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15 timely phrases that prove Germans are all about punctuality

Kathrin Thams
Kathrin Thams - [email protected]
15 timely phrases that prove Germans are all about punctuality

Are you ever out of time, late, or in need of a German phrase for this? Then you're in luck!


Time as a concept

The first two phrases show how Germans consider time to be precious (who doesn’t?).

1. Keine Zeit zu verschenken

The phrase “Keine Zeit zu verschenken” (no time to give away) means that you do not have time to waste because, essentially, time is not endless. It expresses that you are under time pressure and cannot afford to make mistakes and lose any more time.

“Wir haben gerade wirklich keine Zeit zu verschenken. Sonst verpassen wir den Flieger”

“We really have no time to waste right now, otherwise we’ll miss the plane.”

Photo: Depositphotos/nito103

2. Zeit ist Geld

“Zeit ist Geld” (time is money) basically means that time is valuable and affects us materialistically. In essence, time is equivalent to money, because if you cannot complete your job within the given amount of time, you will not be paid.

A boss might say “Zeit ist Geld” to emphasize that the workers need to pick up the pace in order to complete their task on time.

3. Ach, du liebe Zeit

“Ach, du liebe Zeit!” (Oh, dear time!) is an interjection that basically means “Oh dear!” or “Dear me!”. When saying “Ach, du liebe Zeit!” you’re exclaiming that you have forgotten the time and are late.

“Ach, du liebe Zeit! Wir müssen dringend los.”

“Oh dear! We really need to get going.”

4. Zeit verschaffen

“Zeit verschaffen” (Make time available) means to buy time. The phrase actively urges us to work efficiently in order to spare and therefore create time.

“Wir müssen uns mehr Zeit verschaffen, sonst gewinnen wir nicht das Rennen!”

“We need to buy more time, otherwise we will not win the race!”

Okay, most Germans probably aren't quite this passionate about being on time. Photo: depositphotos

5. Die Zeit vergeht wie im Flug

“Die Zeit vergeht wie im Flug” (Time passes like on a flight) means that time flies. The phrase underlines that time passes by quickly and is always ahead of us.

But it can also mean that it is sad that the time has passed and that you wished that you would have had more, which is similar to “time flies when you’re having fun”. The phrase is common, but younger people don’t tend to use it.

6. Die Zeit nagt an den Dingen/Der Zahn der Zeit

“Die Zeit nagt an den Dingen” (The time gnaws on things) or “der Zahn der Zeit” (The tooth of time) both mean that time takes a toll on everything.

This characterizes time to be material and able to create change, not only figuratively.

This phrase is well-known, but something you would rather find in books, or perhaps use philosophically, and not in everyday speech.

7. Alles hat seine Zeit

The phrase “Alles hat seine Zeit” (Everything has its time) or “Alles zu seiner Zeit” (Everything in its time) means that there is a time for everything and that things will occur when they are destined to do so.

It is similar to “don’t cross a bridge till you come to it” because it underlines that you should not stress things because those things will happen when they happen.

You would say “Alles hat seine Zeit” to a person who might be sad about not being promoted.

"Alles hat seine Zeit", including work promotions. Photo: depositphotos/fizkes

8. Meine Zeit kommt noch

The previous phrase ties into this one: “Meine Zeit kommt noch” (My time will come). This means that someone’s turn will come eventually, for earning or achieving something good, like a job promotion or finding true love.

In other words, when it seems like everybody is getting their wishes, you would say “Deine Zeit kommt noch”, or your time will also come.


Many phrases emphasize that punctuality is like clockwork.

9. Fünf Minuten vor der Zeit, ist des Deutschen Pünktlichkeit.

“Fünf Minuten vor der Zeit, ist des Deutschen Pünktlichkeit” (Five minutes before the time, is the German punctuality) means that the German motto is to be punctual and-this is the important part- even ahead of time.

This saying also exists with “soldiers” substituted for “German” which shows that punctuality is almost like a rule.

10. Pünktlich wie die Maurer.

The prase “Pünktlich wie die Maurer” (Punctual like the bricklayers) can mean either being punctual, or ending work on time.

If your job ends at 3 p.m for example you will, undoubtedly, pack your things when the clock strikes three (and not a minute later).

In this sense, it can have a negative connotation, because you it seems like you are not willing to stay longer.

11. Pünktlich wie ein Uhrwerk

A clockwork in a museum in Seehausen, Photo DPA

“Pünktlich wie ein Uhrwerk” (Punctual like a clockwork) means being precisely on time and basically operating perfectly.

“Der Lehrling ist mal wieder pünktlich wie ein Urwerk.”

“The trainee is once again precisely on time.”

It is also vital that it is better to be early than late.

Der frühe Vogel fängt den Wurm

The classic phrase “Der frühe Vogel fängt den Wurm” (The early bird catches the worm) describes precisely that. It means that being early pays off or will be rewarded.

“Sei mal morgen früher da. Du weißt doch: “Der frühe Vogel fängt den Wurm.”

“Be there earlier tomorrow. You know: “The early bird catches the worm.”

13. Was du heute kannst besorgen, dass verschiebe nicht auf morgen.

This fun-to-say phrase “Was du heute kannst besorgen, dass verschiebe nicht auf morgen” (What you can get today, don’t postpone until tomorrow) means that whatever you can accomplish today you should finish on that day (Or similarly, don’t be lazy).


Tardiness is just plainly bad, undesirable, and rude. Or at least that is what many Germans think.

14. Morgen, Morgen, nur nicht heute, sagen alle faulen Leute.

This lyrical phrase “Morgen, Morgen, nur nicht heute, sagen alle faulen Leute” (Tomorrow, tomorrow, just not today, say all lazy people) means that all shiftless people postpone things to the next day and don’t accomplish anything when they should.

Photo: Minervastock/Depositphotos

It appeals to getting things done on time and underlines that if you don’t you will be classified as lazy.

In other words, “don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today”.

15. Wer zu spät kommt, den bestraft das Leben

“Wer zu spät kommt, den bestraft das Leben (Who comes too late, life punishes him) means that tardiness does not pay off well and it definitely not worth it because it will be dealt with accordingly.

Almost like a cautionary phrase, it warns people of the consequences of coming late.

Quite unrelated to the ones above, but a funny, typical German phrase to leave off with, is “Zeit totschlagen” (beat time to death). Similar to “kill time”, the expression is more fun because it adds additional emphasis through its graphic description.



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[email protected] 2019/11/08 10:21
Were Germans so punctual before the WWII or have they become after the war, because of the reconstruction they had to make?

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