whiz at vocabulary but you still find yourself totally baffled in the middle of German conversations, it’s time to learn German idioms and take your skills to the next level.


1. Tomaten auf den Augen haben

Literal translation: To have tomatoes on one’s eyes
English equivalent: To be oblivious to what’s 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.)

2. Da kannst du Gift drauf nehmen

Literal translation: You can take poison on that
English equivalent: You can bet your life on that / you can be sure of that

Mein Vater wird die Sache in Ordnung bringen, darauf kannst du Gift nehmen.
(My father will sort this out, you can be sure of that.)

3. Sich zum Affen machen

Literal translation: To make an ape of oneself
English equivalent: To make a fool of oneself

Wir lassen uns doch nicht zum Affen machen!
(We won’t let ourselves be made fools of!)

4. Zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen

Literal translation: Kill two flies with one swat
English equivalent: To kill two birds with one stone

Morgen kann ich meine Eltern und alte Schulfreunde besuchen und zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen!
(Tomorrow I can visit my parents and old school friends and kill two birds with one stone!)

5. Eine Extrawurst verlangen

Literal translation: To ask for an extra sausage
English equivalent: To ask for special treatment

Der Sohn des Chefs verlangt immer eine Extrawurst!
(The boss’ son always asks for special treatment.)

6. Himmel und Hölle in Bewegung setzen

Literal translation: 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.)

7. Da steppt der Bär

Literal translation: The bear dances there
English equivalent: It will be a great party / to be a mad one

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

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

8. Um den heißen Brei herumreden

Literal translation: To talk around the hot porridge
English equivalent: To beat around the bush

Rede nicht um den heißen Brei herum! Sag mir, worum es eigentlich geht!
(Don’t beat around the bush! Tell me what it’s actually about!)

9. Den Nagel auf den Kopf treffen

Literal translation: 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’re right! You’ve hit the nail on the head.)

10. Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof

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

Er hat so einen starken Akzent—ich verstehe nur Bahnhof!
(He has such a strong accent—it’s all Greek to me!)

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11. Weggehen wie warme Semmeln

Literal translation: To go like warm rolls
English equivalent: To go or sell like hotcakes

Sein neues Album geht weg wie warme Semmeln.
(His new album is selling like hotcakes.)

12. Seinen Senf dazugeben

Literal translation: 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.)

13. Jemandem die Daumen drücken

Literal translation: 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. Etwas wie seine Westentasche kennen

Literal translation: To know something like one’s waistcoat pocket
English equivalent: To know it like the back of one’s hand

Ich kenne die Gegend wie meine Westentasche.
(I know the area like the back of my hand.)

15. Man soll den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben

Literal translation: 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!)

16. Jemandem ein Ohr abkauen

Literal translation: To chew someone’s ear off
English equivalent: To talk someone’s ear off

Opa hat mich heute auch angerufen und mir ein Ohr abgekaut.
(Granddad called me today to talk my ear off.)

17. Klar wie Kloßbrühe

Literal translation: Clear as dumpling broth
English equivalent: Crystal clear / clear as day / (when used sarcastically) clear as mud

Wie kapierst du das nicht? Das ist doch klar wie Kloßbrühe!
(How do you not get it? It’s crystal clear!)

18. Dumm wie Bohnenstroh

Literal translation: As dumb as a bean straw
English equivalent: As thick as a brick

Er ist sehr sympathisch aber dumm wie Bohnenstroh.
(He is very nice but as thick as a brick.)

19. Die Kirche im Dorf lassen

Literal translation: To leave the church in the village
English equivalent: To not get carried away

Das war gar nicht so schlimm. Jetzt lass mal die Kirche im Dorf.
(It wasn’t all that bad. Don’t get carried away now.)

20. Schwein haben

Literal translation: To have a pig
English equivalent: To have a stroke of luck / to get lucky

Heute haben wir mit dem Wetter Schwein gehabt!
(We got lucky with the weather today!)

21. Ich bin nicht auf der Nudelsuppe dahergeschwommen

Literal translation: I didn’t swim over here on the noodle soup
English equivalent: I wasn’t born yesterday

Mich kannst du nicht täuschen. Ich bin ja nicht auf der Nudelsuppe daher geschwommen!
(You can’t fool me! I wasn’t born yesterday!)

22. Da haben wir den Salat

Literal translation: There we have the salad
English equivalent: The fat’s in the fire / now we’re in a real mess

Hättest Du nicht besser aufpassen können? Jetzt haben wir den Salat!
(Couldn’t you have paid better attention? Now we’re in a real mess!)

23. Das fünfte Rad am Wagen sein

Literal translation: To be the fifth wheel on the car
English equivalent: To be the third wheel

Meine besten Freunde sind jetzt ein Paar und ich bin das fünfte Rad am Wagen!
(My best friends are now a couple and I’m the third wheel!)

24. Einen Vogel haben

Literal translation: To have a bird
English equivalent: To be crazy

Bei dieser Kälte ohne eine Jacke nach draußen gehen? Hast du einen Vogel?
(Going outside without a jacket in this cold? Are you crazy?)

25. Geld aus dem Fenster werfen

Literal translation: To throw money out of the window
English equivalent: To throw money down the drain

Warum hast du so viel für einen neuen Fernseher ausgegeben? Du müsst aufhören, dein Geld aus dem Fenster zu werfen!
(Why did you spend so much on a new television? You need to stop throwing your money down the drain!)


And there you have it! With these 25 German idioms, you can now have a German conversation that is klar wie Kloßbrühe (clear as dumpling broth).

And One More Thing...

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