German phrase of the day: Luft nach oben

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected] • 8 May, 2023 Updated Mon 8 May 2023 16:00 CEST
German phrase of the day: Luft nach oben
Photo credit: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

It's not something you want to hear in a meeting with your manager at work, but this German phrase can nonetheless be handy in a range of situations.


Why do I need to know Luft nach oben?

Because this commonly used saying is always helpful in situations when you're being evaluated, or want to critique someone else's performance. It can also be a relatively gentle way of offering criticism to a friend or family member. 

What does it mean?

Quite literally, the phrase Luft nach oben means "air up above", but it can be best translated with the English phrase, "room for improvement" or "room to manoeuvre". 

The image of having air above you kind of functions in the opposite way to the proverbial glass ceiling: it means there's nothing stopping you for upping your game and plenty of potential (or room) for growth.

In that sense, even though "room for improvement" may mean you're not quite hitting the mark just yet, the phrase Luft nach oben frames it in a fairly positive way, as an opportunity to do even better. 

Incidentally, Luft nach oben is just one of many popular German phrases that use air as a helpful analogy. If you want to tell someone "the coast is clear", in Germany you'd say die Luft is rein (literally: the air is pure). Or if a friend seems to be making up facts and figures to try and win a debate yet again, you can ask them sarcastically if these "facts" are "aus der Luft gegriffen" (plucked out of thin air). 

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Der Luftmensch


Use it like this:

Gute Leistung, aber ich denke, es gibt noch Luft nach oben. 

Good effort, but I think there's still room for improvement.

Wir sind stolz auf was wir geschaffen haben, aber wir erkennen, dass es noch Luft nach oben gibt.

We are proud of what we have created, but we recognise that there is still room for improvement.


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