Getting to know German Slang Words

Well, learning the rules of word order, proper pronunciation and compound nouns will help you get a good grasp on German.

After you’ve been studying for a while, you’ll want to speak German in a cool, casual manner — like a native.

When you feel that urge, it’s definitely time to ditch the books for a while and refocus your energy on authentic, modern-day German slang expressions.

Here are ten German slang phrases that will give you instant street credibility in Germany.

1. “Bock auf etwas haben”

If you know the expression “Lust haben” (“to want to do something” or “to be up for doing something”), the phrase “Bock haben” means roughly the same thing.

Not really up for the day trip that your German friends are organising? “Ich habe keinen Bock darauf” will convey your lack of enthusiasm.

Completely down for a night out, though? “Ja, ich hab’ Bock drauf” will show that you’re interested.

2. “Mach’s gut!”

Forget the textbook ways of saying goodbye – the casual “Tschüß” and the more formal “Auf Wiedersehen” – by throwing in a “Mach’s gut!” to your friends instead.

Literally translated as “Make it good!”, the phrase is the equivalent of “Have a good one!” in English.

3. “Servus!”

A common greeting in the south, this one literally means “I am your servant” in Latin. You can use it to say either “hello” or “goodbye.” Just don’t be surprised when you hear someone utter a phrase akin to “Servus! Scheiße, noch ‘ne Bayer.” (Greetings! Oh no, another Bavarian…)

4. “Ciao”

Germans respect their southern neighbors so much that many have adopted their greeting in German.

Italians are actually the largest group of non-Germans in Germany after Turks, and there was even a relatively small group of Italian Gastarbeiter (guest workers) brought into the country in the 1950’s. Germans have loved going to Italy since the days of Goethe, so it’s only natural that such a cool, useful word got picked up by savvy Germans.

5. “Auf jeden Fall”

“Bock haben” and “auf jeden Fall” go hand in hand on the enthusiasm scale.

Instead of using “natürlich” (“of course”), a piece of vocab which was probably drummed into you at school, try out the more casual “auf jeden Fall” (“definitely” or “for sure”).

And if you want to be really down with the kids, you can shorten it to a simple ‘auf jeden’.

6. “Jein”

Another way of expressing uncertainty, “jein” is a mashup of, yep you’ve guessed it, “ja” and nein”.

So if you want to express that you’re quite doubtful about something, or you just don’t want to come down really strongly on one side or the other, “jein” is the one to use.

7. “Alter”

In America you’d say “buddy”, in England you’d say “mate” and in Scotland “pal”. But how do you refer to a male friend very casually in German? “Alter” or “Alta” is the way.

“Alter, was geht ab?” (“Dude, what’s up?”) is often heard among German teens. As you can tell, this kind of slang is very colloquial, so it’s generally only used by younger people.

8. “Na ja…”

This short and sweet phrase rings with indecision.

Magst du Florian?

Na ja… ‘Mögen’ wäre vielleicht ein bisschen viel… Ich habe nicht wirklich etwas gegen ihn, aber…

(Do you like Florian? Well…”like” is a bit much… I don’t really have anything against him, but…)

9. “Quatsch”

“Das ist totaler Quatsch”, you might think when someone shamelessly declares that they are an authority on a particular subject when they clearly don’t know the first thing about it.

If you say that something is “Quatsch”, it means that it’s utter nonsense or complete gibberish.

10. “Nö / Nee”

Rather than actually saying “nein,” (no) in conversation you’ll hear nö said much more often. Hearing this word is like fingernails on a chalkboard to an Austrian though, where they say “jo” and “na” instead of “ja” and “nö,” respectively.

Remember, this is only a small (and fairly personal) sample of interesting German expressions. I’m sure that you’ll be able to add plenty more to this list as you continue on your way to learning perfect German.


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