Love ’em or hate ’em, puns are here to stay in our daily conversations.
And that doesn’t just apply to English conversations.
That’s right. It may come to your delight (or horror) that puns also exist in German! Whoever said that Germans don’t have a sense of humor are clearly misinformed; they have a fair share of jokes that could have you rolling.
But you may already be reeling back from the mere mention of “puns,” especially in the context of foreign language learning. After all, puns have gotten a poor reputation as terrible things that mercilessly wrangle words for a shot at humor.
That’s a bit unfair. Puns, at their heart, express one’s understanding of vocabulary and linguistic expectations, and “higher-level” puns do require an appreciation of words in context.
In other words, they’re actually a great tool for language learning.
But you may be wondering: Do German puns work the same way as English ones?
How Punny German Wordplay Works
In general, a pun in the English language is a wordplay based on homonyms. Homonyms are words that either share the same spelling (homograph) or pronunciation (homophone). This similarity enables the swapping or emphasis of words with completely different meanings to create a humorous phrase. In other words: a pun.
Wordplay in German is called Wortspiel, a compound noun of Wort (word) and Spiel (play). We all know German loves its linguistic quirkiness, and so naturally there are plenty of opportunities for creating puns and double-meaning phrases.
German punning is quite similar to typical English punning. However, simply translating a pun that works in English into German may not work due to German’s own grammar constraints and word meanings.
Actually, Germans have a special word for especially bad jokes and puns: Kalauer. This word is for the particularly egregious and face-palming types of wordplay. It’s actually become a bit of an art form.
Finding German Puns “In the Wild”
In fact, many punny German advertisements are English-German bilingual puns, with many instances of witty marketing incorporating some kind of English text or understanding. That’s because many German natives have good knowledge of English.
These quick and funny phrases prod a potential customer’s comprehension skills and can be enjoyed by German learners and English learners.
Here are a few simple examples:
- Kau, Boy!: From a German-based McDonald’s that featured a Western sauce burger. Kau means “chew” in German. Of course, the whole phrase sounds like the English word “cowboy.”
- We kehr for you: From Berlin’s waste management company. Playing on the English word “care” and the German verb kehren (to sweep), this pun goes beyond just employing homophones and has an actual tangible meaning. This clever pun expresses how the company looks out for citizens, as well as their actual duty of cleaning up the streets.
If you can’t walk the streets of Germany looking for puns, you can immerse yourself from your own home with a program like FluentU. FluentU takes real-world German videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news clips and inspiring talks—and transforms them into language-learning materials.
Each FluentU video features native German speakers, so you’ll hear a range of German vocabulary usage, including real jokes and puns. Plus, FluentU’s interactive subtitles in German and English make these videos accessible for learners at all levels.
There’s nothing more satisfying than hearing and understanding a joke in your target language! Check out FluentU’s free trial and give it a spin.
With that in mind, why not try out a few puns of our own?
Warming Up with German-English Puns
As we’ve seen, German-English puns are plentiful, helped by the fact that there are many cognates between the two languages.
English does have Germanic roots and so that can explain some of the reasons why the languages share similarities, whether in specific words or grammar choices.
There are too many bilingual puns to count, so in an act of mercy, we’ll only present three of them.
1. “No matter how kind you are, German children are always kinder.”
Kinder is German for “children,” so yes, they certainly are always kinder!
To actually say someone is kind in German, you can use the adjectives nett or gütig.
2. “The Apfel doesn’t abfällt too far from the tree.”
This is a play on the famous saying “The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.” Apfel (apple) sounds quite like abfällt (past conjugation of verb abfallen, to fall).
So this is essentially a double-whammy pun that actually kind of makes sense! In German, the whole phrase could be Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm ab.
3. “A German built a bathroom around his table. Bad um Tisch.”
This is for those who are familiar with the onomatopoeia for the drum sting: ba dum tss, well-known as the ending sound for a particularly bad joke.
In German, (das) Bad is “bathroom,” (der) Tisch means “table,” and um means “around.” So, Bad um Tisch suggests something like “bathroom around table.”
As you can see, it’s terrifyingly easy to make German-English puns. In fact, you’ll probably find new ones creeping into your mind while you’re doing your studies—don’t neglect them! See them as markers of your learning and ways to better remember words. You might be surprised how a groan-inducing phrase can serve as a great learning material.
Without further ado, let’s move on to some fully German puns!
9 German Puns to Make You Laugh (or Cringe) While You Learn
1. Wenn es Häute regnet, wird das Leder billig.
Translation: When it rains skins, leather becomes cheap.
Punny effect: Häute vs. heute
Ignoring the horrific image, this phrase is a play on the very similar-sounding words heute (today) and Häute (skin).
Without the clarification, you’d think the first half of the phrase translates to “When it rains today,” an innocuous start that makes the second half bemusing.
2. Warum sind Seeräuber so schlecht in Mathe? Weil sie Pi raten.
Translation: Why were the pirates so bad at math? Because they guess pi.
Punny effect: Pi raten vs. Piraten
While Seeräuber, which literally translates to “sea raiders” or “sea robbers,” equates to pirates, it turns out that they may also just be referred to as Piraten in German. That leads to this pun.
Raten means “to guess,” which isn’t really the thing to do if you want to succeed in mathematics.
Punny effect: Ber- from Berlin vs. Bär (bear)
City names are also commonly pun-nified, though some can be more fitting than others. Bärlin can act as a pun for the German capital city of Berlin, and it works very well because Berlin’s flag features a black bear.
Bärlin, however, does not actually translate to anything. As you’d expect, this pun is popular; there are plenty of German businesses, merchandise, and advertisements that make use of it.
4. Zwei Deutschlehrer treffen sich am Strand. Sagt der eine “Genitiv ins Wasser!” Sagt der andere, “Ist es da tief?”
Translation: Two German teachers meet at the beach. Says one, “Genitive in the water!” Said the other, “Is it deep there?”
Punny effect: Geh nie tief -> Genitiv, da tief -> Dativ
You probably already know about the four German cases, genitive and dative being two of them. This is a pun based on similar pronunciation. One may initially hear “Geh nie tief ins Wasser” (“Never go deep into the water”) making “Ist es da tief?” (“Is it deep there?”) a sensible response.
But the pun-ster may just as smoothly replace Geh nie tief with Genitiv (genitive) and da tief with Dativ (dative). The pun is a formidable one that may take a a few seconds to get without it being written or pronounced with emphasis.
Certainly this is one that’ll strike any German teacher’s funny bone.
5. Treffen sich zwei Jäger. Beide tot.
Translation: Two hunters meet. Both dead.
Punny effect: sich treffen
Treffen is a verb that can either mean “to meet” or “to hit,” and you can imagine it can lead to similarly amusing phrases such as this pun.
You may be concerned that you’d run into this double-meaning issue when speaking in German, but don’t worry too much about it. If puns are good at showing anything, it’s that context matters to understand the intention behind what you hear or read.
6. Du hast / Du hasst
Translation: You have / You hate
Any fans of the German rock band Rammstein would know their iconic hit Du Hast, by heart.
Besides being a song you must jam to, Du Hast is well-known for being an intentional wordplay of two German conjugated verbs: hast (have) from haben, and hasst (hate) from hassen. So, without any written context, one can hear Du hast (You have) or Du hasst (You hate).
It also helps that much of the song’s lyrics are simply “Du, du hast, du hast mich.” The clarification comes later with the line “Du hast mich gefragt” (“you asked me”), but the dark mood of the song makes either Du hast or Du hasst quite viable. Give it a listen and don’t resist the urge to rock out!
7. Wie nennt man eine Gruppe von Wolfen? Wolfgang.
Translation: What do you call a group of wolves? Wolfgang.
Punny effect: Wolfgang (Wolf + Gang) vs. Wolfgang (classic name)
The word for “gang” is the same in German (die Gang). Wolfgang is a common German name that fans of Mozart are surely familiar with.
The name Wolfgang actually appears to be a combination of Wolf (wolf) and gang (travel / path), so the name itself would mean something like “traveling wolf.”
So, this is a simple pun that might get a smile or an eye-roll out of any German speaker.
8. Arme haben Beine. Beine haben keine Arme; arme Beine!
Translation: Arms have legs. Legs have no arms; poor legs!
Punny effect: die Arme vs. arme
The phrase is nonsensical in meaning (arms don’t have legs) but its repetitive nature makes it quite fun to say.
Arme means “arms” but as an adjective, it means “poor” or “pitiful.” Without knowing that, you’d think the speaker was speaking some kind of magic spell about “arms legs.” If anything, this phrase is a good reminder to be careful with German homonyms, of which there are many for completely unrelated words.
9. Egal wie dicht du bist, Goethe war Dichter.
Translation: No matter how thick you are, Goethe was a poet.
Punny effect: dichter vs. der Dichter
There’s a slew of German puns that follow this Egal wie (“No matter how…”) structure.
Turns out, there are a number of comparative forms of German verbs that sound like completely-unrelated German nouns. Like in English, many comparative forms of German verbs take on an –er ending. The innocent souls would assume that dichter (thicker), the comparative form of dicht (thick), was being said in this pun, but (der) Dichter translates to “poet,” which Johann Wolfgang von Goethe certainly was.
So, reading this list wasn’t the wurst thing in the world, right?
Hopefully you’ll find good use for any one of these puns; they could either earn you some good chuckles and compliments of your German knowledge, or a very unhappy response.
Regardless, using puns means that you have a good enough understanding of the language to be able to play around with it. And that’s a good thing!
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