25 Common German Idioms to Sound Like a Native

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

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.


The Value of Learning German Idioms

After you take some time to learn common German phrases and 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’ll 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’ll 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 You don’t want to sound like your textbook—or worse, like someone’s grandma or grandpa by using outdated sayings.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, anyone? 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!

Of course, the thing about idioms is they can be confusing or hard to remember since you can’t usually understand them from the individual words alone. You need to learn them in context.

german idioms

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Liven Up Your Conversations with 25 Common German Idioms

Below is 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 sound native

1. Um den heißen Brei herumreden

Literally: 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!)

20 common german idioms sound native

2. Da kannst du Gift drauf nehmen

Literally: 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.)

20 common german idioms sound native

3. Sich zum Affen machen

Literally: 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!)

german idioms

4. Zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen

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

Wenn ich morgen nach Berlin fahre, dann kann ich meine Eltern und alte Schulfreunde besuchen und zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen!
(If I go to Berlin tomorrow I can visit my parents and old school friends and kill two birds with one stone!)

german idioms

5. Eine Extrawurst verlangen

Literally: 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.)

20 common german idioms sound 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.)

20 common german idioms sound native

7. Da steppt der Bär

Literally: 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!

20 common german idioms sound native

8. Tomaten auf den Augen haben

Literally: 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.)

20 common german idioms sound native

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

20 common german idioms sound native

10. Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof

Literally: 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!)

20 common german idioms sound native

11. Weggehen wie warme Semmeln

Literally: 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.)

20 common german idioms sound native

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.)

20 common german idioms sound native

13. Jemandem 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!)

german idioms

14. Etwas 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

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

20 common german idioms sound native

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!)

20 common german idioms sound native

16. Jemandem ein Ohr abkauen

Literally: 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.)

20 common german idioms sound native

17. Klar wie Kloßbrühe

Literally: 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!)

20 common german idioms sound native

18. Dumm wie Bohnenstroh

Literally: 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.)

20 common german idioms sound native

19. Die Kirche im Dorf lassen

Literally: 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 common german idioms sound native

20. Schwein haben

Literally: 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!)

german idioms

21. Ich bin nicht auf der Nudelsuppe daher geschwommen

Literally: 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 dahergeschwommen!”
(You can’t fool me! I wasn’t born yesterday!)

german idioms

22. Da haben wir den Salat

Literally: 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!)

german idioms

23. Das fünfte Rad am Wagen sein

Literally: 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!)

german idioms

24. Einen Vogel haben

Literally: 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?)

german idioms

25. Geld aus dem Fenster werfen

Literally: 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 we have it. There’s no need to dich zum Affen machen (to make a fool of yourself) anymore! You might just Schwein haben (have a stroke of luck), and with these 25 German idioms, have a German conversation that klar wie Kloßbrühe (clear as crystal).

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