German phrase of the day: Unter vier Augen

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
German phrase of the day: Unter vier Augen
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

If you've got something important to get off your chest in confidence, this German phrase could be exactly what you need.


Why do I need to know Unter vier Augen?

Because when it comes to speaking your mind, it's often best to do so in the right setting.

What's more, you're likely to hear this phrase anywhere from the office to reality TV shows, so it's useful to know what it means.

What does it mean?

Literally translated, Unter vier Augen means "under four eyes". No, this isn't a childish slur against people who wear glasses, but rather a way to describe a conversation where only two people are present - in other words, in private. 

As you might imagine, the four eyes refers to the fact that what goes on will only be observed by two people (i.e. two sets of eyes) and nobody else. Think of the English phrase, "for your eyes only" or the French tête à tête‎. 

It's best used when you want to tell someone something in confidence, without anyone else present. For example, you might want to have a one-to-one chat with a romantic interest to clarify your feelings, or your boss may want to have a private chat with you to talk about your performance at work. In this kind of situation, requesting a conversation unter vier Augen can signal your intention to have an open and honest chat. 


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Of course, this being German, you can also turn this entire concept into a compound noun: das Vieraugengespräch, or private conversation.

Use it like this:

Er sagte es mir unter vier Augen.

He told me it in confidence.

Darf ich mit Ihnen unter vier Augen sprechen? (formal)

May I speak with you in private? 


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