Learn German: Near Cognates
Basic German: Introduce Yourself and Your Friends
How to Ask Questions in German

Popular German Expressions

Just like English, German has many idioms, or expressions typical of a language and culture. When you translate these idioms word for word, they may sound obscure, silly, or just plain meaningless, so to use them appropriately, you need to find out what they really mean.

Some expressions have an English equivalent that’s recognizable, so using them correctly isn’t too hard. For example, the German idiom ein Fisch auf dem Trockenen (ayn fish ouf deym trok-ên-en) literally translates into a fish on the dry, which somewhat resembles the English a fish out of water.

Other German expressions are a little harder to figure out. For instance, if you were to take apart the German expression Da liegt der Hund begraben (da leekt dêr hoont be-grah-ben) word for word, you’d probably feel sorry for the poor dog, because in essence, it means something like That’s where the dog is buried. However, the English equivalent is That’s the heart of the matter.

A few other typical German idioms are

Die Daumen drücken. (dee doum-en druek-en.) (Press the thumbs.) The English meaning is Keep your fingers crossed.
Wo sich Fuchs und Hase gute Nacht sagen (voh ziH fooks oont hah-ze gooh-te nâHt zah-gen) (where fox and hare say good night to one another), which means in the middle of nowhere or in the sticks.
Ich bin fix und fertig. (iH bin fix oont fêr-tiH.) (I’m quick and ready.) This means I’m wiped out or I’m exhausted.
Du nimmst mich auf den Arm! (dooh nimst miH ouf deyn ârm!) (You’re taking me on your arm!) In English, this means You’re pulling my leg!
Das ist ein Katzensprung. (dâs ist ayn kâts-en-shproong.) (That’s a cat’s jump.) The English meaning is It’s a stone’s throw away.
Schlafen wie ein Murmeltier. (shlâf-en vee ayn moor-mel-teer.) (Sleep like a woodchuck [marmot].) In English, you say Sleep like a log.

Apart from such idioms, many handy and frequently used German expressions are easy to learn. Here are some of the most common ones:

Prima!/Klasse!/Toll! (pree-mah!/klâs-e!/tôl!) (Great!)
Fertig. (fêrt-iH.) (Ready./Finished.) This can be either a question or a statement.
Genau. (ge-nou.) (Exactly./Precisely.) This can be used to tell someone that you really agree.
Es tut mir leid. (ês toot mir layd.) (I’m sorry.) Use this when you apologize for something.
Aber . . . (ah-ber) (But . . . )
Quatsch! (qvâch!) (Nonsense!/How silly of me!)
Einverstanden. (ayn-fêr-shtând-en.) (Agreed./Okay.)
Vielleicht. (fee-layHt.) (Maybe./Perhaps.)
Eventuell. (ê-ven-too-êl.) (Maybe./Possibly.) You can use this alone or in a statement.
Mach’s gut. (vîrt ge-mâHt.) (Take it easy.) This is a casual way of saying goodbye.
Wie, bitte? (vee, bi-te?) ([I beg your] pardon?/What did you say?)
Das macht nichts. (dâs mâHt niHts.) (Never mind./That’s okay.)
Nicht der Rede wert. (niHt dêr rey-de vêrt.) (Don’t mention it.)
Schade! (shah-de!) (Too bad!/What a pity!)
So ein Pech! (zoh ayn pêH!) (Bad luck!)
Viel Glück! (feel gluek!) (Good luck!)
Oder?/Nicht? (oh-der?) (Isn’t that true?/Don’t you think so?)
Bis dann! (bis dân!) (See you then!)
Bis bald! (bis bâlt!) (See you soon!)
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