The compliment is one of the most useful social tools available to mankind.
Not only does it create an atmosphere of positive energy, it initiates friendships and good rapport.
Sometimes, doors and opportunities open that never would have been available if you hadn’t told someone how much you liked their hat.
Being able to slip in a well-timed piece of flattery in German has utility for all sorts of situations and occasions, and can get conversations running smoothly.
Whether you’re meeting your girlfriend’s Austrian grandmother for the first time, trying to get on the good side of your boss at your German dream job or just intent on winning someone over, we’ll find you the phrase you need.
Giving a German Compliment: The First Move Is Yours
Many of those who have lived or live in Germany will confirm the rumors to be true: Germans can be distant at first. They tend to not be naturally open and friendly to strangers, at least not at the level expected in English-speaking countries. They remain a private people, even in the public sphere. Not even the older generation is likely to smile and tell you to have a nice day.
That means you’ll have to draw first.
Still, it’s worth drawing. Compliments are a handy way to make the first move in getting to know someone new. They can break the ice better than a fat penguin, setting up some good vibes and acting as a social lubricant to the interaction.
Note: Don’t be disheartened if you don’t hear any flattery back while in Germany. According to some, it’s simply a cultural thing.
Compliments Never Hurt: 16 German Phrases That Flatter
1. Du siehst heute toll aus. (You look great today.)
This handy unisex line can have a wide application over a variety of circumstances and be used on a wide range of people, from the lover you want to make blush, to the mother you want to make smile, to the friend just getting over a sickness. In one simple German sentence, you can brighten someone’s mood.
2. Du bist sehr schön. (You are very beautiful.)
Every girl should get to hear this at least once a day. Now the language barrier won’t be a problem. Fact: There are over 40 million females in Germany. And who says guys don’t like to hear it, too? It appears there’s work to be done…
3. Du siehst umwerfend aus! (You look stunning!)
Translated more literally as “You look staggering,” this compliment is for those for whom the word “beautiful” is simply not enough. Maybe your friend is wearing a new dress or has just gotten her hair done. Make sure she knows how good she looks.
4. Gelb steht dir. (Yellow suits you.)
One way to say that something fits a person particularly well is to suggest that it “stands to them” (stehen + reflexive pronoun (Dative)). Knowing all the colors in German will guarantee that you can use this one to have something to say…unless the person’s naked.
5. Deine Frisur gefällt mir. (I like your hairstyle.)
For those in Berlin, a city known for its relaxed, zany approach to life, expect to see some unique hairdos walking the streets. Pointing out the distinctiveness of one of these stylish expressions can often be an easy way to meet the person below it. It’s also handy when you want to point out that you noticed that the person you’re talking to has gotten a new haircut.
6. Das ist eines der Dinge, die ich an dir mag. (That’s one of the things I like about you.)
Everybody needs a little affirmation now and then. This charming line will make impressive use of your German skills and be sure to bring a smile to the other person.
7. Ich liebe dein Lächeln. (I love your smile.)
And now that they’re smiling, why not compliment them on it? It encourages them to use it more often, and maybe even spark a bit of romance, if that’s what you’re going for. Believe me, with a cute non-native accent, who’s going to be able to resist?
8. Ich mag deine Schuhe. (I like your shoes.)
Sometimes it’s good just to keep it basic. Most people you’ll meet in public are wearing some sort of shoes. Use that to your advantage in making their day a little better, or to generate a conversation with a stranger.
9. Mit dir kann ich am besten lachen. (I can laugh so well with you.)
The sign of a true friendship is being able to laugh in the other person’s company. It would be endearing to say that out loud, right? That other person is sure to appreciate it.
10. Was würde ich ohne dich tun? (What would I do without you?)
That rhetorical question so often posed in the movies. Bring it to life and put it to use in German. Recite it sincerely to a person you care about, or deliver it in a playful-sarcastic manner to a friend. Maybe you have an insurance agent who has been really helpful.
Hey, when it comes to compliments, there are no rules.
11. Was für ein schöner Hund! (What a lovely dog!)
Here’s one of the most important life hacks you’ll ever hear: The key to a person’s acceptance is actually through their dog. Everyone loves their own dog, and chances are, they think it’s the smartest dog in the world. If you’re trying to schmooze someone, use that affection to your advantage. People like people who approve of their pets.
12. Ihre Kinder sind so schön. (Your children are so nice.)
Competing with the dog for space in a person’s heart are often their children. Note that this sentence is put into its formal conjugation (with the assumption that if you know a person well enough to use the informal, you’ve probably already told them that their kids are brats).
13. Das schmeckt wirklich gut! (That tastes really good!)
Being invited for dinner at someone’s house in Germany is often a big deal, perhaps sometimes more so than in English-speaking countries. The same goes for being asked to go out to dinner with someone. Note that the word eingeladen, “invited,” carries significance, suggesting that you’re an honored guest and will not be allowed to pay or do dishes afterwards. Since it’s such a big deal, it doesn’t hurt to be gracious. Complimenting the food, especially if it was cooked by the host, is never a bad idea.
14. Das Essen riecht gut. (The food smells good.)
You’re in the living room, waiting for dinner to be ready, and trying to fill the empty silence. Keeping the cook happy is good insurance for a well-prepared meal.
15. Es war köstlich! (It was delicious!)
Somebody is going to ask how it tasted. Don’t hesitate to be gracious. You just might be invited again…
16. Deine Stimme klingt himmlisch. (Your voice sounds heavenly.)
So now that you’ve spread shameless flattery about how the person dresses, told them how much you like their dog/children and layered on the praise for their cooking, there’s just one thing left: their voice. Perhaps they’re joining in on a rendition of “Happy Birthday,” they’re singing along with the radio or you caught them belting tunes in the shower and need a way to get out of an awkward situation. In any of these cases, a little applause for their efforts will go a long way.
They say you catch more flies with honey.
You also start more German conversations that way.
Using your linguistic talents to spread good feelings across the German-speaking population is a great way to invite smiles and make a few friends along the way.
And One More Thing…
What’s the key to learning German the way native speakers use it in real life?
It’s using the right content and tools.
You’re not going to pick it up from your textbook.
You’re going to learn it from real-world videos like music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks.
Well, FluentU is focused on just that. FluentU takes great videos and turns them into language learning experiences so that you can learn German as people really speak it:
Watching a fun video, but having trouble understanding it? FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive subtitles.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocabulary list.
And FluentU isn’t just for watching videos. It’s a complete platform for learning. It’s designed to effectively teach you all the vocabulary from any video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned.
Ryan Dennis was a Fulbright Scholar and previously taught at Pädagogische Hochschule Schwäbisch Gmünd. In addition to hating ketchup, British spelling and violence, he writes The Milk House—the only literary column about dairy farming.
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