Style Special – “Facial expressions”

wood-spirit-cleaned-upHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. I have to write about noch. Still. I haven’t done it yet. I keep saying “I’ll do it soon.” whenever someone asks for it and then… well…. It is quite a burden, that word. So I figured the easiest way to deal with this is… to talk about something entirely different and forget about the whole thing for another week. And if you are frowning now… well perfect. Because today, we’ll do another Style Special, that is, we’ll look at lot of new vocabulary that we can forget… uhm… I  mean… use….. and our subject this time is

Facial expressions

Okay… we’ll not really talk about facial expressions as in what they express… like… anger or surprise. We will look at kind of the tools for that…. at the very basic moves you can do like smiling or blinking. By the way, the German word for facial expressions is die Mimik  not to be confused with mimic… they’re false friends… well, actually they are really really good friends, they even work together. They’re just not brothers… but anyway. Let’s get right into it and face what you can do with your … face… yeah… that was lame, I know…

Die Augen


The German word for eye is das Auge and it is one of my favorite German words. Others are Lied , weinen , Tau or Steuerrückerstattung and I really like how they sound. But anyway…

the main parts of an eye are die Pupille (the pupil), das Lid (the eyelid) and  die Augenbraue (eye brow). An interesting little tidbit is that Braue and brow both come from a word that meant something like to blink or to sparkle and that word was related to... brown. How odd. So…  people a few thousand years ago used the same words for sparkle and brown. Hmmm… maybe this ancient connection explains why some men still gaze at the result of their “morning constitutional”as if it were made of pure gold. But back to the eyes.
The most important thing we do is zwinkern and we do all day to keep the pupil wet… the word is related to to twinkle but in German it exclusively it means closing the eye and reopening it right away.

  • Thomas kann einen 1 Minute lang angucken ohne zu zwinkern.
  • Thomas can look at you for a minute without blinking.

A variation of that is zuzwinkern but it doesn’t mean that the eye is closed after… it means that you zwinkern at someone because you want to, say, communicate that you’re making a joke.. or … you want to mate later.

  • Oh mein Gott, Brad Clooney hat mir zugezwinkert.
  • Oh my god, Brad Clooney  winked at me.

Similar to this is the word blinzeln. This is what we do if it is too bright or we have problems focusing something we are looking at… like an awful font color for example

  • Die Sonne kam hinter der Wolke hervor. Ragon, König der Zwergenelfen blinzelte.
  • The sun came from behind the clouds. Ragon, king of the dwarfen elves squinted.

People do use blinzeln in sense of zwinkern but you can’t do it the other way around and zwinkern because of the sun. All right. Our next word is schielen. Yeah… blinzeln, zwinkern, schielen…. all with i-s.  Because… you know… eyes ;). Schielen is when your eyes don’t seem to look at the thing you’re actually looking at … in English, this is also called to squint at times but the better match for schielen is to be cross eyed.

  • Maria schielt ein bisschen.
  • Maria is a little cross eyed.

German pretty much always uses this verb even if someone is born cross eyed, but there is a noun for a slight version of that… der Silberblick (gaze of silver). I don’t know why this is a term for a light squint nor do I think people have agreed on what exactly a Silberblick is… I checked out Google Image Search, which by the way is much better than any dictionary for these kinds of words, and every other person looks normal (here’s the link). Some even say that Mona Lisa, the lady from the Damien Hurst painting, has the most prominent Silberblick ever. I don’t know much about art though.
Anyway… one last word on schielen.  It is also used if you sneakily look at something that is on the edges of your field of vision… for example in a test.

  • Thomas schielt zu seinem Nachbarn rüber.
  • Thomas peers over to his neighbor.

If the teacher sees that then he will likely raise an eyebrow.

  • Der Lehrer zieht eine Augenbraue hoch.
  • The teacher raises his eye browes.

Or if the teacher already knows that Thomas is peeking all the time he could just roll his eyes.

  • Der Lehrer verdrehte die/rollte mit den Augen.
  • The teacher rolls his eyes.

And then he would say something… oh speaking of saying, that brings us right to our next part.

Der Mund

Of course the first word for the mouth is lachen (to laugh). Okay… it is not exclusively done with the mouth but also with the body and the soul but the mouth is the the most typical feature maybe … apart from the sound that is. Anyway, I am sure you know the word lachen  so let’s look at the prefix-versions and some related nouns. First, there is auslachen… you can find a nice street art picture from Berlin for auslachen HERE... obviously it means to laugh at someone. But don’t hesitate to come here anyway :).
If you want to laugh with someone then that would be anlachen.

  • Lachst du mich an oder aus?
  • Are you laughing at me or with me?

As for nouns,  there is das Lachen which can be the laughter in one particular instance as well as the laugh of a person in general.

  • Sie hat ein glockenhelles Lachen.
  • She has a laugh bright as chimes.

Then, there are two negative siblings… das Gelächter and die Lache. The former is a negative sounding word for laughter and the second… well… a negative laugh.

  • Maria hat eine furchtbare Lache.
  • Maria has a horrible laugh.

Lachen has a little sister: lächeln. Lächeln means to smile… just like that. And if you want to smile at a person you’d use  anlächeln… just like anlachen.

  • Ich lächele.
  • I am smiling.
  • Ich lächele sie an.
  • I smile at her.

And if you’re new to German and the upper ch-sound she’probably smile back. There is also the verb belächeln, which literally means to inflict smiling on something… and in the real world it is a negative smiling at something … like… not taking it seriously.

  • Maria belächelt Thomas’ Kochversuche.
  • Maria sneers at Thomas’ cooking attempts.

Now, for the nouns.  Das Lächeln is also the word for THE smile.

  • Japan(/China/Thailand) – das Land des Lächelns
  • Japan – “land of smiles” (I’d actually translate that “Land of smiling” but okay)

Other words based on lachen are lächerlich and lachhaft which both mean ridiculous.

  • Das ist lächerlich.
  • That is ridiculous.

And again… it is a good opportunity to train your ch :). All right. There is another form of smiling called grinsen which is the same as English to grin. And if you don’t know what exactly that is… well, it is hard to say. It is a slightly evil smile maybe… or not evil but a bit more selfish than a compassionate genuine smile. It is hard to explain. But if you know Alice in Wonderland.. well, the German version of the Chershire Cat is called… Grinsekatze.


Brrrrrrr…  creepy cat. I’ll see that in my night mare. Anyway… of course there is a lot more you can express with your mouth but for many things we don’t have an extra word. At least for negative things  people often the generic verb for deformation and add an adjective.

  • Thomas verzieht angewidert den Mund.
  • Thomas “deformes” his mouth in disgust.

All right. Now the eyes and the mouth are the two main things to express yourself with. That’s why I put them in extra categories. But you can do a lot more with your face or parts of it.


Let’s start with the nose. The nose isn’t really that expressive. Sure, you express that you think you’re better by carrying it “high” as we say in German.

  • Die Kellnerin ist unglaublich hochnäsig.
  • The waitress is incredibly stuck-up.

But the only other thing you can do with it is rümpfen... what? Rümpfen is essentially what you do if you smell something gross. In a way you’re trying to close your nose… like… blinzeln for the nose.

  • Als Thomas , zurück von seiner 4 wöchigen Reise, seine Küche betrat, rümpfte er die Nase. Irgendwas stank. Dann wusste er es… der Kühlschrank. Er hatte ihn aus- aber nicht saubergemacht.
  • When Thomas, who had just returned from a 4 week vacation, entered the kitchen he wrinkled his nose. Something stank. And then he knew… the fridge. He had turned it off but not cleaned it.

Now, there doesn’t have to be a real stench to do it. You can also do it if something just displeases you… like… the folks in a 3 star restaurant would rümpfen die Nase if I asked them for a refill of

  • “Fried seed of rye (1 pc.)  next to evaporated water.”

Rümpfen is really limited to this one expression though, so it is not just to wrinkle. There is another verb which is almost as limited and which also sounds just as Germanic… runzeln. A Runzel, is a wrinkle specifically for skin and the verb runzeln is only done to the skin of the Stirn (forehead)… like… you have to think really really hard or you are really really skeptical.

  • Ragon runzelte die Stirn. Die Lage war fast aussichtslos.
  • Ragon furrowed his brow. The situation was desperate.

Another way of expressing the same thing is die Stirn in Falten legen, which would literally be to lay the forehead in folds… but I agree with you that it is too long. How do I agree? By nodding of course, or in German… nicken.

  • “Die Zwergenelfen und die Menschen müssen zusammenarbeiten, wenn sie die Orks besiegen wollen.” Ragon nickte. Trunig hatte Recht.
  • “The dwarfenelves and the humans have to work together if we want to defeat the Orks.” Ragon nodded. Trunig was right.

Now, when you nod, you move your head toward your chin. And that is exactly what you do in a boring class on cases…. that is where the verb einnicken comes from.

  • Ich bin im Unterricht of eingenickt.
  • I often nodded off in class.

And what do you do if the teacher asks you if you’re sleeping? Right, you shake your head and maybe you turn red (blush) a little because you’re embarrassed.

  • Ich schüttele den Kopf und werde rot.

All right. I think we’re almost done but there is one more verb, or better expression, I’d like you to know although it is actually a gesture.  But it is a very handy gesture… or should I say shouldery? … ha… ha … ha I am talking about the dunno-gesture… you lift your shoulders and let them drop back down. English has a word for it… to shrug. German has 4 differe… na I am kidding. German actually has NO word for that. Not at all. We say it this way:

  • Er zuckt mit den Schultern/Achseln.
  • He shrugs.
    He twitches with his shoulders/arm pits.(lit.)

And that’s it for today I think… are there more expressions? Sure. But those are the common and fixed o.. what? An important one is missing?… oh… oh to frown? Oh that’s right. I’m sorry. The German word for that is sein.

  • Thomas frowned.
  • Thomas war.

In German, there is no difference between frowning and being. A frown is the default face. Just take Merkel. She isn’t pissed. She just is. Okay seriously … German does not have a word for to frown. Dictionaries suggest die Stirn runzeln but I think that is wrong. When you look up frown with Google Image search it is obvious that the defining feature is the mouth… this   :(… or even this :C… and that is NOT what people think of when they say Stirn runzeln. So… how would we say it? There are several option but the most common ones are

  • Thomas zieht eine Fresse/einen Flunsch.
  • Thomas pulls a puss (lit.)



  • Thomas guckt traurig/böse.
  • Thomas makes a sad/pissed look (lit.)

or simply

  • Thomas macht ein Gesicht (wie drei Tage Regenwetter)
  • Thomas makes a face (like 3 days of rainy weather).(lit.)

Thomas  really needs to cheer up. So… this was our German Word of the Day Style special one facial expressions. They are not all super useful but  some random vocabulary here and there won’t hurt and makes your language more colorful and divers. At least that’s wh… oh… a call….Aaron from Washington DC, home of Batman and the whole Justice League.
“Man, today was really a waste of my time. I have a test tomorrow and this didn’t help at all. You should pay more attention to what people really want to learn.
Well, Aaron, what would you have me do then…
“Noch… bring it on you fraud, you’ve promised it almost a year ago… oh and FYI, the DC joke wasn’t the least bit funny.”
Man, no need to get insulting here… Aaron? Aaron? I think he hung up…. he probably had to run some “aarons”.
Anyway, thanks a lot for the reminder of the Noch ness monster. Now I have to distract me again. If you have any questions or suggestions or if you have a facial expression I have forgotten just leave me a comment. Oh and if anyone has a good link for the facial expressions as in “emotions” please please share it with us :).
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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1 year ago

Very good indeed. Interesting and so well explained.

4 years ago

Here’s an idiom with teeth.

He smiled through gritted teeth. Found a translation. gezwungen lächeln [mit zusammengebissenen Zähnen]

4 years ago

We have a saying in English “eyes are the mirror of the soul”. Anything equivalent in German ?

6 years ago

I’m teaching german to refugees. Your site is responsible for so many epiphanies i had about teaching, you wouldn’t believe it. You are helping a lot! I am absolutely loving your work.

Karen Juarez
Karen Juarez
8 years ago

Thank you lots! This website is the best as far as learning Deutsch is concerned. Greetings from Mexico :)

8 years ago

Nice snow effect!!. very christmassy!!. :) Though there is no snow in Aachen yet. :(

Elena Anastasaki
8 years ago

No, no, I am the “dumb” one in this case… barely a level B1 and struggling, but not admitting defeat :-)

Elena Anastasaki
8 years ago

Ich bin die Anonymus Wink :-P

8 years ago

Great topic, and loved the “quizlet” ;-) (methinks that is ein Wink) Thanks!

8 years ago

Great article as always! :) The two languages seem very similar in categorising facial expressions. A couple of things I thought of: in English, “grin” is just a big smile, so by default it’s positive (you’re grinning because you’re so happy), otherwise it needs an adjective: an “evil grin”, a “manic grin”, a “nasty grin”…

RE: frowning, in English “wrinkling your brow” is generally a synonym, so “die Stirn runzeln” is fine I think. You may “purse your lips”* at the same time, but I think of the frown as being primarily about the forehead/eyebrows. And not all frowns are angry: you could have a puzzled, thoughtful, disappointed, sad, anxious or surprised frown, which changes the mouth and eyes: what they have in common is the forehead wrinkle. Also, I was interested in “puss” as a translation of “Fresse”. I haven’t seen “puss” used much, mainly just in the great expression “sourpuss”. The Free Dictionary online says it’s a Gaelic word, so I guess it’s probably more common in some dialects.

*Do you have a term for “pursing your lips” in German? (Also colourfully called making “a mouth/face like a cat’s bum”. And boy is face like a cat’s bum fun to Google!) It’s closely related to “pouting”, but is angry/irritated rather than sulky/stubborn. Oh and speaking of pouts, how do you say “pout”?

7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Loved this article – these are the sorts of categories I lack a lot of vocabulary for. I also found Jo’s response interesting, as well as her questions. She’s evidently coming from a Brit perspective, so maybe that explains my differences…

I wouldn’t consider “die Stirn runzeln” to be the same as frowning by itself, though if you’re frowning and meaning it (if that makes sense), you’ll definitely give your Stirn some Runzeln. Like you said, I think the defining feature is the mouth, hence :( as the English symbol. You can frown because you’re thinking, but your mouth would still be involved.

“Kisser” is sort of an old-timey slang word for the mouth: “Pow! Right in the kisser!” Not really vulgar, exactly, but it makes you sound like you’re from the ’40s or ’50s or something. I have no idea what the best translation for “Fresse” in a frowny context would be, but “puss” means nothing in the context of facial expressions.

“Purse your lips” just means to press them together and make your mouth look small. I wouldn’t think of the duck face as a great example, but I guess it would count.

Is a “Silberblick” maybe a (slightly) lazy eye?

8 years ago

what about a look of finally understanding something, like when your face lights up, it goes from runzeln to……..

8 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I like the expression “lights up” as in, “Her face lit up (with joy/excitement/etc).” It’s not just for understanding, it’s anything that has suddenly happened where someone experiences joy, excitement, etc. At the opposite end, we can also say someone’s expression or face is dark or black or “stormy” or even “black as thunder”, meaning they’re furious (but probably holding it in, not yelling). Does German use light and dark analogies for expressions?

5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Here can it be leuchtet?

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader
8 years ago
Reply to  Jo

Meinst du “Miene”?

(Interessanterweise gibt es im Russischen genau gleiches Wort, “mina”.)

Alexandru Bejenaru
Alexandru Bejenaru
8 years ago

I would like to understand the meanings of the word heißen.
Thank you for your huge help and I think you’re doing a great job.

8 years ago

Ja.. Genau! :)

8 years ago

Tolle Blog-Post!. Das Quiz gefällt mir. Könntest du das, wenn möglich, übliche form für alle zukünftigen Post machen?. Ich wäre dankbar, wenn du eine Post über ‘conjunctive adverbs’ machen könntest.

8 years ago

great explanation ! vielen Dank ! Lucius