German phrase of the day: Unter vier Augen

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

German word of the day
Photo: Photo credit: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

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. 

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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German word of the day: Los

This tiny German word has a huge range of meanings.

German word of the day: Los

Why do I need to know los?

Because it’s a very common word in spoken German which crops up everywhere, from yoga classes to unemployment offices. We explain how it’s used below. 

What does it mean?

The word los has a wide variety of uses in the German language – it can be a noun, adjective, adverb, interjection, as well as a prefix and a suffix.

As an adjective it means “loose” in English and is used to describe something not firmly or tightly fixed in place. This is the kind of los you’re most likely to encounter in everyday life. If a German friend asks you why you’re looking a bit down, for example, they’ll probably say:

Was ist mit dir los?

This literally means “what’s loose with you?” but is used to mean “what’s up”?

Similarly, if there’s some commotion on the street outside your office, a German colleague might ask:

Was ist da los?

What’s up there?

Los is also commonly used as an exclamation, meaning “Go!”

Riders hold their grips on the steering wheel at the start of the second stage of the Tour de France in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/BELGA | Pool

At the start of a race, for example, instead of “On your marks – get set – Go!” you’ll hear auf die Plätze – fertig – Los!

You’ll also hear this type of los as a general encouragement or as an order to someone to make a move:

Worauf wartest du? Los!

What are you waiting for? Go!

Los as a prefix and suffix

When it appears at the beginning of a verb, los expresses the idea of starting or going. The verb losgehen, for example, means “to get going”, while loslassen  – a favourite of German yoga teachers – means “to let go”.

When it appears at the end of a word, however, -los has a similar meaning to the English suffix “-less,” such as nutzlos (useless), harmlos (harmless) and arbeitslos (jobless).

Los as a noun

As a noun, das Los has a very different definition and means “fate” or “lot”. Stemming from this meaning, das Los is also a common word for “lottery ticket” in German.