German Idioms

Using idioms in either your written or spoken work can really add value to what you are saying. More importantly, they sound really authentic and are likely to earn you extra marks in exams! Keep reading to find out more…

1. Wer nicht wagt, gewinnt nicht = you’ve got to be in it to win it

A perfect excuse to do the lottery! This idiom could also be translated as “nothing ventured, nothing gained” implying that if you don’t try, you won’t get the result you want!

2. Aus Fehlern wird man klug = one learns from their mistakes

This idiom is all about trying your best and that perhaps sometimes, the best way to learn is by reviewing your mistakes and striving to do better. This could be used in an educational context for example, and is based on the idea that mistakes should not be seen as failure – they can actually be the key to success, depending on what we take from them.

3. Einen Kater haben = to have a hangover

This one could be useful when talking about lifestyle choices, or an issue relating to drinking. It is a more authentic way to describe the effects of alcohol, but could be a good essay filler if debating this topic.

4. Das dicke Ende kommt noch = the worst is yet to come

Very useful to ensure essays are analytical! For example, after mentioning the advantages of a particular topic, this idiom would lead nicely into talking about the disadvantages or any negative aspects.

5. den Nagel auf den Kopft treffen = to hit the nail on the head

This could be used in either speech or writing, either when talking directly to somebody or about somebody’s actions. It is a very positive idiom and suggests that somebody is 100% correct with what they have just expressed.

6. die Daumen druecken = to keep your fingers crossed

Primarily this is used with the greeting “Viel Gleuck”. Somebody might then continue to say “Ich druecke dir die Daumen”, meaning “I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you”. This could be used in any sort of context and is a nice, reassuring gesture for somebody.

7. Lehrgeld fuer etwas zahlen muessen = to learn something the hard way

Similar to the second idiom, this one implies that we can learn through our mistakes or by challenging ourselves. Equally it can suggest that somebody will not repeat their mistake after learning it “the hard way”, and will therefore endeavour to find an easier solution!

8. Schwein haben = to be lucky

“Schwein” meaning “pig” would literally translate this idiom as “to have a pig”. However Germans obviously believe this animal is lucky, since this idiom implies somebody has had a  stroke of luck

9. Fix und fertig sein = to be exhausted

After the exam season is over, this tends to be a very appropriate idiom to want to use! It could also however be translated as “to be at the end of your tether” meaning that everything is getting too much at that particular moment.

10. jmdn. wie Luft behandeln = to treat somebody like dirt

Despite not being a particularly positive idiom, this could be useful when trying to explain how somebody has been treated in a negative manner, whilst at the same time sounding very authentic!

What’s your favourite German idiom? Let us know in the comments below!