The meanings of “klappen”

klappen-meaningHello everyone,

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



You might not have heard of it yet, because courses and books often miss out on it for some reason (the reason is that they suck). But I can guarantee you that once you know it, you’ll hear it everywhere. And it’s an absolute must have if you want to speak idiomatic German.

Some of you have probably notice that klappen looks a fair bit like to clap. And indeed, the two are related.

They’re what experts call an onomatopoeia, an attempt to capture a sound in speech. And the sound klappen and clap are trying to capture is the sounds of two swans gracefully swimming by. Or in completely other words: two objects hitting each other.
The example that comes to mind immediately is clapping hands, but that’s actually NOT klappen – it’s klatschen.

  • I clap my hands.
  • Ich klatsche in die Hände.

Maybe the German version is more about imitating the sound a group applauding, which does sound a little wet. Or maybe Germans just have sweaty hands… I don’t really know.
Anyway, the verb klappen itself slowly evolved, from the mere imitation of a sound, toward what might lead up to the sound. And that’s why many prefix versions are today used in the context of folding. I mean, not folding laundry, of course. A robust, solid folding. Like…   “moving” things that are solid and have a hinge or something like that.
The best example is probably a book

  • Der Papa klappt das Buch zu.
  • The dad closes the book.
    The dad claps the book shut. (lit.)

And just like you can zuklappen (close) the book, you can also aufklappen (open) it, even though that doesn’t really make a sound, because the focus of the verb has shifted toward that idea of moving at a hinge, folding. And the various prefixes tell us how exactly we “fold” it.

  • “Im Büro ist es soooo heiß… und man kann die Kackfenster nur anklappen.”
  • “It’s sooooo hot in the office… and we can only crank open the crappy windows.”
  • Seine Bookmarks kann man ein- und ausklappen.
  • You can fold in and fold out your bookmarks.
  • I (un)fold up my camp chair.
  • Ich klappe meinen Campingstuhl zusammen/auseinander.
  • Wo kann man einstellen, was der Laptop macht, wenn man ihn runterklappt.
  • Where can I determine what my laptop does when I fold it.

Little side note… German also has the verb falten, the direct relative to to fold.  And that covers the “soft” instances of folding, pretty much. Like a blanket or paper. Those are just too soft to klappen. Unless you’re Chuck Norris, of course. He can fold a blanket so hard that it makes a clapping sound.
“Emanuel, it’s 2020. Chuck Norris jokes are not funny anymore.”
Oh whatever… first of all, Chuck Norris doesn’t age, he just improves, and so do his jokes. And second of all, I don’t see any alternative on the horizon. The Rock is a soft kitten compared to Chuck.

Anyway, back to topic. So a lot of the prefix versions of klappen are about a sort of folding, and there are also quite a few nouns have to do with a hinge and folding. Like Klappstuhl (fold-able chair),  Klappfenster (crank open window) or  Klapphandy (iFold… coming soon) .
And there is also a stand alone noun… die Klappe. It can appear in quite a range of contexts but it is usually basically flat thing on a hinge that closes something.

  • Thomas hat einen Herzklappenfehler.
  • Thomas has a  heart valve defect.
  • “Schatz, Simba ist definitiv zu fett. Er steckt schon wieder der Katzenklappe fest.”
  • “Honey, Simba is definitely too fat. He’s stuck in the kitty door… again.”

Klappe is also the word for the slate the use in movie sets.

  • “The Avengers – Pandemic”: Szene 11, Klappe, die Erste. Und Action
  • “The Avengers – Pandemic”: scene 11, take one. And action.

“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 colloquial, slightly rough word for mouth.

  • Halt die Klappe!
  • Shut up/Shut your mouth!
  • Große Klappe, nichts dahinter.
  • All hat and no cattle.
    Large hatch/clapper/mouth, nothing behind it. (lit)

    (common idiom for people who brag a lot or make empty threats)

It’s not as aggressive 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. Or if you’re your own boss, and you want to tell your brain to be quiet you coul… anyway, I digress.

Now, the examples we’ve seen so far were actually all nouns and prefix versions.
But what makes klappen the must have that it is, is the meaning it has by itself.

klappen – the everyday meaning

And by itself, klappen is a colloquial way to express the of to work out. In sense of to go well, to be okay, to function.
Here’s a couple of examples.

  • Hat das mit dem Umbuchen geklappt?
  • Were you able to change the booking?
    Did that the altering of the booking clap (lit.)
  • Frisches Obst und Gemüse nur aus der Region – das klappt nicht immer.
  • Produce, fresh AND local – that doesn’t always work/go together.

And this usage actually isn’t very old. It evolved during the time of the industrial revolution when workers started associating a clacking sound with the idea of some mechanical part falling into place, something that fits.
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 sense of satisfaction.
But even though it’s not that old, this “new” klappen is used A LOOOOOT and in various contexts.

  • Ich hab versucht, was du gesagt hast, aber es hat leider nicht geklappt.
  • I tried what you suggested but it didn’t work.
  • Ich habe mir vorgenommen, mich bewusster zu ernähren. Es klappt nicht immer, aber ich bin auf dem richtigen Weg.
  • I’ve decided to be more conscious about what I eat. It doesn’t always work but I’m on the right path (I feel like this isn’t really idiomatic… let me know what would be better :)
  • Trainingsplan Bauch: So klappt’s mit dem Waschbrett.
  • Belly training schedule: that’s how to get a washboard.
  • Morgen Treffen klappt bei mir leider nicht.
  • I won’t have time tomorrow.

It would be wrong, though, to say it’s a translation for to work (out).
ecause in one (grammatical) aspect, klappen is actually more narrow.

  • “What should we eat?”
    “How about pasta?”
    “Works for me.”
  • “Was sollen wir essen?”
    “Wie wär’s mit Pasta.”
    Is okay für mich/Von mir aus.”
  • I have to write down something…. a napkin works fine.
  • Ich muss was aufschreiben… eine Serviette würde reichen.

In these two example, what works is a noun. Pasta and a napkin get the job done. And klappen wouldn’t work in these examples. Why not?
Well, we can go all back to the very origin. Klappen is the result of a process. 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.

  • Ich versuche etwas. Es klappt.
  • I try (doing) something. It works.
  • “Und?”(asking the IT guy who is is trying to fix the server)
    “Also, ich habe jetzt den Server rekonfigublah blah […] blah blah neu installieren.”
    “Aahhh…. verstehe. Und? Klappt’s?”
    “Mal sehen.”
  • “So?”
    “Well, I’ve reconfigublah blah […] blah re-install it.”
    “Ah… I see. And? Is it working?”
    “We’ll see.”

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

  • “Hast du eine Idee, wie  ich Fettwein-Flecken aus meiner Hose krieg’?”
    Mit Salz klappt’s bestimmt.”
  • “Any idea, how  I can get fat-wine stains out of my pants?”
    “Try  salt… that’ll probably work.”

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.

  • Mit Maria hat’s leider nicht geklappt.
  • It didn’t work out with Maria.

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

  • Hat‘s mit dem Praktikum geklappt?
  • Did getting the internship work? (lit.)
  • Did you get the internship?
  • Hat’s mit dem Salz geklappt?
  • Did the thing you did with the salt work? (lit.)
  • Did the salt do the trick?

All right.
So this is the meaning that makes klappen so incredibly useful 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.

  • Das einzige, was hier klapptsind die Türen.

Always a good laugh at the weekly meeting if nothing goes according to plan :)
So… this was our German word of the Day “klappen”.
As always, if you want to check how much you remember, you can try to take the little quiz I have prepared. Which won’t klappen, of course, because the quiz isn’t finished yet and I haven’t put it here. But it’ll come.
And of course, if 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.

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2 years ago

Mit den Artikeln von 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

2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

ah yes! Thanks!
I guess in the example

Mit Maria hat’s leider nicht geklappt.
Hat‘s mit dem Praktikum geklappt?

I can also write as “hat es”, right?

2 years ago

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!

2 years ago

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

4 years ago

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.

Ahm! Stein! (@Ahmmstein)

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

6 years ago

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. :-)

7 years ago

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.

7 years ago

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

7 years ago

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”

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader
7 years ago

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)

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader
7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Naja, hier ist ein Link. Der kann nicht gesetzwidrig sein oder? ;)

4 years ago

“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”?

7 years ago

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.

6 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

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

7 years ago

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?

7 years ago

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

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader
7 years ago
Reply to  MacFeagle

Why, what’s wrong with that?
comment image

7 years ago
Reply to  MacFeagle

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

7 years ago
Reply to  MacFeagle

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

7 years ago
Reply to  jag041

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.


7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

“Hey Maverick, dein Mund beauftragt eine Überweisung, die dein Körper aufgrund seines unzureichenden Saldos nicht ausführen kann!”

Mit den Übersetzern kann ich wirklich mitfühlen. :) Wenn der Film auf Netflix auftaucht, dann sag ich dir Bescheid, was sie daraus gemacht haben.

Meine Frau und ich haben uns vor kurzem den schottischen Film The Angels’ Share geguckt. Der wurde in Glasgow gedreht und die ganzen Schauspieler sind alle Glaswegians (Glasgower? Glasweger?) – wir mussten die deutschen Untertitel anschalten, um 75% des Dialogs mitzukriegen. War besonders interessant (und manchmal lustig) zu merken, wie die vielen Fluchworte übersetzt wurden.

7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ja, passt für beides.

Hey, mir fällt noch eine passende Redewendung ein: “full of hot air.”

1 month ago
Reply to  MacFeagle

My personal favourite is “he’s all mouth and no trousers”

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader
7 years ago

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…

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader
7 years ago

“Trainingsplan Bauch”

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

7 years ago

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
7 years ago
Reply to  gochmi

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
7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ich habe grad mitgekriegt, dass russisches “risovat'” = “zeichnen, malen” aus dem deutschen “reissen” stammt :D

7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

In Slovak (and Czech) we also have the word “klapa” or “klapačka”, both meaning “die Klappe” (the first being maybe a bit more rude/sharp).

The verbs klapnout/klapnúť (czech/slovak) mean “klappen” in a sense “to work out”, and the usage is basically the same.

The movie “Klappe” is “klapka”, which is something like “Klappchen” :)

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader
7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Auf Russisch heißt es schapka und bezieht sich in der Tat auf eine Mütze, nicht auf einen Helm. Du hast zwar recht, dass das Suffix -k- “verkleinernd” wirkt, aber zumindest im Russischen wurde das Wort “schapka” lexikalisiert, d.h. es gibt bei uns keine “schapa” (große oder normalgroße Mütze), und um die Mützenwinzigkeit (funktioniert das? ich habe es halt ausprobieren müssen ;)) zum Ausdruck zu bringen, verwendet man das Suffix -otschk- – schapotschka.