Knowing formal German is helpful in the business world and should get you through small talk. But as soon as you listen to an informal German conversation between friends or colleagues, you’ll soon encounter colloquial words that the textbook hasn’t mentioned.
Language is alive and textbooks can never be updated as quickly as language changes. German slang phrases and words are different, from the South to the North, from Austria to Switzerland and often even from city to city!
If you truly want to learn the language, start with a German class, and then listen to what the natives actually say and pick up some fascinating German expressions.
Otherwise, we’ve collected a vast array of German colloquialisms for you - including some words, phrases and idioms that you may not have heard before.
Why you need to know German expressions and slang
Slang words are the way to build your practical language skills
Textbooks can give you a great foundation in terms of grammar and general speech. But if you find yourself in a practical speaking environment with people whose first language is German, you’ll soon learn ways to express yourself that are either locally or culturally unique. Nothing shows your language skills better than being able to converse with the locals.
Some of the most fun German words are slang words
German slang words include words like Pillepalle and Pusemuckel or Klackermatsch and Kladderadatsch, words that are rare and more fun to pronounce than any formal words. Slang words are young and sometimes a little weird, which makes them interesting.
Many of them don’t have literal translations. To fully grasp their meaning, you already need a basic understanding of the language. So become conversational in German first and when you get a grasp of the slang on top of that, you’ll feel like a total pro!
German expressions tell you a lot about the language
Expressions mirror a language’s culture, so they can actually tell you a lot about Germanic languages, Germany and what parts of social life are important to German-speakers.
In some languages, idioms borrow many expressions from food or the animal world, while others are based on sports or cars.
One characteristic of slang is that it is typically orally delivered rather than being written down and can vary vastly from German-speaking country to country and city to city, which makes German slang words harder to find and learn for language learners outside of a German speaking environment.
That's why we compiled a detailed list with German slang from different areas including their pronunciation in the International Phonetic Alphabet, so you know exactly what to say and how to say it.
German slang words
Slang words are informal and often associated with personal and sometimes taboo topics, which is why some of them might be a little rude.
They are favored by the young and enjoyed by language lovers, as they include fun words like “Quatsch” (Nonsense), “etepetete” (fussy), and “balla-balla” (cuckoo), as well as some very tame and loving ways to call someone an idiot.
Who knows? You might need those, too.
|German slang word||German pronunciation||English meaning|
|Abklatsch||[ˈapˌklatʃ]||A cheap copy|
|Abdrehen||[ˈapˌdʁeːən]||To go crazy|
|Dulli||[ˈdʊli]]||Helpless or clumsy person|
|Blechen||[ˈblɛçn̩]||To pay involuntarily|
|Bespaßen||[bəˈʃpaːsn̩]||To make somebody have fun|
|Betüddeln||[bəˈtʏdl̩n]||To look after someone|
|Bummeln||[ˈbʊml̩n]||To take one’s time|
|Fachsimpeln||[ˈfaxˌzɪmpl̩n]||To talk shop|
|Bolzen||[ˈbɔlt͡sn̩]||To play soccer|
|Brüller||[ˈbʁʏlɐ]||Very funny joke|
|Betuppen||[bəˈtʊpn̩]||To cheat someone|
|Klackermatsch||[ˈklakɐmat͡ʃ]||Mud to play with|
|Sich kabbeln||[ˈkabl̩n]||To squabble|
|Pusemuckel||[puːɪ̯zəmʊkl̩]||Any random place in the middle of nowhere|
|Klette||[ˈklɛtə]||A clingy person|
|Malochen||[maˈloːxn̩]||To work hard|
|Ranklotzen||[ˈʁanˌklɔt͡sn̩]||To work to the max|
|Etwas peilen||[ˈpaɪ̯lən]||To understand something|
General German slang phrases
Hallöchen, was geht? There are countless slang words in German, even just for saying hello. Depending on the region and who you speak to, you’ll hear different German greetings everywhere you go.
Do you actually say hello when you meet a friend? It’s much more common to use any phrase from “hi” or “hey” to “yo” and “sup”. Yet, most German learners don’t actually know many German greetings, which is why we listed them for you, along with some other handy colloquial phrases you might need in a casual conversation.
|German slang phrase||German pronunciation||English meaning|
|Was geht?||[vas ɡeːt]||What’s up?|
|Jein||[jaɪ̯n]||Yes and no|
|Tach (Northern, Northrhein-Westfalian)||[ˈtax]||Hello|
|Grüß Gott! (Austrian, Southern)||[ɡʁyːs ɡɔt]||Hello|
|Ei Gude! (Hessian, Rhineland-Palatinaten)||[aɪ̯ ɡuːdə]||Hello/Bye|
|Grüezi (Eastern and Northern Switzerland)||[ɡʁyːt͡si]||Hello|
|Grüessech (West Switzerland)||[ɡʁyːˈzɛç]||Hello|
|Eine Klatsche haben||[ˈklat͡ʃə]||To be crazy|
|Hast du sie nicht mehr alle?||[hast duː ziː nɪçt meːɐ̯ ˈalə]||Have you lost your mind?|
|Passt schon||[past ʃoːn]||Whatever|
|Für Lau||[fyːɐ̯ ˈlaʊ̯]||For free|
|Babbeln (Hessian)||[ˈbabl̩n]||To talk|
|Sabbeln (Northern)||[ˈzabl̩n]||To talk|
|Bissel (Bavarian)||[ˈbɪsl̩]||A little|
|Blagen (Ruhr area)||[ˈblaːɡn̩]||Annoying children|
|Lütt (Low German)||[lʏt]||Small|
|Bölken (Ruhr area)||[ˈbœlkn̩]||To yell|
|Was für ein Prachtexemplar||[ˈvas fyːɐ̯ aɪ̯n ˈpʁaxtʔɛksɛmˌplaːɐ̯]||What a beauty|
German slang for cool
The most common ‘German’ word for cool is actually cool. It’s a universal word, used in most regions and across generations.
There are many more though. So we have collected some more ways to say cool informally for you to use in case you see or hear about anything cool and want to casually comment like a German-speaker:
|German slang for cool||German pronunciation||English meaning (if applicable, otherwise disregard)|
Some of these are very similar to their English counterparts. Others are rather unique.
You can either learn them like vocabulary or you can have a closer look at them and maybe some of them will give you a deeper understanding of the German language.
Common expressions and their English meaning
These expressions are commonly used by German native speakers. Pick and choose which ones to use in your next conversation and you’ll blend in effortlessly!
|Expression||Pronunciation||Literally translated||English meaning|
|Kein Ding||[kaɪ̯n dɪŋ]||No thing||No problem|
|Kein Plan||[kaɪ̯n plaːn]||No plan||No idea|
|Keine Ahnung||[ˈkaɪ̯nə ˈaːnʊŋ]||No suspicion||No idea|
|Auf keinsten||[aʊ̯f ˈkaɪ̯nstən ˈfal]||In the least (of cases)||No way|
|Durchkauen||[ˈdʊʁçˌkaʊ̯ən]||To chew through||To talk something through repeatedly|
|Intelligenzbestie||[ˌɪntɛliˈɡɛnt͡sˌbɛstiə]||Beast of intelligence||Egghead|
|Backpfeife||[ˈbakˌp͡faɪ̯fə]||Cheek pipe||A slap in the face|
|Fackeln||[ˈfakl̩n]||To flicker||To hesitate|
|Pumpen||[ˈpʊmpn̩],||To pump||To work out at the gym|
|Kopfkino||[ˈkɔp͡fˌkiːno]||Mental cinema||Head game|
|Kreischi||[kʁaɪ̯ʃi]||Screamy||A screaming fan|
|Blindfisch||[blɪntfɪʃ]||Blind fish||Someone who doesn’t see well|
|Ferkeln||[ˈfɛʁkl̩n]||To bear a little pig||To bear a child|
|Schnattern||[ˈʃnatɐn]||To gaggle||To talk quickly|
|Büffeln||[ˈbʏfl̩n]||To buffalo||To study|
|Aalglatt||[ˈaːlˈɡlat]||Smooth as an eel||slick|
|Naschkatze||[ˈnaʃˌkat͡sə]||A munching cat||Someone who loves sweets|
|Hosenstall||[ˈhoːzn̩ˌʃtal]||Stable of the pants||Fly (of pants)|
|Faulpelz||[ˈfaʊ̯lˌpɛlt͡s]||Lazy fur||Lazy person|
|Blitzmerker||[blɪt͡s,mɛʁkr]||A flash noticer (ironic)||Someone who is slow to notice|
German expressions of excitement
Maybe getting excited doesn’t sound as cheerful in German as it does in some other languages, but there are just as many German expressions of excitement!
Here is a list of expressions to use when you agree with someone or want to voice your excitement.
|Expression||Pronunciation||Literally translated||English meaning|
|Ach wie schön||[ax viː ʃøːn]||Oh how beautiful||Nice|
|Aber hallo||[ˈaːbɐ ˈhalo]||But hello||Definitely|
|Auf jeden||[aʊ̯f ˈjeːdn̩]||In every (case)||Definitely|
|Alles klar||[ˈaləs klaːɐ̯]||All clear||All right|
Sometimes German idioms translate quite literally, while other times their mysterious meaning leaves you seriously confused about its origins.
Why are Germans ‘adding their mustard’ to a conversation when they voice their opinion and why do they ‘only understand train station’ when they don’t understand a thing? You’ll be amazed by some of these beautifully weird expressions.
|Expression||Pronunciation||Literally translated||English meaning|
|Auf jemanden abfahren||[ˈapˌfaːʁən]||To drive off on somebody||To be into somebody|
|Seinen Senf dazu geben||[ˈzaɪ̯nən zɛɱf ˈdaːt͡suː ˈɡeːbm̩]||To add one’s mustard||To add one's two cents|
|Sich einen abbrechen||[zɪç ˈaɪ̯nənˈapˌbʁɛçn̩]||To break something off||To try too hard|
|Dumme Nuss||[ˈdʊmə nʊs]||Dumb nut||Dummy|
|Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof||[ɪç fɛɐ̯ˈʃteːə nuːɐ̯ ˈbaːnˌhoːf]||I understand only train station||I understand none of this|
|Nicht alle Tassen im Schrank haben||[nɪçt ˈalə ˈtasn̩ ɪm ˈʃʁaŋk ˈhaːbm̩]||Not have all the cups in the cupboard anymore||To be crazy|
|Auf links waschen||[aʊ̯f lɪŋks ˈvaʃn̩]||To wash on the left side||To wash inside out|
|Falsche Schlange||[ˈfalʃə ˈʃlaŋə]||False snake||Someone who isn’t trustworthy|
|Komischer Kauz||[ˈkoːmɪʃɐ kaʊ̯t͡s]||Funny owl||Weirdo|
|Für die Katz’ sein||[fyːɐ̯ diː ˈkat͡s zaɪ̯n]||For the cat||To be all for nothing|
|Jetzt geht’s um die Wurst||[jɛt͡st ɡeːt ɛs ʊm diː vʊʁst]||Now it’s about the sausage||It’s now or never|
|Die beleidigte Leberwurst spielen||[diː bəˈlaɪ̯dɪçtə ˈleːbɐvʏʁstə ˈʃpiːlən]||To play the offended liver sausage||To be in a huff|
|Grottenschlecht||[ˌɡʁɔtn̩ˈʃlɛçt]||As bad as a grotto||Terrible|
|Da haben wir den Salat!||[daˈhaːbn̩ viːɐ̯ deːn saˈɫat ]||There we have the salad||There we have it!|
|Häufchen Elend||[ˈhɔɪ̯fçən ˈeːlɛnt]||A pile of misery||Someone who is miserable|
|Sich in die Haare kriegen||[zɪç ɪn diː ˈhaːʁə ˈkʁiːɡn̩]||To get into each other’s hair||To argue|
|Klarschiff machen||[klaːɐ̯,ʃɪf ˈmaxn̩]||To clear the ship||To clean up|
|Sich vom Acker machen||[zɪç fɔm ˈakɐ ˌmaxn̩]||Get away from the field||To leave|
|Bombenwetter||[ˈbɔmbn̩ˈvɛtɐ]||Bombing weather||Clear weather|
|Knall och Fall||[ˈknalː ˌɔ ˈfalː]||Bang after the fall||All of a sudden|
|Das ist doch assi||[das ɪst dɔxˈazi]||That’s antisocial||That sucks|
|Pi mal Daumen||[piː maːl ˈdaʊ̯mən]||Pi times thumb||Approximately|
|Mach mal halblang||[max maːlˈhalblaŋ]||Make it half the length||Calm down|
|Alles paletti||[ˈaləs ˌpaˈlɛti]||All pallets||Everything’s ok|
|Aus der Reihe tanzen||[aʊ̯s deːɐ̯ ˈʁaɪ̯ə ˌtant͡sn̩]||Dance out of the row||To step out of the line|
|Jemandem auf den Keks gehen||[jeːmandm̩ aʊ̯f deːn keːks ˈɡeːən]||To walk on someone’s cookie||To bug someone|
|Pipapo||[pipaˈpoː]||-||With all the trimmings|
|Nicht die Bohne||[nɪçt diː ˈboːnə]||Not the bean||Not at all|
What are some common German facial expressions that are useful to understand?
Compared to people from some other countries, Germans aren’t known for their unique facial expressions.
Germans wink and blink for flirting, pull down the skin underneath one eye if they doubt someone is saying the truth, purse their lips to think and smile as much as most others.
What are some well-known German expressions about happiness?
- When German-speakers are excited, they say things like “Hurra”, “Jippi” and “Juhu”, common expressions of excitement.
- Someone, who is lucky, is called a “Lucky Mushroom” in German (Glückspilz).
- Words for “happy” include “froh”, “fröhlich”, “glücklich” and “freudig”.
What is some German slang to say goodbye?
Not everyone says “Auf Wiedersehen”, when saying goodbye in German, as it is quite formal. Some ways to casually say goodbye are:
- Bis später
- Bis dann
- Mach’s gut or Man sieht sich
Fun tips for learning German colloquialisms
Learn from a fluent German-speaker
Slang rarely makes it into the books, so native-fluent speakers are the best teachers. Find a German-speaker and ask them to teach you all their favorite slang words and slang phrases.
And if you’re ever unsure about a word you learn? Ask them if it’s actually used like that or used at all. Then, marvel at some of the words they know that might be unique to where they grew up or to their social circles.
Consume original German content
There is an abundance of accessible German movies, TV shows and songs, which are great for learning informal ways of talking.
Not all of them include the most natural language though, so if you want unscripted German language content, you can watch interviews or listen to rap music, for a more raw use of the language.
Is it an abbreviation?
If you don’t understand a word but it sounds kind of familiar, there is a good chance that it is just an abbreviation of a formal word. Oftentimes, locals use abbreviated slang expressions that just sound more natural to native ears.
You will hear words like “Prio” for Priorität (priority), “Quali” for “Qualität” (Quality), “Telen” for “Telefonieren” (to phone) or “Perso” for ”Personalausweis” (ID). We all know how long German words can be, so who can blame them? If you hear an unknown word, ask yourself if maybe it's just a short form of something you already know and maybe you can figure out the complete word yourself!
Untangle the Kladderadatsch of German
We listed countless German colloquialisms, some of which are very popular and some of which might not even be known to all German-speakers. Just try saying “Papperlapapp” or “Kladderadatsch” and you’ll see why German slang is so much fun.
Usually colloquial words like that, and especially German idioms have exciting origin stories as well. They are easy to research in case you are particularly curious about one or two of them. They can be weird and puzzling but often fascinating and there are so many of them.
So find your favorite ones and have fun!
Remember, practice makes perfect. Keep up the great work and keep building your confidence with German vocabulary. Check out our German language blog to maintain your momentum!