Das Hexeneinmaleins (Goethe, Faust)


Du musst verstehn!
Aus Eins mach’ Zehn,
Und Zwei lass gehn,
Und Drei mach’ gleich,
So bist Du reich.
Verlier’ die Vier!
Aus Fünf und Sechs,
So sagt die Hex’,
Mach’ Sieben und Acht,
So ist’s vollbracht:
Und Neun ist Eins,
Und Zehn ist keins.
Das ist das Hexen-Einmal-Eins!


Magic square (Goethe, Faust)


This you must understand.
From one make ten,
And two let be,
make even three,
Then rich you'll be.
Skip o'er the four!
From five and six,
The Witch's tricks,
Make seven and eight,
'Tis finished straight;
And nine is one,
And ten is none,
That is the witch's one-times-one!


In many cultures, numbers have meanings other than their numeric ones. For example, the number thirteen is considered to be unlucky in many countries. Therefore, in this article, we will have a look at some common idioms and sayings that use numbers in German. Once you understand why the number is used, you might find it easier to use the expression.


0 - null (zero)


Expression: in null Komma nichts. In the wink of an eye.


This expression is derived from zero. In spoken German, it means “in a very short time.”




  • Nachdem ich ihn angerufen hatte, ist er in null Komma nichts gekommen. After I called him, he arrived almost immediately.


1 - eins (one)


Expression: eins und eins zusammenzählen. To put one and one together.


This refers to drawing conclusions from at least two facts, often when one of them is not mentioned.




  • Als ich die beiden zusammen sah, habe ich eins und eins zusammengezählt. When I saw the two of them together, I put one and one together.


2 - zwei (two)


Expression: zwischen zwei Stühlen sitzen. To sit between two stools.


This idiom means that one is unable to choose between two alternatives.




  • Die Jobbeschreibung hört sich zwar sehr gut an, aber er müsste deshalb extra umziehen. Er kann sich nicht entscheiden, er sitzt zwischen zwei/den Stühlen. The job description sounds very good. However, he would have to move there. He cannot decide. He sits between two stools.


3 – drei (three)


Expression: Aller guten Dinge sind drei. The best things come in threes.


This is used as a justification for trying something for a third time. The meaning is derived from the fact that in the middle ages, trials were held three times a year. If the accused didn’t appear in court, he risked being sentenced in his absence.




  • Er ist zweimal durch die Prüfung gefallen. Er sagt: Alle guten Dinge sind drei. He failed the exam twice. He said: The best things come in threes.


4 – vier (four)


Expression: alle viere von sich strecken. To stretch out, to lie spread-eagled.


Here, the number four refers to the four limbs. This is a relaxed way of lying down.




  • Nach der Arbeit streckte er alle viere von sich. After work, he laid down and relaxed completely.


Expression: unter vier Augen. In private, in confidence.


This idiom means “under four eyes,” which actually refers to two people speaking together in private.




  • Ich muss mit Ihnen unter vier Augen sprechen. I want to talk to you in private.


5 – fünf (five)


Expression: fünf gerade sein lassen. To take a more relaxed view of things (literal meaning: to pass the odd number five off as even).


You might use this expression with somebody who is very critical and a little bit too precise.




  • Du musst auch mal fünf gerade sein lassen. You must take a more relaxed view of it.


6 – sechs (six)


Expression: einen sechsten Sinn für etwas haben. The sixth sense.


This refers to sensing something that can’t be perceived with our normal five senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch). If you find it hard to understand how another person is able to notice certain things, you might say the example sentence below:




  • Er/sie hat dafür einen sechsten Sinn. He/she has a sixth sense.


7 – sieben (seven)


Expression: Das ist / bleibt für mich ein Buch mit sieben Siegeln. That is something that I don’t understand at all.


This refers to the Book of Revelations (in the bible), which was sealed with seven seals.




  • Dieser Text bleibt für mich ein Buch mit sieben Siegeln. I don’t understand this text at all.


8 – acht (eight)


Expression: alle acht Tage. Every week.


Who said that Germans were precise? This literally means “eight days,” but in spoken German it means a week. So, are Germans not able to count properly? The reason for this inaccurate expression is that at one time, the last day of the following week was also counted.




  • Alle acht Tage kommt die Müllabfuhr. The rubbish collection is every week.


9 – neun (nine)


Expression: Ach du grüne Neune! My goodness! Oh my gosh! (Literally: Oh, my green nine!)


This is another way of saying oh mein Gott! (my god!) and it expresses surprise. It is a bit old fashioned, so it is used more by the older generation. There are two stories regarding its origin. One says that it comes from playing cards. The French card “the nine of spades” was sometimes called Grün 9 in German. This card was thought to bring bad luck.


The other story says that in 19th century Berlin, there was a dance hall called Conventgarden. The address was Blumenstraße 9, but the main entrance was Am Grünen Weg. Very soon, it started being called die grüne Neune. However, this second story is not very convincing, because it seems that the expression is much older, and the name given to the dance hall was a play on words based on the card name.




  • Ach du grüne Neune, was ist denn hier los? Oh my goodness, what happened here?


10 - zehn (ten)


Expression: Dazu/dahin bringen mich keine zehn Pferde. I wouldn’t go there for all the tea in China.




  • Möchtest du mal nach .... fahren? – Dahin bringen mich keine zehn Pferde. Would you like to go to ...? – It’s a terrible place, I would never go there.


  • Würdest du gerne Deutsch lernen? – Dazu bringen mich keine zehn Pferde. Would you like to learn German? – Of course not, I would never do that.


Please note that dahin is used when talking about a place, while dazu is used when talking about an action.


I hope you liked this and ihr sitzt nicht zwischen allen Stühlen if you are asked to choose your favorite idiom from this list. You might actually choose three of them, denn aller guten Dinge sind drei. While doing so, if you need to relax, streckt alle viere von euch! Or if you want to talk about it, then we can auch unter vier Augen darüber sprechen. I also hope der Artikel bleibt kein Buch mit sieben Siegeln for you. Maybe habt ihr ja einen sechsten Sinn dafür. Ach, du grüne Neune, I think I’m not making much sense. However, I hope that you will forgive me and you will fünf gerade sein lassen.


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