Word of the Day- “klappen”

klappen-meaningHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we’ll take a look at the meaning of



And why? Because it is colloquilicious :)
Klappen is what experts call what must be one of the least English looking English words: onomatopoeia… an attempt to capture a sound in speech. The inspiration of klappen, which is of course related to English clap, is the sound of two swans gracefully swimming by… or in other words: two objects hitting each other.
Of course clapping hands comes to mind but interestingly, this specific clapping sounds a little different in German.

Maybe the German version is more about imitating the result of many people applauding, which does sound a little wet. Or maybe Germans just have sweaty hands… I don’t really know.
But anyway,from a mere imitation of a sound, klappen has evolved into being a real verb. It is a robust version, noisy version of folding. You can klappen things that have a hinge or something similar and that are somewhat solid. The best example is probably a book

If you do that with enough force it makes for a really good clapping sound so the verb makes sense here. But as I said, it’s become a real verb and  just like you can zuklappen the book, you can also aufklappen (open) it, even though that doesn’t really make a sound. In essence,  klappen is about moving something by a hinge or a fold or something. And the various prefixes tell us how exactly we “fold” it.

Now, it sure looks like to fold is a good translation. But German also has falten and falten would be more appropriate for, say, a blanket or paper. Those are just too soft to klappen… unless you’re Chuck Norris who can fold a blanket so fast and hard that  it makes a clapping sound.
So… folding is often a translation for klappen but at least for me it doesn’t really capture the whole “clanky” vibe.
Anyway, klappen is part of quite a few compounds that all have to do with a hinge and folding… like Klappstuhl (foldable chair),  Klappfenster (crank open window) or  Klapphandy (iPhone 6+) . And there is also a stand alone noun… die Klappe. In essence, most Klappen  are flat things on a hinge that close something.

Not everything that fits that description will be called Klappe though. Sometimes it’s going to be called Tür (door), sometimes it’s going to be called Deckel (lid) and sometimes there isn’t any consensus at all… for example for a trunk lid…  Kofferraumtür, Kofferraumklappe, Kofferraumdeckel… people use all of those. Now, in situations like these, usually Google image search is helpful tool. You just enter the word and see what pictures you get and that’ll give you an idea of the “scope and average” of the word. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for Klappe because  all you’ll get is the stupid slate they use on movie sets.

“Klappe, die x-ste”. This is like THE film business phrase. Everyone knows it and they really do say that on set… maybe because it has the nice side effect of covertly yet directly telling everyone to shut up. How so? Well… one of the most common uses of Klappe is as a courtly word for mouth.

Wait, did I say courtly? I meant more back yard-ly … Klappe is colloquial and a little bit rough. It’s nowhere near as agressive as Fresse or Maul and with  friends it’s totally fine, but with your boss… not really. Unless your boss is your friend, of course. Then it’s okay. Unless you’re among others and you have to keep a professional demeanor. Then it would be out of plac.. what am I even talking about. Here’s is a super common proverb with Klappe about people who just talk and brag

All right.
Let’s recap. Klappen started out as an imitation of a clapping sound and over time it shifted toward describing a sort of folding movement. That’s nice. But it’s not that interesting.
There is another meaning though and that meaning makes klappen a proud member of the “People use me every day but I’m in no textbook ever so learners get confused when they hear me”-club.
Here are two examples:

The core idea is  to work out.   in sense of to go well, to be okay, to function.
Klappen got that meaning during the time of the industrial revolution when workers started associating a clacking sound with the idea of something that fits. Just think of a modern car door. There’s big money being payed to design a discreet, comforting, reassuring, bold, adventurous, kid friendly, independent, vintage, modern, sexy but not too sexy, pleasant but not dull, kick ass clacking sound that lets you know the door is closed. The sound of a mechanical part properly latching into place… gives us a good feeling.
Now, this klappen is used A LOOOOOT

It would be wrong though to say it’s a translation for to work (out) because klappen is in a way more narrow in use.

In these two example, what works is a noun. Pasta and a napkin get the job done. Klappen wouldn’t work here. Why not? Because klappen is not about  doing a job, it’s about the sound you get when you doing a job successfully. There needs to be activity for klappen. And that’s why klappen only works if we’re talking about an activity.
Meeting at 6, eating healthier, fixing the computer, trying something… all these things can klappenBut actual things like napkins or a pasta don’t k or das, which stand for whatever it is that is being tried.

Klappt’s and hat’s geklappt are really super common combinations and I’m sure you’ll hear them a lot. The ‘s is just a shortened es that refers to what’s being tried.
Now, another very common combination is klappen  mit.

Here, mit connects the “tool” and we can nicely see again, that things themselves don’t klappen. The removing the stain with salt is what klappt.

Here, the mit connects the “goal”… in this case Captain Context would fill us in that it was “having a relationship with Maria”. Here are two more examples

All right. So this is the meaning that makes klappen colloquilicisou and trust me… it is everywhere. It’s not particularly high German but it isn’t slang either and you can definitely find it in print, too.
And to wrap this up, here’s a nice common klappen-pun.

Always a good laugh at the weekly meeting if nothing goes according to plan :)
So… this was our German word of the Day “klappen”. It used to be an imitation of a clapping sound, but it has taken on two meanings. One is about the folding movement of things that have a hinge, the other is the super common to work in sense of activities that work out.…. using salt to remove a stain, taking a test without preparing for it, fixing the tire with chewing gum, meeting at 7… stuff like that.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions or if you want to try out some examples of your own just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

for members :)

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Hi very interesting. When I read these I thought how it is in my mother language – Polish, as we have a word “klapa” which literally means “die Klappe” but another more idiomatic meaning of ‘klapa’ is however “die Pleite”, so when nothing worked out…. Learning languages is hard when the same word is used in different language in totally different way…

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Which reminds me that the Russian word for “clapping” (klatschen) is “khlopat'” (root “khlop”), but it is also used for closing something with a thud, while zakhlopyvat’ is basically an “energetic” zuklappen.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

“Trainingsplan Bauch”

Das erinnert mich: wie heißt eigentlich diese Struktur? Die mit zwei Nomen, üblicherweise ohne Artikel.
Z.B. “Beispielrechnung Strom”.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Also, ich hab mal versucht, wie ich immer versuche, neue Wörter zu erschaffen, und viele davon kommen sogar vor im Internet. Klappfernseher, Klapptasche, Klappbrot, Klappwand, Klappdusche, Klappbewegung, Klappgeschwindigkei (z.B. bei fleischessenden Pflanzen), Klapprohr, Klapplaut u. Klappgeräusch (k.A. obs Klappton gibt), Klappfahrrad u. Klappauto, Klapphaus u. Klappsofa…


“All hat and no cattle” is a great (American) phrase.
In Scotland we say, “Fur coat, nae knickers”.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Why, what’s wrong with that?
comment image


I like it too, though I’ve never heard it.


In Kanada sagen wir manchmal “all talk and no action” aber ich dachte, dass das ziemlich gemeinsam wäre… geht das nicht in anderen Ländern?


Das ist für mich total verständlich aber meiner Erfahrung nach ist es so, dass die meisten Redewendungen nur eine Variante von “all talk” ausdrücklich angeben und den Rest stillschweigend andeuten.

– He’s all talk.
– He talks a big game.
– He’s got a big mouth.
– He’s all bark and no bite. (Eher wenn jemand aggressiv bzw. drohend spricht)

Dann gibt’s auch den Klassiker aus Top Gun:

– Your mouth’s writing checks your body can’t cash.



good post as always. ive not been here in a while, have you missed me? I have been busy with a project in denmark hence the absence. They have german television channels available to watch there and that piqued my interest once again. I was surprised how much i could understand of what was being said, especially at german talkshow speed. Klappen was a word i was familiar with but only in the sense of something working, for example i used to hear “Alles klappt?” a lot in reference to how a machine was functioning. The other versions i had never heard and so i feel enriched once again having had those gaps in my knowledge filled in.

I rather liked the “Halt die klappe” example, before reading the translation i knew exactly what that meant, its the same as saying “shut your trap/hole/mouth” in english, i rather like the scottish version though “haud yer wheesht”.

Interestingly enough we use a similar term in english (well at least in scotland anyway) to describe cars when they dont work. We say “a clapped out old banger” when the car is old/rusted/broken. Does that work in german? I know you could say “Mein Auto klappt nicht” but can you use klappen as a verb to describe the non-functioning thing?


I think “shut up” might be the closest equivalent to “halt die Klappe” in terms of function, at least for Americans. “Shut your mouth” would be interchangeable with it, with a closer rhythm. Both are definitely impolite but not obscene or anything. To me, most of the other versions just sound kind of comical:

Shut your…
– …trap
– …yap[per]
– …face
– …pie/cake hole

I think “shut your hole” maybe sounds a little more aggressive and not as funny. But that’s a purely American perspective again. If you want to sound old-timey you could say “hold your tongue.” :) “Hatch” in this case really doesn’t fit, though – I would really only use that when you’re talking about eating or drinking, mostly in the phrase “down the hatch” (basically the same as “bottoms up,” meaning you’re about to gulp something down all at once).

Regarding “auf dem richtigen Weg”… “On the right track” is a bit more idiomatic (again, at least in the US), but “on the right path” would never have struck me as un-idiomatic or awkward. The sentence really sounds fine as-is.


In Britain, “shut your gob” is the closest equivalent. Insulting, but not seriously so.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Hier ist ein gutes Übungslied, “Haifisch” von Rammstein:

Wir halten zusammen
Wir halten miteinander aus
Wir halten zueinander
Niemand hält uns auf

Wir halten euch […]

(rest missing due to German pain in the butt copyright lawyers)


“Niemand hält uns auf” Ich bin mir nicht sicher ob ich das richtig verstehe… Heißt das “wird werden nicht respektiert” oder “niemand könnte uns aufhalten weil wir so schlecht sind”?


Hallo, Darf man auch dieser Begriff im Sinne von “Erfolgen” benutzen? z.B, “Die Zahlung hat nicht geklappt”.Oder kann man Wahlweise in diesem Fall “Durchführen” verwenden. Ich suche eigentlich nach einem passenden Ausdruck zu ( oder für?) “go through”


I couldn’t help but compare it to the use of “to click” in English language. It’s a sound and/or can be used to mean something fits together, i.e. it works (out). It could get you some weird looks if you said it exactly like it’s done in German, but still.

– At the very moment we saw each other, we instantly clicked together.
– Did your internship click? (ok, this really sounds awkward haha)

Going further in this comparison, I thought about “Shut your click!”… And I really wish it to be a thing someday hahah


I’ve been over at St. Josephs Krankenhaus a lot lately (long story), where I discovered another “-klappe” compound I’d never heard of before: Babyklappe.


Toller Post!

Was der Satz, der um Ernährung geht, angeht, ich würde sagen:
I have decided to be more conscious/more aware of what I eat.
I have decided to watch what I eat. (<–klingt vielleicht komisch aber sagt man ständig, wenn man abnehmen will.)
"Eating consciously" klingt falsch. Nach mir, "eating consciously" würde heißen, "meditieren während du isst". Oder vielleicht dass du dir an Schlaf-essen abgewöhnen willst. :-)

Ahm! Stein! (@Ahmmstein)

Okay, I must ask… What in heck’s holy name is “Fettwein?”


It doesn’t work always with “-ka”, the change usually occurs somewhere in the middle of the word, and quite randomly, when I now think about it:

králík → králíček (bunny)
kočka → kočička (cat)
pes → pejsek (dog)
slunce → sluníčko (sun)

We have a few “templates”, around 4 for masculine, feminine, and neutral nouns, which are used for the conjugation. I think these “cute-esquecation” changes can be derived from them as well.


hmmm…then how would you translate ‘Klappe Tuer’?


So perfect…this is in the first lesson of the A2/1 course I have joined and the poor teacher could not explain to our very mixed international group!


Mit den Artikeln von yourdailygerman.com hat getklappt.

is it wired? I kind of want to say learning german with the articles from works. But I’m not sure how to put “learning german” there