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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!

15 timely phrases that prove Germans are all about punctuality
Photo: Depositphotos/lightkeeper

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.


Member comments

  1. 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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For members


The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your German

Once you've learned the basics of German, listening to podcasts is one of the best ways of increasing vocabulary and speeding up comprehension. Here are some of the best podcasts out there for German learners.

The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your German


Coffee Break German

Coffee Break German aims to take you through the basics of German in a casual lesson-like format. It is extremely easy to listen to. Each 20-minute episode acts as a mini-lesson, where German native Thomas teaches Mark Pendleton, the founder and CEO of Coffee Break Languages, the basics.

All phrases are broken down into individual words. After new phrases are introduced the listeners are encouraged to repeat them back to practise pronunciation.

The advantage of listening to this podcast is that the learner, Mark, begins at the same level as you. He is also a former high school French and Spanish teacher. He often asks for clarification of certain phrases, and it can feel as if he is asking the very questions you want answered.

You can also stream the podcast directly from the provider’s website, where they sell a supplementary package from the Coffee Break German Academy, which offers additional audio content, video flashcards and comprehensive lesson notes

German Pod 101

German Pod 101 aims to teach you all about the German language, from the basics in conversations and comprehension to the intricacies of German culture. German Pod 101 offers various levels for your German learning and starts with Absolute Beginner.

The hosts are made up of one German native and one American expat living in Germany, in order to provide you with true authentic language, but also explanations about the comparisons and contrasts with English. This podcast will, hopefully, get you speaking German from day one.

Their website offers more information and the option to create an account to access more learning materials.

Learn German by Podcast

This is a great podcast if you don’t have any previous knowledge of German. The hosts guide you through a series of scenarios in each episode and introduce you to new vocabulary based on the role-plays. Within just a few episodes, you will learn how to talk about your family, order something in a restaurant and discuss evening plans. Each phrase is uttered clearly and repeated several times, along with translations.


Learn German by Podcast provides the podcasts for free but any accompanying lesson guides must be purchased from their website. These guides include episode transcripts and some grammar tips. 


Easy German

This podcast takes the form of a casual conversation between hosts Manuel and Cari, who chat in a fairly free-form manner about aspects of their daily lives. Sometimes they invite guests onto the podcast, and they often talk about issues particularly interesting to expats, such as: “How do Germans see themselves?”. Targeted at young adults, the podcasters bring out a new episode very three or four days.

News in Slow German

This is a fantastic podcast to improve your German listening skills. What’s more, it helps you stay informed about the news in several different levels of fluency.

The speakers are extremely clear and aim to make the podcast enjoyable to listen to. For the first part of each episode the hosts talk about a current big news story, then the second part usually features a socially relevant topic. 

A new episode comes out once a week and subscriptions are available which unlock new learning tools.

SBS German

This podcast is somewhat interesting as it is run by an Australian broadcaster for the German-speaking community down under. Perhaps because ethnic Germans in Australia have become somewhat rusty in their mother tongue, the language is relatively simple but still has a completely natural feel.

There is a lot of news here, with regular pieces on German current affairs but also quite a bit of content looking at what ties Germany and Australia together. This lies somewhere between intermediate and advanced.

A woman puts on headphones in Gadebusch, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Photo: dpa | Jens Büttner


Auf Deutsche gesagt

This is another great podcast for people who have a high level of German. The host, Robin Meinert, talks in a completely natural way but still manages to keep it clear and comprehensible.

This podcast also explores a whole range of topics that are interesting to internationals in Germany, such as a recent episode on whether the band Rammstein are xenophobic. In other words, the podcast doesn’t just help you learn the language, it also gives you really good insights into what Germans think about a wide range of topics.


Bayern 2 present their podcast Sozusagen! for all those who are interested in the German language. This isn’t specifically directed at language learners and is likely to be just as interesting to Germans and foreigners because it talks about changes in the language like the debate over gender-sensitive nouns. Each episode explores a different linguistic question, from a discussion on German dialects to an analysis of political linguistics in Germany.