How German Proverbs Are Composed

If you get to know the proverbs and the idioms of a language, you have found a real treasure. They tell us much about the respective culture. Cultural peculiarities are often nicely reflected in the idioms or the proverbs of the corresponding speech community.

Proverbs usually want to give some kind of advice or express pieces of wisdom. They are not always figurative. (Lieber spät als nie - Better late than never; or Geben ist seliger als nehmen - It is more blessed to give than to receive.)

Let's play with some of the metaphorical ones! If you can use any of the following German proverbs in your next conversation with a native speaker, you will sound very German.

Try to see the image in your mind, so it will be fun and you will memorize the phrase with ease.

The literal translation in between the German and the correspondent English proverb in italic type is there to help you to grasp the underlying idea and to understand the structure of the German phrase.

It is meant to be the bridge to the corresponding English proverb. By understanding the whole phrase (and learning it thus by heart) you also get some new vocabulary for free!

Ready to play?

Suggestions for the first round:

•Begin by looking only on the German phrase in bold letters. You understand it? Great!

•If not, jump to the corresponding English proverb on the right side.

•Look back to the German phrase. Are there any words you don’t understand? Do you want to understand the exact concept of the German phrase and also it’s structure?  Then take a look at the italic type literal translation in the middle.  

Next time:

•Look at the english phrase on the right side. Do you remember the German proverb? Great! If so, you should check if you remembered it correctly. 

If you accidently changed the word order or used some similar but not the exact vocabulary – don’t worry! If in your next conversation with a native German you said “Besser ein Spatz in der Hand als ein Vogel auf dem Haus” (instead of “…Taube auf dem Dach”)  you will probably not be taken for a native speaker but the other person will most likely be delighted and amused because of your sweet attempt.

Never be afraid or ashamed to make mistakes!!! It is a necessary part of the learning process and can be so amusing!

•If you don’t remember it, look at the German proverb. Do you understand the meaning? If so, do you understand all the vocabulary and the structure?

If not, - go back to the first round…




Lieber ein Spatz in der Hand als eine Taube auf dem Dach.

Rather a sparrow in the hand than a dove on the roof.

Better an egg today than a hen tomorrow.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Alte Liebe rostet nicht.

Old love does not rost.

Old love will not be forgotten.

Wer zuerst kommt, mahlt zuerst.

Who first comes, grinds first.

First come, first served.

Wo gehobelt wird, da fallen Späne.

Where they plane, chips fall down.

Omelets are not made without breaking eggs.

Hunde, die bellen, beiβen nicht.

Dogs that bark don’t bite.

Who talks most, does least.

Eine Hand wäscht die andere.

One hand washes the other.

One good turn deserves another.

Jeder Vergleich hinkt.

Every comparison limps.

Comparisons are odious.

Kommt Zeit, kommt Rat.

(When) time arrives, advice arrives.

Night is the mother of counsel.

Wer A sagt, muss auch B sagen.

Who says A, must say B as well5.

In for a penny, in for a pound.

Ohne Fleiβ kein Preis.

Without effort no price.

The sleeping fox catches no poultry.

Lügen haben kurze Beine.

Lies have short legs.

Lies don’t travel far.

Was Hänschen nicht lernt, lernt Hans nimmer mehr.

Hans (will) never ever learn what Hänschen2 does not learn.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Ein blindes Huhn findet auch mal ein Korn.

Even a blind hen sometimes finds a grain of corn.

Every dog has its day.

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