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German phrase of the day: Die Butter vom Brot nehmen

If you're looking for a German phrase that describes one of the most heinous and anti-social crimes imaginable, look no further than this one.

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

Why do I need to know this phrase?

Die Butter vom Brot nehmen (pronounced like this) is another classic example of Germans using food to describe almost any situation in life – and in this case, you can use it to call out people who always seem to be trying to get the better of you. 

What does it mean?

While normally there’s a fairly accurate equivalent to German sayings in English, in this case it’s a little harder to find a direct translation.

As you may realise, die Butter vom Brot nehmen quite literally means: “taking the butter from the bread”. It’s used to describe situations where someone takes something important from someone else, behaves a bit cheekily or tries to get one over on another person in some way. For instance, if there’s one dog at the park that always steals your dog’s ball, that would be a key example of a canine butter-thief. 

You may wonder why this scenario is so emotive for the Germans. Aren’t there worse things to take from someone than a bit of butter? 

Well, one reason could be that butter is viewed as a key component of any Abendbrot ritual: it’s the salty, fatty bit of deliciousness that can perfectly complement your salami and Sauergurke (pickled gherkins) when you’re tucking into a few slices of rye as a light evening meal. And if you find you don’t have at least an inch of butter on both sides of your belegtes Brötchen (filled bread roll), as a German you may well ask for your money back.

READ ALSO: German phrase of the day: Erste Sahne

What else should I know?

If you’d like to start using this fun expression, it’s important to note that you’ll need to use the dative case with it, as in jemandem die Butter vom Brot nehmen. This often applies when something is being given or taken, and means you’ll use dative pronouns such as dir, mir, ihr and ihm to talk about the person losing out rather than their accusative forms of dich, mich, sie and ihn.

Use it like this: 

Willst du mir jetzt auch noch die Butter vom Brot nehmen?

Now you also want to get the better of me?

Er ist ein Typ, der sich die Butter vom Brot nicht nehmen lässt. 

He’s a guy that doesn’t take any nonsense from anybody. 

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German word of the day: Verschlafen

Ever end up staying just a little too long in bed? Then this German word will be used in a lot of your apologies.

German word of the day: Verschlafen

Why do I need to know verschlafen?

Because it’s is a great verb that can be incredibly handy if you turn up late to work or school – and it also teaches you something interesting about the German language.

What does it mean?

As you may have noticed, verschlafen (pronounced like this) is a combination of the verb schlafen and the prefix ver. Anyone who’s been studying German for more than five minutes understands that schlafen means ‘to sleep’, but what does adding that little prefix do to it?

Most times you see the prefix ver, it’s a sign that something has gone a little bit wrong while doing the action you’re talking about. Hast du die Eier verkocht? If the answer’s yes, then those eggs are unfortunately overcooked and not likely to be enjoyable. Meanwhile, bist du verlaufen? means “Did you get lost?”. In other words: did something go wrong in the process of walking?

READ ALSO: The complete A-Z guide to German prefixes and what they mean

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that verschlafen is that most common of sleeping mistakes: oversleeping. 

You can also use it to describe going to bed and missing something, such as the ringing in of the New Year. In fact, this is quite a common form of verschlafen in Germany: a poll back in 2023 found that 51 percent of Germans went to bed early and missed celebrations on the 31st. 

Use it like this:

Es tut mir leid, dass ich so spät ankomme: heute habe ich verschlafen.

I’m sorry I’m so late: I overslept today.

Hast du jemals verschlafen, und bist spät zur Arbeit gekommen?

Have you ever overslept and been late to work?