Ein Sprichwort, a saying or a proverb, can be a fun way to learn and remember new vocabulary in German. The following sayings, proverbs, and idiomatic expressions (Redewendungen) are our favorites.
Some expressions are more common than others. Many of these work with Germany's love affair with its endless variety of Wurst (sausage). Some may be a little more contemporary, some may be a bit old-fashioned, but they can all be used in everyday conversations.
Tips for Learning German Phrases
The best way to learn these is to read each sentence to yourself and immediately read the English equivalent. Then say the same sentence aloud in German.
Continue saying these aloud in German and, with practice, you'll automatically remember the meaning; it will become subliminal and you won't even have to think about it.
A good exercise: Write each phrase or sentence out as you say it the first two times. The more senses and muscles you engage as you learn a language, the more likely you are to remember it correctly and the longer you will remember it.
A third time, cover the German and read the English version; then task yourself, as in a dictation, with writing the sentence in German.
Keep in mind that the symbol ß (as in heiß) stands for a double "s," and remember correct German word order, which is different from that in English. Don't forget that all German nouns, common or proper, are capitalized. (Even Wurst.)
Below you'll find expressions, the colloquial English translation, and the literal translation.
Expressions About Sausage ('Wurst') and Other Things to Eat
Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei.
- Everything must end.
- Literally: Everything has an end; only the sausage has two.
Das ist mir Wurst.
- It's all the same to me.
- Literally: It's a sausage to me.
Es geht um die Wurst.
- It's do or die / now or never / the moment of truth.
- Literal: It's about the sausage.
Äpfel mit Birnen vergleichen.
- Comparing apples and oranges
- Literally: Comparing apples and pears
In des Teufels Küche sein.
- To get into hot water
- Literal: In the devil's kitchen
Dir haben sie wohl etwas in den Kaffee getan.
- You've got to be kidding.
- Literally: You've probably done something in/to the coffee
Die Radieschen von unten anschauen/betrachten
- To be pushing up daisies (to be dead)
- Literally: To see/view the radishes from below
Expressions With Animals
Die Katze im Sack kaufen
- To buy a pig in a poke
- Literally: to buy a cat in a sack
Wo sich die Füchse gute Nacht sagen
- The middle of nowhere/the back of beyond
- Literally: Where the foxes say goodnight
Stochere nicht im Bienenstock.
- Let sleeping dogs lie.
- Literally: Don't poke around in the beehive.
Expressions With Body Parts and People
- Keep your fingers crossed!
- Literally: Press/hold your thumbs!
Er hat einen dicken Kopf.
- He's got a hangover.
- Literally: He has a fat head.
Was ich nicht weiß, macht mich nicht heiß.
- What you don't know, won't hurt you.
- Literally: What I don't know won't burn me.
Er fällt immer mit der Tür ins Häuschen.
- He always gets right to the point/just blurts it out.
- Literally: He always falls into the house through the door.
Was Hänschen nicht lernt, lernt Hans nimmermehr.
- You can't teach an old dog new tricks.
- Literally: What little Hans didn't learn, adult Hans never will.
Wenn man dem Teufel den kleinen Finger gibt, so nimmt er die ganze Hand.
- Give an inch; they'll take a mile.
- Literally: If you give the devil your little finger, he'll take the whole hand.