“I only understand train station.”
Sounds odd, right? But, if you literally translate “I only understand train station” to its German counterpart, ich verstehe nur Bahnhof, you actually get a really common expression.
If you’re ever trying to keep up with a conversation between a bunch of German friends, or are out and about on the streets of Germany, you may hear some phrases which might totally stump you.
Some expressions are hard to translate, even if you know a good deal of German vocabulary and grammar. The best way to pick them up is through experiencing them and how they are used in everyday conversation.
With that in mind, I’ve come up with my list of the top ten everyday German phrases and how to use them.
Why You’ll Want to Have These Everyday German Phrases Under Your Belt
As I’ve mentioned before, the phrases I’ve selected can be tricky to translate if they are out of context. For this reason, it’s a good idea to knuckle down and learn exactly how they are used.
I know just how hard trying to keep up with a fast-paced German conversation can be, and that your mind can end up racing round trying to remember all your vocabulary. When one of these phrases is dropped, it could really throw you for a loop and leave you struggling to follow what everyone’s chatting about.
One way to get in the loop of German conversation—and stay there—is with FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
With meticulous, interactive captions, you’ll see every word that’s spoken in a video—and you can just hover over anything unfamiliar to get instant definitions, pronunciations and extra usage examples.
A huge library of videos on all sorts of topics mean that you can always find something interesting to watch. And, since videos are organized by learning level, you can get challenge without frustration.
Fun, adaptive exercises let you practice what you’re learning, ensuring that you truly understand all your new vocabulary and grammar.
FluentU tracks your progress and will let you know when it’s time to review, using multimedia flashcards that keep learning dynamic—so you never forget what you’ve learned. Check it out with the free trial, and start learning to speak like a native!
If you learn to understand all of these phrases, that’ll really help you out when conversing with others or when watching the latest episode of your favorite TV show. By taking it a step further and knowing how to correctly slip them into your speaking, your peers may even mistake you for a native speaker!
10 Everyday German Phrases You’ll Hear Everywhere
1. Das ist mir egal. (I don’t care.)
Literal translation: That’s the same to me.
You probably already know about idioms. One of the first ones learners pick up (probably because it’s got a pretty funny literal translation!) is: Das ist mir Wurst (I don’t care). Literally, it means “That is sausage to me.”
It’s not only very funny, but also a very German saying! You won’t be able to use this idiom in professional contexts though, so don’t even think about using it in your schoolwork or around the workplace!
This is where das ist mir egal comes in. It’s a slightly more formal way of saying you don’t really mind about something. It can be used to refer to different things—from what flavor ice cream you want to what you want to do on the weekend.
2. Spinnst du?! (Are you crazy?!)
This phrase is often used between friends and family if someone is being a bit nuts. It’s also sometimes heard in office environments, but be wary and use it only if you know your colleague really, really well.
It can be easy to trip over this sentence because the verb spinnen has two completely different meanings. One is used here: to be crazy. The other is “to weave” or “to yarn.” Obviously, the context will help you figure out whether someone is asking you whether you’re crazy or busy yarning!
3. Das war’s. (That’s everything.)
Literal translation: That was it.
This is a good one to know if you’re ever shopping or ordering in a cafe, restaurant or bar. Once you’ve placed your order with a waiter or someone behind a counter, they’ll often ask “sonst noch etwas?” or “sonst noch dazu?,” both meaning “Anything else?”
Simply reply with “das war’s” for a quick and simple way of saying you’ve got everything you want and/or need. This phrase isn’t restricted for buying things; if you ever want to say “that’s it” then just bring this phrase out.
4. …oder? (…right?)
If you have trouble constructing questions in German, you should probably go back a few grammar topics until you’re really confident with them. But there is also a shortcut way. In an informal situation, you can always ask questions simply by ending a statement with oder (or).
So, for example, if I wanted to ask whether the dog is brown, I could either create a question like so:
Ist der Hund braun? (Is the dog brown?)
Or, I can make a statement and add on oder to the end:
Der Hund ist braun, oder? (The dog is brown, right?)
We don’t use the word “or” like this in English, so this can take a bit of getting used to. But once you’re comfortable with it, it’s such a simple and effective way of asking things.
5. Darf ich ins Internet gehen? (May I use the Internet?)
In English, we “go on the Internet.” Not in Germany though, they “go into the Internet.” This is super useful to know if you’re ever on the look out for a Wi-Fi hotspot while on vacation!
But wait, how do we know it’s “into” and not just “in”? Well, the German word for “in” is (conveniently!) in. This takes the accusative case because the gehen means there is movement in the sentence.
As Internet is neuter, it takes das as its definite article. Whenever in and das are together in a sentence, we can shorten them to ins. Still confused? You might need to brush up on your cases and noun gender.
6. Ich besorge den Kaffee. (I’ll get the coffee.)
In Germany, if you want to pay for something then you say you’ll besorgen or “take care of” it. This is slightly different to a Einladung or “invitation.” If someone invites you out for a meal or drinks, then they will be paying the whole check at the end.
On the other hand, if a German ever tells you they’ll take care of drinks, then it usually means that only that one round is on them.
7. Na? (Well?)
The German language can be amazing at times. Especially when it comes to the word na. These two little letters can be loaded with hidden meaning! It’s often asked among friends as a simple version of “How’s it going?” or “What’s up?”
If you’re also in the middle of doing something and someone asks you this, they just want to know how you’re getting on with things. But the simplest definition—and most regular—for “Na?” is just “Well?”
8. Schönen Tag noch! (Have a nice day!)
Literal translation: Nice day still!
The Germans might not have a reputation as being the most customer-orientated or politest people on the planet, but they sometimes do take part in small talk and charming chitchat.
Just as you would here in the United States, once you’ve finished a transaction in a shop or restaurant, it’s often the etiquette to wish someone a pleasant day. The Germans shorten this right down to simply saying “nice day still” or “schönen Tag noch!”
9. Ebenso! (Same to you!)
Want to wish a nice day right back at them? There are a number ways to do so, including words like gleichfalls, but my favorite is ebenso.
It’s not too hard to pronounce (unlike that tricky “ch” sound in gleichfalls, which quite a few native English speakers find that hard to say), and can also be used in other situations—whenever you want to return any greetings or compliments.
10. Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof. (It’s all Greek to me.)
Literal translation: I understand only train station.
Yes, you read that right, this does really translate literally as “I understand only train station.” It’s another idiom, so the meaning is different from the literal translation.
The nearest English expression we have to this one is “It’s all Greek to me.” So if you ever do get really stuck in a German conversation, just pull this out of your bag of phrases and vocabulary to impress your peers!
There are a ton more really useful everyday German phrases out there to learn; hopefully this has given you a great list to start off with!
After studying German and Philosophy at The University of Nottingham, Laura Harker relocated to Berlin in 2012. She now works as a freelance writer and is also assistant editor at Slow Travel Berlin.