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12 Idiomatic Expressions with animals in German

Idiomatic expressions (Redewendungen) can be quite confusing, especially if you’re just learning a new language.

For example, if you are thinking about buying a car … and your German friends tells you not to buy a cat in a bag. Didn’t he listen at all???

To avoid any future confusion, I’ve listed 12 idiomatic expressions with animals that are commonly used.

1. Die Katze im Sack kaufen

Literally: to buy the cat in a bag

Would you you ever buy a used car without really knowing any details about it – just because the seller seems so nice? Hopefully not, because then you would “die Katze im Sack kaufen”!

2. Schmetterlinge im Bauch haben

Literally: to have butterflies in your stomach

This is definitely the most romantic of all these sayings!

Do you know this excited, happy, tingling feeling when you’re in love? Then you have Schmetterlinge im Bauch!

3. Wie ein Elefant im Porzellanladen

Literally: like an elephant in a china shop

Imagine someone going to a job interview … and then making jokes about the ugly furniture towards the boss: He’s behaving wie ein Elefant im Porzellanladen!

Some people are just the opposite of what we’d call diplomatic. Without meaning to do so, they’ll hurt other people’s feelings, make a situation really complicated by being tactless or even destroy something that they or others have built up.

4. Einen Vogel haben

Literally: To have a bird

“You want to do WHAT? You must be crazy … or– du hast wohl einen Vogel!”

If you tap against your forehead, you are “showing the bird” to the other person (den Vogel zeigen).

But be careful: this can be reported as a criminal offense (Beleidigung/ insult)!

5. Kleinvieh macht auch Mist

Literally: Small livestock creates manure, too

If everyone donates just a little amount of money to a charity, it will add up to a considerable amount. After all: even little things count or “Kleinvieh macht auch Mist!”

6. Hunde die bellen, beißen nicht

Literally: Dogs that bark do not bite

In every neighbourhood, there seems to be some grumpy old man. Children might even be scared of him! But if help is needed, he’ll always be there.

Someone else might always threaten everyone around that he’ll call the authorities … and never do it after all. After a while you know that it’s just empty words – he’s just barking but not biting.

You can say: “Keine Sorge (don’t worry) – Hunde die bellen, beißen nicht!”

7. Jemanden zur Schnecke machen

Literally: to turn someone into a snail

The boss was so angry that she yelled at her assistant. He was totally intimidated and would have probably been glad to withdraw into a shell just like a snail:

Sie hat ihn zur Schnecke gemacht!

8. Sie ist bekannt wie ein bunter Hund

Literally: She is as well known as a brightly-coloured dog.

If there was a coloured dog in there neighbourhood, then everyone would recognize it.

The same is true for some people:

“Do you know Sarah?” – “Of course I do … everyone knows her: she’s on every party – sie ist bekannt wie ein bunter Hund!”

This phrase doesn’t refer to celebrities but to people who everyone seems to know in your community, neighbourhood or company.

9. Da steppt der Bär

Literally: There taps (dances) the bear

Let’s go to the new club tonight.

They have the best music and it's great for dancing! We’ll have so much fun – da steppt der Bär!

10. Jemandem ist eine Laus über die Leber gelaufen

Literally: A louse has run across someone’s liver.

Your friend is in a really bad mood today and you are wondering why?

You can ask:

"Was ist dir denn für eine Laus über die Leber gelaufen???"

11. Katzenwäsche machen

Literally: to do a cat wash

No time to take a shower or wash properly? Then you might just run a washcloth across you face … similar to a cat licking over her paws.

While this is perfectly fine for a cat, a Katzenwäsche is not really considered enough for us humans – unless you’re on a camping trip or seriously ill.

12. Fleißig wie eine Biene

Literally: as hard-working as a bee

Did you ever watch the bumble bees flying from flower to flower? They are diligently hard-working without complaining – they are fleißig!

And if you are studying all these idimoatc expressions and memorizing the new vocabulary, you are 'fleißig wie eine Biene', too!


Do you want to instantly improve your German Pronunciation?


Hopefully you are now prepared if someone asks you, whether you have a bird or is impressed, because you are hard-working as a bee.

If you want to read this article in German (with lots of helpful vobabulary, go to:

Do you know any other idiomatic expressions with animals? Write them into the comments below, so other readers will enjoy them, too!


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