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German-English Glossary

Idioms / Redewendungen • A

An annotated collection of idioms,
sayings, and proverbs in German

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I... | K | P | W

Also see: Bauernregeln - German Folk Sayings

One of the problems in creating a glossary of idioms and sayings, besides the huge number of them, is how to organize such a glossary. Some books (Guide to German Idioms) or online lists arrange the idioms by category (anger, criticism, surprise, etc.), while others organize them alphabetically by the first word. I find neither of these methods very satisfactory, although any organizational choice will have its advantages and disadvantages.

In order to make this idiom and sayings glossary more useful, I have chosen to organize it alphabetically by keywords rather than just the first word. This method, too, has its problems (and is a lot of work), but it seems to be the best way to make it easier for readers to find a particular idiom. Of course, it is also possible to just browse this glossary, and you are welcome to do so.

Note that we have made no attempt to distinguish among idioms, sayings, and proverbs. Although they are each technically or linguistically different, it really makes little difference to the average person trying to figure out what they mean. For many expressions you will find examples, variations, and even parodies that help indicate how the idiom or saying is used in everyday German. Sometimes the parody version is better than the original cliché! A few expressions also include the origin or etymology.

Some of the expressions found in this glossary are more common than others, but we have made no attempt to rank them or to indicate how current or old-fashioned they may be. That is really something you have to learn "in the field" and not from a dictionary.

This is an on-going project that will probably never be complete, but the idioms and sayings glossary will continue to grow. For now you will only find a partial glossary, but please bear with us as we expand this special dictionary over time.

Also see the English-German Idioms Glossary and the articles on idioms listed on the Idioms and Sayings: Contents page.

GLOSSARY GUIDE: To find an idiom, saying, or proverb, look for it alphabetically by key word or key phrase. Example: To find "Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei," you could look under "A" for "alles," "E" for "Ende," or "W" for "Wurst" (when the glossary is complete). All idioms or sayings are listed in German with an English translation. English in parentheses ( ) indicates the literal translation of an expression or proverb.


A > Wer A sagt, muss auch B sagen.
In for a penny, in for a pound. If you start something, you have to finish it. (If you say A, then you also have to say B.)

Variation: "Wer A sagt, muss nicht B sagen. Er kann auch erkennen, dass A falsch war." (He who says A doesn't have to say B. He can also recognize that A was false.) - Bertolt Brecht

A und O > das A und O (alpha and omega)
the essential requirements, a must (the beginning and the end)

Also see: Archives: German Word of the Day (A und O)

abbeißen (bite off) > einen abbeißen
to down one, to have a drink (alcohol)

Aber was denn!
Come, come! Come on now!

Aber n. > Kein Aber!
No ifs, ands, or buts! (No but!)

Aber n. > Die Sache hat ein Aber.
But there's a catch/a hitch. (The matter has a but.)

Ach und Krach > mit Ach und Krach
with great difficulty, by the skin of one's teeth

Examples: "Mit Ach und Krach nach Wladiwostok" (book by Andreas Wenderoth) - "Die deutsche Eishockey-Nationalmannschaft hat ihre Weltmeisterschafts-Pflicht mit Ach und Krach erfüllt." - "Nur mit Ach und Krach haben wir das Ziel erreicht."

Ach was!/Ach wo!
Nonsense! Of course not! By no means!

Achtung, fertig, los!
Ready, set, go! On your mark, ready, go!

German Word of the Day
What's today's word or expression?

alle Jahre wieder
year after year

alle Jubeljahre/nur alle Jubeljahre (einmal)
once in a blue moon, very rarely

ORIGIN: "Ein 'Jubeljahr' war ursprünglich ein alle 50 Jahre begangener religiöser Brauch, der an Gott als dem eigentlichen Eigentümer allen Lebens erinnern will." - Web: Biblische Redewendungen (Biblical Expressions, in German only)

Aller Anfang ist schwer.
All beginnings are difficult. The first step is always the hardest.

Parody: "Aller Unfug ist schwer." (All mischief is difficult.)

Aller guten Dinge sind drei.
All good things come in threes.

Parodies: "Aller guten Dinge sind Brei." "Aller guten Dinge sind high."

alles grau in grau malen/sehen
to paint/see everything black (gloomy), be pessimistic

Also: etwas schwarz/rosig malen - "to paint a black/rosy picture of something" - Also see: Farbenfroh: Colorful Expressions

Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei.
Everything has an end. Only the sausage has two.

Parodies: "Alles hat ein Ende, nur der Durst hat keins." - "Alles hat ein Ende, nur Weihnachten nicht." - "Alles hat ein Ende, nur dieser Film hat zwei."

Andere Länder, andere Sitten.
When in Rome, do as the Romans. (Other lands, other customs.)

Apfel (apple) > Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm.
The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. (...trunk.) Like father, like son.

Parody: "Der Abfall fällt nicht weit vom Auto." (The trash doesn't fall far from the car.)

Apfel (apple) > in den sauren Apfel beißen
to bite the bullet, grasp the nettle (Br.)

Arbeit adelt.
Work ennobles (the soul).

Parody: "Arbeit adelt. Wir bleiben lieber bürgerlich." (Work makes you noble. We prefer to remain middle-class.)

Arbeit macht das Leben süß.
Honest/Hard work never hurt anyone. (Work makes life sweet.)

Ärmel (sleeve) > etwas aus dem Ärmel schütteln
to pull something out of a hat, to come up with something just like that (to shake something out of your sleeve)

Examples: "Aus dem Ärmel geschüttelt" (book by Kurt Tucholsky)

Arsch (ass, butt) > sich in den Arsch beißen
Ich habe mich in den Arsch/Hintern gebissen.
I was kicking myself.

Also see: Words to Avoid

Auge (eye) > Das passt wie die Faust aufs Auge.
It's all wrong. It's out of place. It clashes. (colors)

Note: The same expression can also mean the opposite: It's just the thing!

Auge > Aus den Augen, aus dem Sinn
Out of sight, out of mind.

Auge > More 'Auge' Expressions

Axt (axe) > Die Axt im Haus erspart den Zimmermann.
An axe in the house keeps the carpenter away.

Parodies: "Die Axt im Haus erspart das Argument" (book by Ernst Dittrich) - "Die Axt im Haus erspart den Scheidungsrichter" (An axe in the house keeps the divorce judge away.) - "Die Axt im Haus erspart den... Heimwerker/Horrorfilm/Kaiserschnitt/Metzger."

NEXT > BA | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I... | K | P | W (more to come)

MORE > Idioms and Sayings: Contents
QUIZ > German Proverb Quiz 1

English-German Idioms Glossary
Find idioms, sayings, and proverbs from English to German.

Also see: Bauernregeln - German Folk Sayings

Got a new expression? Can't find one?
Email me about idioms and sayings.

Idioms and Sayings: Contents
All of our articles, glossaries, and resources related to idioms and sayings in German.

Bauernregeln - German Folk Sayings
German folk wisdom in German and English.

Doch! …and Other Tricky Words
German particles like doch can have many meanings. It all depends on the context and your mastery of these small words that can cause big problems. Learn the idiomatic uses of particles!

False Friends/Falsche Freunde
About those tricky false cognates in German and English.

German Proverb Quiz 1
A self-scoring quiz in which you match up the English and German version of some common sayings.

German Idioms and Proverb Quiz 2
A second self-scoring quiz on common sayings and idiomatic expressions.

Knoten: Getting Tied Up in Knots - in German
A lesson on idioms and expressions using "knot" or "Knoten" in German or English.

More English-German Glossaries
Annotated glossaries on many topics. From your Guide.

German Word of the Day
What's today's word or expression?


Operone.de - Sprichwörter

Proverbs (Robert Shea)

Sprüche (Robert Shea)

Parodierter Parömien (parodied sayings)

NEXT > Idioms: B

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