200 Wise German Sayings And Proverbs You Should Definitely Know

Below is a list of 200 wise German sayings and proverbs you should definitely know. This list has been compiled from one main web source, more specifically the Wikiquote project, selecting as such the most notable proverbs and sayings according to the author’s subjective taste.

Gott schuf die Zeit von Eile hater nichts gesagt (i.e. ‘God created the time of haste, he said nothing’). Image source: www.pixabay.com

  1. Allein ist besser als mit Schlechten im Verein: mit Guten im Verein, ist besser als allein. = Better to be alone than in bad company: good company is better than being alone.
  2. Aller guten Dinge sind drei. = All good things come in threes.
  3. Alles ist seinen Preis wert. = “Everything is worth its price” or “Everything is worth what its purchaser will pay.”/”Cheat me in the Price, but not in the Goods.”
  4. Alles zu seiner Zeit. = Everything in its season.
  5. Alte Füchse gehen schwer in die Falle. = An old fox understands a trap./”A weak Invention of the Enemy.”
  6. Alte soll man ehren, Junge soll man lehren. = Gray hairs are honorable. Literally, “One should honor the old, one should teach the young.”
  7. Am vielen Lachen erkennt man den Narren. = A fool is ever laughing.
  8. An den Früchten erkennt man den Baum. = The apple does not fall far from the tree./”Children observe daily and — in their behavior — often follow the example of their parents.”
  9. Andere Länder, andere Sitten. = Different countries, different customs.
  10. Anfangen ist leicht, beharren eine Kunst. = To begin is easy, to persist is an art.
  11. Arzt, hilf dir selber! = Physician, heal thyself!/”Do not reproach another person for something of which you yourself are guilty.”
  12. Außerordentliche Übel erfordern außerordentliche Mittel. = Desperate diseases must have desperate remedies. “desperate times call for desperate measures”./”Drastic action is called for – and justified – when you find yourself in a particularly difficult situation.”
  13. Auch der kleinste Feind ist nicht zu verachten. = There is no little enemy.
  14. Auf einen groben Klotz gehört ein grober Keil. = You must meet roughness with roughness.
  15. Aus den Augen, aus dem Sinn. = Out of sight, out of mind
  16. Aus einem Stein ist schwer Öl pressen. = You can’t milk a bull./It’s difficult to press oil out of a rock.
  17. Aus Schaden wird man klug. = Adversity is the mother of wisdom./”Wisdom makes but a slow defense against trouble, though at last a sure one.”
  18. Aufgewärmter Kohl war niemals gut. = Take heed of enemies reconciled and of meat twice boiled.
  19. Aufschub bringt Gefahr. = Delays are dangerous; or “strike while the iron is hot”/”Hesitation or procastination may lead to trouble or disaster.”
  20. Aus einer Mücke einen Elefanten machen. = Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill./An elephant made out of a mosquito.
  21. Bald geben, ist doppelt geben. = He gives twice, who gives in a trice. Literally: Soon given is doubly given.
  22. Bald reif hält nicht steif. = Early ripe, early rotten./”Precocious talent or premature success is often shortlived.”
  23. Barmherzigkeit fängt en zu Hause an. = Charity begins at home.
  24. Bedenke das Ende. = Whatever you do, act wisely, and consider the end.
  25. Bedenke, dass du sterben musst. = Memento mori.
  26. Behüte mich Gott vor meinen Freunden, mit den Feinden will ich schon fertig werden. = Defend me from my friends, from my enemies I can defend myself.
  27. Bei offener Kiste mag auch der Fromme ein Schalk werden. = A nice wife and a back door oft make a rich man poor.
  28. Berühre nicht alte Wunden. = It is not wise to open old wounds.
  29. Besser allein als in schlechter Gesellschaft. = It is better to be alone than to be in bad company.
  30. Besser arm in Ehren als reich in Schanden = A good name is the best of all treasures. Literally: Better poor in honor than rich in shame.
  31. Besser spät als nie. = Better late than never.
  32. Beispiele tun oft mehr als viel Wort’ und Lehr. = Precepts teach, but examples move.
  33. Besser ein Narr mit allen andern, als ein Weiser und allein. = Better foolish by all than wise by yourself. Literally: Better a fool with everyone else than a wise man and alone.
  34. Beiß nicht in die Hand, die dich füttert. = Do not bite into the hand that feeds you.
  35. Bellende Hunde beißen nicht. = Barking dogs seldom bite./”People who make the most or the loudest threats are the least likely to take action.”
  36. Beurtheile nicht jeden nach deinem eigen Mass. = Do not judge others by your own yardstick.
  37. Besser ein Spatz in der Hand, als eine Taube auf dem Dach. = A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Literally: Better a sparrow in the hand than a dove on the roof./”Something you have for certain now is of more value than something better you may get, especially if you risk losing what you have in order to get it.”
  38. Blinder Eifer ist Feuer ohne Licht. = Zeal without knowledge is a runaway horse./”The Devil himself, which is the author of confusion and lies.”
  39. Blut ist dicker als Wasser. = Blood is thicker than water./”In case of need relatives usually help each other more than strangers. The bonds of relationship are more binding than other bonds.”
  40. Blödes Herz buhlt keine schöne Frau. = Faint heart never won fair lady.
  41. Böses mit Gutem vergelten. = If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. (Literally: Repay evil with good.)
  42. Das Auge sieht weit, der Verstand noch weiter. = The eye looks but it is the mind that sees.
  43. Das Billige ist immer das Teuerste. = Buy cheaply, pay dearly.
  44. Das böse Gewissen verrät sich selbst. = A guilty conscience needs no accuser./”People who know they have done wrong reveal their guilt by the things they say or the way they interpret what other people say.”
  45. Das Eisen schmieden, solange es heiß ist. = Strike while the iron is hot.
  46. Das Glück hilft den Kühnen. = Fortune favors the bold./”Those who act boldly or courageously are most likely to succeed.”
  47. Das Herz lügt nicht. = The heart does not lie. —or— The heart sees farther than the head./”We know the truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart.
  48. Das Weib ist des Mannes größtes Glück oder Unglück. = Choose a wife rather by your ear than your eye./”Nothing defines humans better than their willingness to do irrational things in the pursuit of phenomenally unlikely payoffs. This is the principle behind lotteries, dating, and religion.”
  49. Deine Wäsche wasche zu Hause. = It is an ill bird that fouls its own nest; Don’t wash your dirty linen in public./”Why wantonly proclaim one’s own disgrace, or expose the faults or weaknesses of one’s kindred or people?”/”It is considered contemptible to defy the rule of solidarity by revealing facts harmful to the group one belongs to.”
  50. Der Amboss erschrickt vor dem (fürchtet den) Hammer nicht. = A good anvil does not fear the hammer.
  51. Der Fisch stinkt vom Kopf her. = A fish stinks from the head./”A corrupting influence often spreads from a leader to the rest of the organization group.”
  52. Der Geizige ist keinem gut, ihm selbst der Ärgste. = The covetous man is good to none and worst to himself.
  53. Der Gesunde weiß nicht, wie reich er ist. = Health is wealth; Good health is more to be desired than wealth./”Good health is a valuable asset, worth more than any amount of money.”
  54. Der Neid frisst seinen eigenen Herrn. = Envy is its own torturer.
  55. Der Stärkere hat immer Recht. = Might is always right.
  56. Der Ton macht die Musik. = It is not what you do, but the way that you do it; Halls don’t grace men, it’s men that grace halls.
  57. Die Arznei ist oft ärger als das Übel. = The remedy is often worse than the disease./”Drinking makes such fools of people, and people are such fools to begin with, that it’s compounding a felony.”
  58. Die besten Schwimmer ertrinken. = The best swimmers often drown.
  59. Die beste Verteidigung ist der Angriff. = The best defense is a good offense./”You are more likely to win if you take the initiative and make an attack rather than preparing to defend yourself.”
  60. Die besten Gedanken kommen allzeit hinterdrein. = Second thoughts are the best; We shall lose nothing by waitting.
  61. Die Ochsen hinter den Wagen spannen. = Don’t put the cart before the horse./”It is important to do things in the right or natural order.”
  62. Dem Trinker kommt der Durst. = Appetite comes with eating.
  63. Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm. = The apple does not fall far from the tree./”Children observe daily and — in their behavior — often follow the example of their parents.”, or: “Children can be similar, if not identical, to their parents in many aspects”
  64. Der Arme isst wenn er was hat, der Reiche wenn er will. = Beggars can’t be choosers./“We must accept with gratitude and without complaint what we are given when we do not have the means or opportunity to provide ourselves with something better.”
  65. Der Ertrinkende greift nach einem Strohhalm. = A drowning man plucks at a straw.
  66. Der Horcher an der Wand hört seine eigene Schand. = Eavesdroppers hear no good of themselves./”People who eavesdrop on the conversations of others risk hearing unfavorable comments about themselves; used as a warning or reprimand.”
  67. Der Hund bellt und die Karawane geht vorüber. = The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.
  68. Der liebe Gott ist immer mit den stärksten Bataillonen. = God is on the side of the strongest batallions.
  69. Der gerade Weg ist der beste. = The straight path is the best one./“Straightforward approach is the best approach.” – recommending to abstain from tricks, lies and the like, for such are not only unethical, but would even aggravate achieving one’s goal.
  70. Der Schuster hat die schlechtesten Schuhe. = The shoemaker goes barefoot./”Working hard for others one may neglect one’s own needs or the needs of those closest to him.”
  71. Der Weg zur Hölle ist mit guten Vorsätzen gepflastert. = The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
  72. Der muss einen langen Löffel haben, der mit dem Teufel essen will. = He who sups with the devil needs a long spoon.
  73. Der Mensch denkt, Gott lenkt. = Man proposes but God disposes.
  74. Der Schein trügt. = Appearances deceive.
  75. Des Menschen Wille ist sein Himmelreich. = His own desire leads every man.
  76. Doppelt genäht hält besser. = Good riding at two anchors, men have told, for if the one fails, the other may hold.
  77. Du siehst den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht. = Missing the forest for the trees.
  78. Den Teufel nicht an die Wand malen. = Not to paint the devil on the wall.
  79. Die Ersten werden die Letzten sein. = The last will be first, and the first last./”The truth is, that most men want knowledge, not for itself, but for the superiority which knowledge confers; and the means they employ to secure this superiority, are as wrong as the ultimate object, for no man can ever end with being superior, who will not begin with being inferior.”
  80. Die großen Fische fressen die kleinen. = Men are like fish; the great ones devour the small./”Small organizations or insignificant people tend to be swallowed up or destroyed by those that are greater and more powerful.”
  81. Die Ratten verlassen das sinkende Schiff. = Rats desert a sinking ship.
  82. Draußen hat man hundert Augen, daheim kaum eins. = Forget other faults remembering your own; Forgive and forget.
  83. Durch Völlerei kommen mehr um denn durchs Schwert = Gluttony kills more than the sword.
  84. Ehrlich währt am längsten. = Honesty lasts the longest./Honesty is the best policy./”It is a maxim of old that among themselves all things are common to friends.”/”Friendship… flourishes not so much by kindnesses as by sincerity.”
  85. Eigenlob stinkt. = Self-praise stinks./Don’t blow your own horn.
  86. Ein Feind ist zuviel, und hundert Freunde nicht genug. = One enemy is too many, and a hundred friends aren’t enough./Do not think that one enemy is insignificant, or that a thousand friends are too many.
  87. Ein gewiß ist better als zehn Unghewiß. = One certainty is better than ten uncertainties./He that leave a certainty and sticks to chance, when fools pipe he may dance./”He is no wise man that will quit a certainty for an uncertainty.”
  88. Ein Heute ist besser als zehn Morgen. = One today is worth ten tomorrows./”Don’t shortchange the future, because of fear in the present.”
  89. Ende gut, alles gut. = All is well that ends well./”Problems and misfortunes along the way can be forgotten as long as the end is satisfactory.”
  90. Erst denken, dann lenken. = Look before you leap./”The man who thinks before he acts, is most likely to act with discretion, and have no future cause to repent of his conduct; but he who acts blindly, without any foresight, will probably suffer for his rashness.”
  91. Erst denken, dann handeln = First think, then act.
  92. Einer allein ist nicht einmal gut im Paradies. = Being alone is not even good in paradise./There is no greater torment than to be alone in paradise.
  93. Es ist keiner so blind, wie der, der nicht sehen will. = No one is as blind as the one who does not want to see./There are none so blind as they who will not see.
  94. Es ist nicht alles Gold, was glänzt. = Not all that shines is gold./All that glitters is not gold./An attractive appearance may be deceptive. It may cover or hide a much less favorable content.
  95. Ein Unglück kommt selten allein. = A disaster seldom comes alone./Misery loves company.
  96. Eile mit Weile. = More haste, less speed. / Haste makes waste.
  97. Eine Schwalbe macht noch keinen Sommer! = One swallow doesn’t make summer./A single swallow doth not the summer make./”Do not feel sure or rejoice noticing a favorable sign. The appearance of a single sign of a favorable event is not yet a definite indication of its coming. It may be an unrelated, sporadic appearance.”
  98. Erst wägen, dann wagen. = Diffidence is the right eye of prudence./”Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which animates all whom it floats, and you are without effort impelled to truth, to right and a perfect contentment.”
  99. Es ist übel, Hasen mit Trommeln fangen. = Drumming is not the way to catch a hare./”Rather than criticizing workers for not wearing helmets, tell them pleasantly they are there to protect them from injury.”
  100. Faulheit ist der Schlüssel zur Armut. = Poverty is the reward of idleness.
  101. Galle im Herzen, Honig im Mund. = A honey tongue and a heart of gall.
  102. Gelernt ist gelernt. = What is learned in the cradle lasts to the tomb.
  103. Gebranntes Kind scheut das Feuer. = Once bitten, twice shy. / A burnt child dreads the fire.
  104. Geduld bringt rosen. = Patience is a virtue, and a little will not hurt you.
  105. Geklagtes Leid ist halbes Leid. = A problem shared is a problem halved.
  106. Geld macht nicht glücklich. = Money can’t buy happiness./”Ill gotten is ill spent.”
  107. Gemein Gerücht ist selten erlogen. = Common fame is seldom to blame.
  108. Geschenk vom Feind ist nicht gut gemeint. = A gift from an enemy is not well-intentioned./Beware of Greeks bearing gifts./”Do not trust gifts or favors if they come from an enemy.”
  109. Geschichte wiederholt sich. = History repeats itself.
  110. Gesunder Mann, reicher Mann. = Good health is above wealth.
  111. Geteilte Freude ist doppelte Freude, geteilter Schmerz ist halber Schmerz. = Joy shared, joy doubled; sorrow shared, sorrow halved.
  112. Gleiche Gemüter suchen sich. = Great minds think alike.
  113. Gleiches muß durch Gleiches geheilt werden. = Fight fire with fire./”The best way to deal with an opponent is to fight back with similar weapons or tactics.”
  114. Gleich sucht sich, Gleich findet sich. = Birds of a feather flock together. / Like will to like./”Every man loves well what is like to himself.”
  115. Gott bewahre mich vor jemand, der nur ein Büchlein gelesen hat. = God protect me from he who has read only one book.
  116. Gott lässt uns wohl sinken, aber nicht ertrinken. = God lets us sink, but not drown./Bitter pills may have blessed effects, or blessing in disguise./”Present afflictions may tend to our future good.”
  117. Gut verloren, etwas verloren; Ehre verloren, viel verloren; Mut verloren, alles verloren. = Courage lost, all lost.
  118. Guter Willen gilt für die Tat. = Take the will for the deed.
  119. Halt’s Maul, so fliegt dir keine Mücke hinein. = Close your mouth; that way, no mosquitos will fly in./A closed mouth catches no flies.
  120. Hoffen und harren macht manchen zum Narren. = He that lives on hope shall die fasting./”Do not pin all your hopes on something you may not attain, because you could end up with nothing.”
  121. Hurtig zum Imbiß, hurtig zur Arbeit. = Quick at meat, quick at work.
  122. Hütet euch vor den falschen Propheten. = Beware of false prophets.
  123. In der Furt soll man die Pferde nicht wechseln. = Don’t change horses in midstream./”It is often wise not to quit an undertaking already begun.”
  124. In eigener Sache kann niemand Richter sein. = No one can be the judge in his own case.
  125. Im Becher ersaufen mehr als im Meer. = Wine has drowned more than the sea.
  126. Im Glück nicht jubeln, im Sturm nicht zagen. = If fortune favors, beware of being exalted; if fortune thunders, beware of being overwhelmed.
  127. Je mehr man die Katze streichelt, desto höher trägt sie den Schwanz. = The more one pets the cat, the higher it holds its tail./Displaying too much affection or desperation repels your friends and love interests.
  128. Jedem gefällt das Seine. = Each one likes his own things.
  129. Jedem Narren gefällt seine Kappe. = Every fool is pleased with his own folly.
  130. Jedes Warum hat seinen Darum. = Translation and English equivalent: Every why has a wherefore./”Everything has an underlying reason.”
  131. Jung getollt, alt gezollt. = Reckless youth makes rueful age.
  132. Kehre vor Deiner eigenen Tür. = Sweep your own doorstep clean.
  133. Kleine Kessel haben große Ohren. = Little pitchers have big ears.
  134. Sich nicht um ungelegte Eier kümmern. = Don’t cross your bridges until you come to them.
  135. Laufen ist eine Schande, aber gesund. = He that runs and flees away, might live to see another day.
  136. Lebe wie du kannst, nicht wie du willst. = Do as you may, if you can’t do as you could.
  137. Leichter gesagt als getan. = Easier said than done.
  138. Leicht versprochen, leicht gebrochen. = Lightly spoken, lightly broken.
  139. Lieben und Husten lassen sich nicht verbergen. = Love, smoke and cough are hard to hide.
  140. Lieber ein Ende mit Schmerzen als Schmerzen ohne Ende. or Lieber ein Ende mit Schrecken als ein Schrecken ohne Ende. = Better an end with pain than pain without end. or Better an end with horror than a horror without end./Better go about than fall into the ditch.
  141. Lügen haben kurze Beine. = A lie has short legs.
  142. Lösche nicht, wo dich’s nicht brennt. = Give neither salt nor counsel till you are asked for it.
  143. Man kann die Natur nicht ändern. = One cannot change nature./What is bred in the bone will not go out of the flesh.
  144. Man muß die Dinge nehmen, wie sie kommen. = One must accept things as they come./Take things as you find them./”We should not plan and then try to make circumstances fit those plans. Instead we should make plans fit the circumstances.”
  145. Man muss das Eisen schmieden solange es heiß ist. = One has to forge the iron while it is hot./Strike while the iron is hot.
  146. Man sieht das Hirn nicht an der Stirn. = Judge not a man and things at first sight./”Many a time… from a bad beginning great friendships have sprung up.”
  147. Man sieht am Ende wohl, Wie man es loben soll. = The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
  148. Man sollte das Fell des Bären nicht verkaufen, bevor man ihn erlegt hat. = One shouldn’t sell the bear’s fur before one has killed him./Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.
  149. Man soll den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben. = One shouldn’t praise the day before the evening.
  150. Man soll kein Öl ins Feuer gießen. = You should not add oil to the fire.
  151. Man wirft keine Perlen vor die Säue. = English equivalent: Do not throw pearls before swine.
  152. Mancher küßt die Hand, die er abbhauen möchte. = Many kiss the hand they wish cut off.
  153. Mit dem, som man ausgibt, mit demselben wird es ausgemessen. = Whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt back to you.
  154. Mitgefangen, mitgehangen. = Caught together, hanged together. (Accomplices to the crime will hang as well as the criminals.)
  155. Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund. = Morning hour has gold in the mouth./You will gain much by beginning early in the morning. (English equivalent: Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy wealthy and wise.)
  156. Natur geht vor Lehre = Nature comes before teaching.
  157. Niemand ist unersetzlich = No man is indispensable/Once you feel avoided by someone for a while, never disturb them again.
  158. Nur tote Fische schwimmen mit dem Strom = Only dead fish swim with the stream/Success is whatever humiliation everyone has agreed to compete for.
  159. Öl in Feuer schütten. = (Don’t) add fuel to the fire.
  160. Quatsch keine Opern. (slang, derogatory, not traditional) = Don’t talk operas/Few words are best.
  161. Raten ist nicht zwingen. = Counsel is no command.
  162. Rund is die Welt, drum Brüder laßt uns reisen. = The world is round, so let’s travel, brothers.
  163. Schnell Urteil hat Reue feil = Hasty judgments begets remorse.
  164. Sicher ist sicher. = Better safe than sorry.
  165. Schuster, bleib bei deinen Leisten. = Shoemaker, stick to your trade.
  166. Man sieht das Hirn nicht an der Stirn = You don’t see the brain on one’s forehead./Don’t judge things and a man at first sight.
  167. Selbst ist der Mann = If you want a thing done right, do it yourself.
  168. Sorge macht vor Zeiten grau = Worrying about too much makes a person old before their time.
  169. Spiele nicht mit Feuer = Do not play with fire.
  170. Taten sagen mehr als Wörter = Actions speak louder than words.
  171. Übung macht den Meister = Practice makes perfect
  172. Unter dem blühenden Strauch liegt oft ein giftige Schlange versteckt = Look before you leap, for snakes among sweet flowers do creep.
  173. Verstand kommt mit den Jahren = Reason/wisdom comes with age.
  174. Vertrauen erweckt Vertrauen. = Trust begets trust.
  175. Viel Wissen macht Kopfweh = Much knowledge creates headache/Ignorance is a bliss.
  176. Vorbeugen ist besser als heilen = It is better to prevent than to cure.
  177. Vorrath nimmer schadet = A store is no sore; Keep a thing seven years and you’ll find a use for it.
  178. Wahrheit gibt kurzen Bescheid, Luege macht viel Redens = Truth gives one reson, the lie gives many/Truth gives a short answer, lies go round about.
  179. Was du allein wissen willst, as sage niemand = What you want to keep a secret, tell no one.
  180. Was Gutes kommt wieder = What is good returns.
  181. Wem nicht zu raten ist, dem ist auch nicht zu helfen = He who can’t be advised, can also not be helped.
  182. Wer will haben gute Ruh, Der höre, sehe und schweige dazu. = Hear, see, be silent, if you wish to live (in peace).
  183. Wer zulezt lacht, lacht am besten. = He who laughs last, laughs longest.
  184. Wie du dein Bett macht, so magst Du darauf schlafen = As you make your bed, so you must lie.
  185. Wiederholung ist die Mutter der Weisheit = Repetition is the mother of knowledge.
  186. Wie die Mutter so die Tochter. = Like mother, like daughter.
  187. Was nicht ist, kann noch werden = What isn’t yet can still become.
  188. Wie man in den Wald hineinruft, so schallt es züruck. = Do not expect friendly reply when being obnoxious/Just as one calls into the forest, so it echoes back (lit.)
  189. Wissen ist Macht = Knowledge is power.
  190. Wer zuerst kommt, mahlt zuerst = Who comes first, grinds first.
  191. Wer nicht wagt, er nicht gewinnt = Who wagers nothing, he wings nothing/Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
  192. Wer anderen eine Grube gräbt, fällt selbst hinein = Who digs a pit for others falls into it himself/Harm set, harm get.
  193. Wer A sagt, muss auch B sagen = If you say A, you have to say B as well.
  194. Wo Rauch ist, da ist auch Feuer = When there is smoke, there is fire.
  195. Worte sind gut, wenn Werke folgen = Words are good, when work follows.
  196. Wähle von zwei Übeln das Kleinste. = Choose the lesser of two evils.
  197. Wärme bringt Leben, Kälte Tod. = Warmth brings life, coldness death.
  198. Zum Dichter muß man geboren sein, Redner kann man werden. = Poets are born, but orators are trained.
  199. Zeit ist das teuerste Kleinod. = Time is precious.
  200. Zu nacht sind alle Katzen grau. = At night all cats are gray.

Documentation sources and external links:

  1. German proverbs on www.en.wikiquote.org (bilingually in English-German)
  2. German proverbs iPhone app on www.antarjaal.com (in English)
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