German phrase of the day: Auf zwei Hochzeiten tanzen

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
German phrase of the day: Auf zwei Hochzeiten tanzen
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

When you're facing an impossible dilemma - or a choice between two opportunities - it's important to keep this German phrase in mind.


Why do I need to know 'auf zwei Hochzeiten tanzen'?

Because this piece of folksy wisdom is a helpful equivalent to a popular English maxim, and is also an important truism to bear in mind.

What's more, if you use it among your German friends, they'll not only be impressed by your sage words of advice, but you'll get some bonus points for knowing a classic German saying as well. 

What does it mean?

Auf zwei Hochzeiten tanzen means "to dance at two weddings" and is a shorter version of a German pearl of wisdom. Usually, you'll hear it used in the following sentence: Man kann nicht auf zwei Hochzeiten gleichzeitig tanzen, which means "you can't dance at two weddings at once". 

While this may sound like a pretty obvious point to make, it's usually used when someone is faced with a choice between two mutually exclusive options and is hoping to pick both. In this sense, it's very similar to the English saying: "You can't have your cake and eat it too." 

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For example, a university student may have their sights set on getting the best grades in the year - but is still hoping to go out every night and enjoy student social life to the full. In this case, you might remind them that dancing at two weddings at once is impossible - and they might need to socialise a little less to get the grades they want.

With the reference to weddings, it's probably no surprise that the phrase is often applied in the context of relationships. People who cheat on their partners are often said to be attempting to dance at two weddings at once - and this tricky manoeuvre doesn't tend to work out well. 

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Use it like this:

Du musst eine Entscheidung treffen: du kannst halt nicht auf zwei Hochzeiten tanzen.

You have to make a decision: you can't have your cake and eat it too. (Literally: you can't dance at two weddings.)

Ich habe ihm gesagt, dass er entweder studieren oder arbeiten soll. Er kann nicht gleichzeitig auf zwei Hochzeiten tanzen. 

I told him that he should either study or work. He can't dance at two weddings at the same time.



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