One of the best ways to build new vocabulary, and sound more like a native, is to learn the German slang words people use every day.
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By sprinkling words from the German umgangsprache into your daily conversations, you can bring your sentences to life and display emotions you won’t find in German textbooks.
Today I want to show you 20 common German slang words, and how to use use them, so you can begin to sound more like a native today!
This is one of my favourite German expressions. It can used to express surprise, informally greet someone or as an interjection.
It’s a shortened version of the term, “Alter Schwede” which translates to old Swedish man in English. I’m not sure what old Swedish men did to deserve this term, but you can hear it all over Germany.
You might hear Germans using it as a way to say mate or man to greet you, in a sentence like “Alter, was geht ab?”, which is man, what’s going on?.
You can also use it to express surprise or disbelief in something. For example one of my friends at Rugby asked me my age, and I told him I was 25. He laughed and said, “Alter! Nein, wirklich, wie alt bist du?”, or Man! No, really, how old are you?, which did nothing for my ego as he thought I was 32.
You can use it at the start of a sentence to express disbelief, or to add effect to what you’re saying:“Alter! Ist das euer Auto?” – Man! Is that your car?“Alter Schwede! Was hast du gemacht?” – My God! What did you do?“Alter! Mach doch!” – Man! Get on with it.
Moin is the shortening of the phrase, “Guten Morgen” or good morning in parts of northern Germany. But lots of people have adopted this as a way of saying “Hello!” in German slang, regardless of what time it is.
I even receive emails from friends using “Moin” as a greeting:
I find this term really helpful if you’re saying hello to a group of people – like if you’ve just walked into a party – and you’re not quite sure what to say.
Geil is a word used to describe anything you feel is cool, tasty or an interesting surprise. But it’s also an odd word because “geil” technically means, well…horny.
But Germans don’t think of it in that context when they use it. Kind of how people in English might use sick to describe something good, without thinking the word really means unwell or vomiting.
You’ll often hear geil in sentences like:“Man, das Essen war so geil!”- Man, that food was amazing!“Was hat sie gemacht? Geil!” – What did she do? Brilliant!“Ich habe ein geiles Restaurant gefunden” – I found a really cool restaurant
Irre is used the same way in German as crazy! is used in English. It has both good, and bad, connotations depending on how you use it. But mostly it’s used to express bad situations, like:“Der Typ is Irre!” – That guy is a lunatic!“Ich fand es Irre, wie schlecht ihren Kundendienst war” – I found it crazy how bad their customer service was“Es war total Irre, was sie gemacht hat” – It was crazy what she did
When the German language isn’t using five words to describe one thing, it’s using one word to try and describe everything. Krass is one of those words, because it can be used to portray both good and bad emotion in equal measure.
It’s often heard as a reply to something. For example, “Robert hat 500 Euro mit einem Rubbellos gewonnen” (Robert won 500 Euros on a scratchcard) could be met with, “Krass!” (Cool!).
But it could also be used as a response to something negative, such as, “Robert hat 500 Euro aus meiner Brieftasche geklaut” (Robert stole 500 euros from my wallet), “Krass! Der typ is Irre!”, (What!? That guy is a lunatic)
You can also use it to describe something; “Das Essen hier is krass! Ich liebe es”, (The food here is great! I love it), or “Das Restaurant is krass, ich finde es immer so dreckig”, (That restaurant is awful, it’s always so dirty).
The words around Krass will help to give it context about whether it’s good or bad.
Lecker is a simple word you can use to say something is tasty. During a meal Germans will often ask you the question, “Schmeckt"s?” which means, how is your food?.
You can simply reply by saying, “Ja! Lecker.”
Assi is short for asozial which means chav in British English. You can probably closely relate this to redneck or trailer trash in American English, although it doesn’t quite conjure the same image.
An Assi is someone who is uneducated, unemployed, from a low-income area, who wears fake designer clothes and spends their evenings drinking or doing drugs. This isn’t my opinion, however that’s what people are referring to when they say it.
Assi can also be used to describe something of poor quality or is undesirable. For example, “Ich wollte neue Jeans kaufen, aber alles was ich gesehen hab, war ein bisschen Assi”, (I wanted to buy new jeans, but everything I’ve seen was a little chavvy).
Hammer is the tool you use to bang nails into wood. It’s the same word in German as in English. But the Germans also use it to describe that something is cool or outstanding.
It can be used simply as, “Hammer!” to respond to something cool you’ve heard or seen. But you can also expand a little bit.
Let’s say you’ve spent the afternoon at a soccer game and someone asked you if you saw the match-winning goal. You could say, “Alter, es war der Hammer!”, wich means Man, it was a doozy!
You can use that sentence on its own to describe lots of things you’ve seen or done.
Bescheuert roughly translates to dumb or stupid in English. But it also comes with the connotation that someone is one sandwich short of a picnic, or their head is, well… up their arsch.
It’s not uncommon to hear Germans referring to particular politicians as “Total bescheuert!” when they disagree with their opinions or policy changes.
Quatsch is a fun word to say which comes with a few different meanings.
One of the most common ones is a light-hearted way of saying, Don’t be silly!. For example, “Ich wollte mich bei dir Bedanken, für das Geschenk” (I wanted to thank you for the present) could be met with “Quatsch! Ich wollte dir was schenken” (Don’t be silly! I wanted to give you a present).
Quatch can also be used when you think someone is saying something untruthful. “Was für Quatsch redest du?” (What are you talking about!?).
You can say it to release some frustration. Saying “Quatsch!” out loud when something bad happens is the same as shouting, Bollocks! in English.
Finally, you can turn it into the verb Quatschen to say that you’re just chatting away with someone. “Ich bin jetzt bei Ela. Wir quatchen nur. Ich komme bald nach Hause”, (I’m with Ela right now. We’re just chatting. I’ll come home soon.)
Jein is a mix of the words “Ja” for yes and “Nein” for no. Germans will often use this word to describe when when something isn’t clear cut, or they haven’t yet made a decision.
Let’s say you’re talking to a friend about their relationship status. They’ve been dating someone for a while and you want to know if they’re serious yet. You might ask, “Seid ihr jetzt in einer Beziehung?” Are you in a relationship now?, to which they could say, “Jein” (Yes and no. Maybe. Who knows!?).
Mensch means human in German, but it can also be a way of saying man! or oh man!. It’s often used to show dissatisfaction with someone or something. Or, in that moment where you’re two streets away from your house and you realise you left your mobile phone at home.
If you’ve got a friend who does something you’re not particularly fond of you can say, “Mensch!” followed by their name to express your dissatisfaction. “Mensch, Marie!” can be a good way of getting your point across.
And if you’re two streets from home and realise you’ve forgotten your mobile phone, you can exclaim “Mensch!” before turning around and going back.
Mist is used in the same way as crap or bugger might be used in English. It’s relatively inoffensive and can be used to express mild negative emotions. You know, when something isn’t enough to ruin your day, but you wish it hadn’t happened.
You can slot “Mist!” or “Ach, mist!” in wherever you would say crap or oh crap in your normal everyday conversations.
Verarschen is a great word to express when someone is messing you around, pulling your leg or taking the piss.
This can be used in a light-hearted way like, “Ich verarsche dich nur” can be said like I’m just joking around with you. Or if you were to say, “Verarschen kann ich mich selber!” you’d be sarcastically saying, My eye!.
Or if you want to take a more serious standpoint you could say, “Willst du mich verarschen?” (Are you trying to take the piss?), when you feel that someone is doing something to wrong you.
Kater is the German word for hangover.
If you’ve had a heavy night drinking German beer or schnapps, you might wake up the next day and want to say, “Ich habe einen Kater”, meaning I have a hangover.
Prima is a way of saying something or someone is great. When I hear Prima, it always sounds happy, like an early 19th century English gentleman saying, “Tip top ol’ chap”
Here are some examples of prima in action:“Das ist prima” – That’s excellent“Er ist ein prima Kerl!” – He’s a top bloke“Sie macht das prima” – She does that so well
Besserwissers are people who think they know everything, refuse to listen to advice, and can never be wrong, You’ll know this term in English as someone who is a Know-it-all, and it works as a direct translation.
Can you use your powers of cognate-deduction to figure out what this word means? It’s close to its English relative.
Ausflippen means to flip out at someone, or about something. You know that moment when someone completely loses control and starts screaming and shouting in a moment of pure anger.
Verdammt is another close cognate to an English word. It can be used in the same way as the word damn.
Here are some sentences to give you an idea:“Verdammt, ich hab mein Handy zuHause vergessen” – Damn, I left my phone at home“Der verdammte Verkehr geht mir auf den Keks” – The damn traffic is getting on my nerves“Verdammt, FC Köln haben schon wieder verloren” – Damn, FC Köln lost again
Sau is a versatile prefix you can add to lots of adjectives to emphasise how extreme something is. A Sau is a female pig, but for some reason it’s also used as a slang.
The first time I heard this word it was the middle of summer at a wine festival in western Germany. It was boiling hot and the people around me would say that it was, “Sauwarm” which means it’s absolutely sweltering.
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You can combine some basic vocabulary, and words you’ve learned on this list, to create some native sounding variations:saulekker – Incredibly tastySaugeil – Insanely coolSauteuer – Really expensive
The Word On The Strasse…
By using these German slang words you’ll sound more native and add more colour to your conversations in almost no time at all.