Rick Steves German Phrase Book & Dictionary


By Rick Steves

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Hallo! From ordering bratwurst in Berlin to making new friends in Munich, it helps to speak some of the native tongue in Germany. Rick Steves offers well-tested German words and phrases that come in handy in a variety of situations. Inside you’ll find:
  • Key phrases for everyday circumstances, complete with phonetic spelling
  • An English-German and German-English dictionary
  • Tips for small talk and local lingo with Rick’s signature sense of humor
  • A tear-out cheat sheet for continued language practice as you relax at a biergarten (no internet connection required!)
Informative, concise, and practical, Rick Steves German Phrase Book & Dictionary is an essential item for any traveler’s pocket.


Hi, I’m Rick Steves.

I’m the only monolingual speaker I know who’s had the nerve to design a series of European phrase books. But that’s one of the things that makes them better.

You see, after more than 30 years of travel through Europe, I’ve learned firsthand: (1) what’s essential for communication in another country and (2) what’s not. I’ve assembled these most important words and phrases in a logical, no-frills format, and I’ve worked with native Europeans and seasoned travelers to give you the simplest, clearest translations possible.

But this book is more than just a pocket translator. The words and phrases have been carefully selected to help you have a smarter, smoother trip. The key to getting more out of every travel dollar is to get closer to the local people, and to rely less on entertainment, restaurants, and hotels that cater only to foreign tourists. This book will give you the linguistic four-wheel drive to navigate through German, Austrian, and Swiss culture—from ordering a meal at a locals-only Tirolean restaurant to discussing travel dreams and your best and wurst memories with the family that runs the place. Long after your memories of castles and museums have faded, you’ll still treasure the close encounters you had with your new European friends.

While I’ve provided plenty of phrases, you’ll find it just as effective to use only a word or two to convey your meaning, and rely on context, gestures, and smiles to help you out. To make harried postal clerks happy, don’t say haltingly in German: “I would like to buy three stamps to mail these postcards to the United States.” All you really need is Briefmarken (stamps), USA (pronounced oo-ehs-ah), and bitte (please). Smile, point to the postcards, hold up three fingers...and you’ve got stamps. (For more advice, see Tips for Hurdling the Language Barrier SEE HERE.)

While a number of Germans (and Austrians and Swiss) speak fine English, some don’t. The language barrier can sometimes seem high in German-speaking nations, but locals are happy to give an extra boost to any traveler who makes an effort to tackle the language.

To get the most out of this book, take the time to internalize and put into practice my German pronunciation tips. But don’t worry about memorizing grammatical rules, like the gender of a noun—forget about sex, and communicate!

This book has a nifty menu decoder and a handy dictionary. You’ll also find tongue twisters, international words, telephone tips, and two handy “cheat sheets.” Tear out the sheets and tuck them into your dirndl or lederhosen, so you can easily memorize key phrases during otherwise idle moments. A good phrase book should help you enjoy your travel experience—not just survive it—so I’ve added a healthy dose of humor. And as you prepare for your trip, you may want to read the latest editions of my guidebooks: Rick Steves’ Germany, Rick Steves’ Switzerland, and Rick Steves’ Vienna, Salzburg & Tirol.

German is the closest thing I’ll ever have to a “second language.” It takes only a few words to feel like I’m part of the greater Germanic family, greeting hikers in the Alps, commiserating over the crowds in Rothenburg, prosting in the beerhalls of Munich, and slap-dancing in Tirol.

My goal is to help you become a more confident, extroverted traveler. If this phrase book helps make that happen, or if you have suggestions for making it better, I’d love to hear from you at rick@ricksteves.com.

Gute Reise! Have a good trip!

Getting Started

Versatile, entertaining German is spoken throughout Germany, Austria, and most of Switzerland. In addition, German rivals English as the handiest second language in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Eastern Europe, and Turkey.

German is kind of a “Lego language.” Be on the lookout for fun combination words. A glove is a “hand shoe” (Handschuh), a peninsula is a “half island” (Halbinsel), and a skunk is a stinky animal (Stinktier). It follows that a Dummkopf (dumb head) is... um... uh...

German pronunciation differs from English in some key ways:

CH sounds like the guttural CH in Scottish loch.

G usually sounds like G in go (rarely like G in giant).

J sounds like Y in yes.

K is never silent.

S can sound like S in sun or Z in zoo.

SCH sounds like SH in shine.

TH sounds like T in top.

V usually sounds like F in fun.

W sounds like V in volt.

Z sounds like TS in hits.

AU sounds like OW in cow.

ÄU and EU sound like OY in joy.

EI and AI sound like I in light.

IE sounds like EE in seed.

German has a few unusual signs and sounds. The letter ß is not a letter B at all—it’s interchangeable with “ss.” Some of the German vowels are double-dotted with an umlaut. The ä usually has a sound like E in “get.” The ö has a sound uncommon in English. To make the ö sound, round your lips to say “o,” but say “ee.” To say ü, pucker your lips to make an “oo” sound, but say “ee.” The German ch has a clearing-your-throat sound. Say Achtung!

You can communicate a lot with only a few key German phrases. For example, the versatile es gibt and geht das have only two syllables apiece, but they can be useful in many situations. Here’s how:

Es gibt (which means “there is” and is pronounced ehs gibt) can be used with any noun to create a statement of fact. If you don’t know how to say “It’s raining,” just say Es gibt Regen (There is rain). And if you reverse the words, it becomes an all-purpose question: Gibt es Toilette? (Is there a toilet?)

Geht das? (pronounced gayt dahs) literally means “Does this go?”—basically “Is this OK?” It’s a handy phrase when combined with a gesture. When showing your sightseeing pass to a museum ticket-taker, it means “Is this ticket valid at your museum?” When pointing to your camera at a market stall, it means “May I please take a picture?” The answer (you hope) will be Das geht. The globally understood “OK?” works in many of the same situations.

Here’s a quick guide to the phonetics in this book:

ah like A in father
ar like AR in far
ay like AY in play
ee like EE in seed
eh like E in get
ehr sounds like “air”
ew pucker your lips and say “ee”
g like G in go
kh like the guttural CH in Achtung
i like I in hit
ī like I in light
oh like O in note
oo like OO in moon
ow like OW in cow
oy like OY in toy
s like S in sun
ur like UR in purr
ts like TS in hits; it’s a small explosive sound.
zh like S in treasure

In German, the verb is sometimes at the end of the sentence; for instance, “I’d like to reserve a room” in German is Ich möchte ein Zimmer reservieren (literally “I’d like a room to reserve”). Note that when you’re using the German phrases in this book, some fill-in-the-blank choices will come before the verb at the end. If you’re curious about German sentence structure, SEE HERE.

Germans capitalize all nouns. Each noun has a gender, which determines which “the” you’ll use: der, die, das, den, dem, or des. This is determined by the grammatical gender of the word, and how it’s being used in the sentence. But no traveler is expected to remember which is which. It’s OK to just grab whichever “the” comes to mind. In the interest of simplicity, we’ve occasionally left out the articles. And for brevity, we often drop the all-important “please” from the phrases. Please use “please” (bitte, pronounced bit-teh) liberally.

Spoken German varies tremendously by region, with dialects that can differ noticeably within even a small area. Lilting Swiss German is particularly distinctive—and nearly unintelligible to many northern Germans. Swiss Germans speak it around the home, but in schools and at work they speak and write in the standard German used in Germany and Austria (called “High German,” or Hochdeutsch). (For more on Swiss German, SEE HERE.) Throughout this book, I’ve noted if a particular term or phrase is used predominantly or exclusively in a particular region: (Aus.) for Austria, (Switz.) for Switzerland, and (Bav.) for Bavaria—which, while part of Germany, has a dialect all its own.

It’s fun to keep an eye out for the various diminutives that German speakers tack on to the end of nouns to make things smaller and/or cuter. Germans usually use chen or lein: Häuschen means small house, Hündchen is a little dog, Fraülein is a young woman. The Swiss use li: Brötli to the Swiss is a “little bread”—a roll. Austrians tend to add just l (a German girl is a Mädchen, but in Austria she’s a Mädl).

Greetings, however, vary the most across regions. Most Germans stick with Guten Tag (good day, goo-tehn tahg). The multilingual Swiss say hi with a cheery Grüetzi (grit-see), thank you by saying Merci (mer-see), and bid goodbye with Ciao. And Austrians and Bavarians greet one another with Grüss Gott (grews goht), which means “May God greet you.”

German Basics

Hellos and Goodbyes

Struggling with German


Simply Important Words

Sign Language

German / English Dictionary

English / German Dictionary

Be creative! You can combine the phrases in this chapter to say: “Two, please,” or “No, thank you,” or “Open tomorrow?” or “Please, where can I buy a ticket?” Please is a magic word in any language. If you want to buy something, you can point at it and say Bitte (Please). If you know the word for what you want, such as the bill, simply say Rechnung, bitte (Bill, please). Bitte is an all-purpose courtesy word that can also mean “You’re welcome” or “Can I help you?”

Hellos and Goodbyes


Meeting and Greeting


Moving On

Hello. Guten Tag. goo-tehn tahg
Do you speak English? Sprechen Sie Englisch? shprehkh-ehn zee ehng-lish
Yes. / No. Ja. / Nein. yah / nīn
I don’t speak German. Ich spreche kein Deutsch. ikh shprehkh-eh kīn doytch
I’m sorry. Es tut mir leid. ehs toot meer līt
Please. Bitte. bit-teh
Thank you. Danke. dahn-keh
Thank you very much. Vielen Dank. fee-lehn dahnk
Excuse me. Entschuldigung. ehnt-shool-dig-oong
OK? OK? “OK”
OK. In Ordnung. in ord-noong
Good. Gut. goot
Very good. Sehr gut. zehr goot
Excellent. Ausgezeichnet. ows-geht-sīkh-neht
You are very kind. Sie sind sehr freundlich. zee zint zehr froynd-likh
No problem. Kein Problem. kīn proh-blaym
It doesn’t matter. Macht nichts. mahkht nikhts
You’re welcome. Bitte. bit-teh
Bye. (informal) Tschüss. chewss
Goodbye. Auf Wiedersehen. owf vee-dehr-zay-ehn
Meeting and Greeting
Hi. (informal) Hallo. hah-loh
Good morning. Guten Morgen. goo-tehn mor-gehn
Good day. (Ger.) Guten Tag. goo-tehn tahg
Good day. (Aus.) Grüss Gott. grews goht
Good day. (Switz.) Grüezi. grewt-see
Good evening. Guten Abend. goo-tehn ah-behnt
Good night. Gute Nacht. goo-teh nahkht
Welcome! Willkommen! vil-koh-mehn
Mr. Herr hehr
Ms. Frau frow
Miss (under 18) Fräulein froy-līn
My name is ____. Ich heisse ____. ikh hī-seh ____
What’s your name? Wie heissen Sie? vee hī-sehn zee
Pleased to meet you. Sehr erfreut. zehr ehr-froyt
How are you? Wie geht es Ihnen? vee gayt ehs ee-nehn
Very well, thank you. Sehr gut, danke. zehr goot dahn-keh
Fine, thanks. Gut, danke. goot dahn-keh
And you? Und Ihnen? oont ee-nehn
Where are you from? Woher kommen Sie? voh-hehr koh-mehn zee
I am from ____. Ich komme aus ____. ikh koh-meh ows ____
I am / We are... Ich bin / Wir sind... ikh bin / veer zint
Are you...? Sind Sie...? zint zee
...on vacation ...auf Urlaub owf oor-lowb
...on business ...auf Geschäftsreise owf geh-shehfts-rī-zeh


In German-speaking Switzerland, locals speak sing-songy Schwyzertütsch (Swiss German) around the house, but in schools and at work, they speak and write in the same standard German used in Germany and Austria (called “High German,” Hochdeutsch—though many Swiss prefer to call it Schriftdeutsch, “Written German”). While any Swiss person will understand the German phrases in this book, try out these variations. Listen to locals, then repeat.

Hello. (said to just one person) Grüezi. grit-see
Hello. (said to multiple people) Grüezi mitenand. grit-see mit-eh-nahnd
Enjoy your meal. En guete. ehn goo-eh-teh
Thank you (very much). Merci (vilmal). mehr-see (feel-mahl)
Goodbye. (Uf) Widerluege. (oof) vee-dehr-loo-eh-geh

Guten Tag (Good day) is the German “Hello,” which people say all day long. To be more specific about the time of day, people use the greeting Guten Morgen (Good morning) before noon. Say Guten Abend (Good evening) after 6 p.m., and Gute Nacht (Good night) at bedtime.

Although Austrians and Swiss understand Guten Tag, they use their own variations to greet each other: Grüss Gott in Austria (also common in Bavaria) and Grüezi in Switzerland (see sidebar). In Austria, people sometimes use the all-purpose greeting Servus (sehr-voos)—a holdover from the days of the multilingual Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Moving On


On Sale
Sep 3, 2019
Page Count
456 pages
Rick Steves

Rick Steves

About the Author

Since 1973, Rick Steves has spent about four months a year exploring Europe. His mission: to empower Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. Rick produces a best-selling guidebook series, a public television series, and a public radio show, and organizes small-group tours that take over 30,000 travelers to Europe annually.  He does all of this with the help of more than 100 well-traveled staff members at Rick Steves’ Europe in Edmonds, WA (near Seattle). When not on the road, Rick is active in his church and with advocacy groups focused on economic and social justice, drug policy reform, and ending hunger. To recharge, Rick plays piano, relaxes at his family cabin in the Cascade Mountains, and spends time with his son Andy and daughter Jackie. Find out more about Rick at http://www.ricksteves.com and on Facebook.

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