The best German proverbs, saying and idioms – and their meaning

Check out other posts in this series exploring proverbs in English, Hungarian, Italian, Russian, Japanese and Estonian.

 

German proverbs are a great way to learn about German culture and language. They can also be very useful for understanding how Germans think, feel, and behave in different situations.

There is an old saying that “proverbs are the wisdom of many.” In this blog post, we will discuss some of the most common German proverbs and their meaning, use in everyday life, and origins.

1.Allein ist besser als mit Schlechten im Verein: mit Guten im Verein, ist besser als allein.

Translation: Better to be alone than in bad company: good company is better than being alone.

Meaning: People prefer to be in good company than bad. This proverb is useful when you want to tell someone that they should not stay with people who are having a negative effect on them, and should instead spend time alone or with better company.

2.Warum spielst du die beleidigte Leberwurst?

Translation: Why are you playing the offended liver sausage?

Meaning: When someone is behaving or reacting to something in an excessive way. This proverb can be used to tell the person that they are exaggerating their reaction and should calm down, which could also mean ‘why are you being so dramatic?’.

3.Bald reif hält nicht steif.

Translation: Early ripe, early rotten.

Meaning: When someone is too eager to finish a project, they may not do it well. This proverb means that you should work on something and take your time with it instead of rushing through the process in order to get done quicker.

4.Anfangen ist leicht, Beharren eine Kunst.

Translation: Starting is easy, persistence is an art.

Meaning: This saying means you should persevere with your efforts to achieve a goal. You’ll need perseverance and determination, but it will be worth the effort.

5.Erst denken, dann handeln

Translation: First think, then act.

Meaning: This proverb means that instead of jumping straight into a project, you should first think about it and take some time before doing anything.

6.Du siehst den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht.

Translation: Missing the forest for the trees.

Meaning: This saying means you’re too focused on the little things and not seeing the big picture.

7.Man muss die Dinge nehmen, wie sie kommen.

Translation: You have to take things the way they come.

Meaning: The saying means you should be flexible and not try to make everything perfect.

8.Einen Vogel haben

Translation: Being a little cuckoo

Meaning: This saying is used to say someone’s crazy. German folklore claims that the origin of madness is to have a bird that nests in your head.

9.Fix und fertig

Translation: I’m quick and ready

Meaning: it’s actually a German way to say “I’m exhausted”.

10.Es ist nicht alles Gold, was glänzt.

Translation: Not all that shines is gold.

Meaning: A German way to say that not everything is as good or as bad as it seems.

11.Ich kann nicht zaubern!

Translation: I can’t do magic (but

Meaning: Really it means, “No way!” – a common response when someone asks you for something unreasonable or impossible.

12.Ein Unglück kommt selten allein.

Translation: A disaster seldom comes alone.

Meaning: More widely known as “misery loves company” it’s the idea that people who are unhappy like to share their troubles with others.

Learn about more interesting German proverbs in these videos