You probably use them every day in English, without even thinking about it. They enrich language, bring speech alive and make you sound like a native speaker. I’m talking of course about idioms.
This list is continuously updated as I discover new German idioms. Go ahead and bookmark this page and check back for regular updates.
Why Learn German Idioms?
Learning German idioms, Redewendungen, is a great way to improve the flow of a sentence and to get a meaning or feeling across that would otherwise be difficult to express. They will improve your fluency. You learn them as a ‘chunk’ which will give more thinking time for the rest of your sentence.
Because English is a Germanic language, you’ll notice that we share some idioms, or have some which are very similar. Have fun learning some of these, and make sure you try to use them in conversation to really fix them into your head.
All these German idioms have been tested on German speakers, who assure me that they are used in everyday life. ‘It’s raining cats and dogs’ – I’m looking at you. I’ve never met an English native speaker who has said that, well maybe my Nan!
Auf den Keks gehen
Literally: To get on the cookies
English equivalent: To get on one’s nerves
Usage: To express irritation at something or someone.
Der Typ geht mir auf dem Keks = That guy is getting on my nerves
Das schlechte Wetter geht mir auf dem Keks = The bad weather is getting on my nerves
Einen Affenzirkus veranstalten
Literally: To put on a monkey circus
English equivalent: To make a mountain out of a molehill
Usage: To express frustration that someone is making something seem a lot worse than it actually is.
Er veranstaltet einen affenzirkus wegen gar nichts = He is making a big thing of nothing
Etw. im Eimer
Literally: sth. in the bucket
Translation: sth. is totally knackered
Usage: To describe something or someone that is totally exhausted or broken.
Mein Auto ist im Eimer = My car is knackered / broken
Ich hatte so viel zu tun, ich bin im Eimer = I’ve had so much to do, I’m totally exhausted
Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof
Literally: I only understand train station
English equivalent: It’s as clear as mud / It’s all Greek to me
Usage: To express complete lack of understanding over something.
Alles für die Katz
Literally: Everything for the cat
English equivalent: All for nothing
Usage: Used to express frustration when someone had made a huge effort, which was for nothing, unrewarded or unappreciated.
Ich habe die ganze Woche an diesem Projekt gearbeitet und jetzt war alles für die Katz = I worked on this project all week, and it was all for nothing
Ich habe die Nase voll
Literally: I have a full nose
Translation: I’ve had it / I’ve had enough / I’m fed up
English equivalent: I’ve had it up to ‘here’
Usage: To express irritation at having too much to do, or have had enough of something.
Ich habe die Nase voll von dir = I’ve had enough of you
Ich habe die Nase voll von diesem Ort = I’m sick of the sight of this place
Nur ein Katzensprung entfernt
Literally: sth. is only a cat jump away
English equivalent: sth. is only a stone’s throw away
Usage: To describe something that is very near by, it would take no time at all to reach it.
Der Strand ist nur ein Katzensprung entfernt = The beach is just a stone’s throw away
Wie ein Stein geschlafen
Literally: Slept like a stone
Usage: Used in the same way as the English version, to describe a great night’s sleep.
‘Hast du gut geschlafen?’ ‘Ja ich habe wie ein Stein geschlafen!’ = ‘Did you sleep well?’ ‘Yes I slept like a stone!’
Do you have any German idioms that you’d like to add? Leave them in a comment below. I would love it if you could share or pin any of your favourite idioms images.