German sayings and proverbs and what they mean

There are many sayings in the German language that reveal quite a lot about German mentality and culture. Below you'll find the most common ones with a brief explanation of what they mean.



Das A und O einer Sache The essential information. Based on the Greek alphabet where Alpha is the first letter and Omega is the last, the saying ultimately comes from the Bibel where God says "I am the A (beginning) and the O (end) of everything".


Das Salz in der Suppe sein

The important component of something.


Wer A sagt, muss auch B sagen If you have given your word, you have to act on it.


Jemanden abblitzen lassen To reject someone.


Das Leben ist kein Ponyhof!

Life is tough.


Durch Abwesenheit glänzen An ironic comment on someone who should be there but isn't.


Mit Ach und Krach When somebody managed to complete a task with a great deal of effort


Etwas aus dem Ärmel schütteln To do something effortlessly.


Ein Auge zudrücken To be considerate and overlook minor flaws.


Aus einer Mücke einen Elefanten machen

To exaggerate.


Äpfel mit Birnen vergleichen.

Equivalent to the English saying that things are apples and oranges, so two things are completely different and cannot be compared.


Mit etwas hinter dem Berge halten To hide important information, often for strategic reasons.


Kein Blatt vor den Mund nehmen To be upfront and outspoken.


Die Nadel im Heuhaufen suchen

A needle in the haystack - something is extremely difficult to find.


Blau machen To skip a lesson.


Ein Brett vor dem Kopf haben

Struggling to understand something.


Den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht sehen

Not seeing the wood before the trees.


Dumm wie Brot sein

To call someone stupid.


Auf dem Schlauch stehen.

As above

Den Faden verlieren To lose the plot


Ins Fettnäpfchen treten To cause embarrassment with a careless statement.


Etwas aus dem "ff" beherrschen Being fully competent in something


Haare auf den Zähnen haben

To assert oneself in difficult situations.


Wie Schuppen von den Augen fallen

To suddenly see things as they are.


Sich etwas aus den Fingern saugen* To make something up.


Sich nur die Rosinen rauspicken

To cherry pick.

Scherben bringen Glück.

In German culture, broken crockery brings you luck.


Am I missing some important ones? Leave a comment below. Also check out our new blog series on tricky false friends between German and English, beginning with "gift" vs. "Geschenk".


On our German language blog, you will find posts on many topics in German grammar- from adjective endings in German, the four cases in German, German pronouns, prepositions to German word order. We also review the language apps Duolingo, Memrise, Babbel, and Busuu, and compare the most popular online dictionaries Linguee, dict.cc, dict.leo and Collins.

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