I've been trying to learn the vocabulary for both 'tight' and 'narrow', but I am having trouble with the translation. There seems to be some overlap. I'll give a couple of example sentences and my attempts at translating them:

1) My belt is tight. = Mein Gürtel ist eng.

2) The road is narrow. = Die Straße ist schmal.

Is this correct? Does 'tight' (as in: tight clothes) translate to 'eng' and 'narrow' (as in: a narrow space) translate to 'schmal'? Thank you!

  • Seems perfectly correct to me
    – user5513
    Commented Feb 23, 2014 at 18:11
  • That's correct. Tight might also be translated as "knapp", depending on situation. Commented Feb 23, 2014 at 20:50

2 Answers 2


Yes your translations are correct, but as you said the meanings of tight and narrow can overlap sometimes.

Your example: "The road is narrow" could also mean "Die Straße ist eng", but "tight and Narrow = Eng und Schmal" should be right in general

  • Also, a narrow spot in an otherwise ordinary road is commonly referred to as "Engstelle".
    – Hulk
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 16:20

Eng comes from the same root as Angst and has a background of restraint. We could also call it narrow by force.

schmal is related to the English small and talks about the natural state of something.

So, and this is to be taken just as a guide line, you would use eng whenever there is a restrictive force involved whereas schmal is proper for things and persons that are small breadth-wise. If you say

Mein Gürtel ist schmal.

that means that it is a slim belt.

Die Strasse ist eng.

focuses more on how for example the buildings squeeze together the street.

  • My intuition for these is that eng refers more to the relationship between two objects while schmal is for a characteristic of an object. Kind of like this post, where Die Straße ist schmal focuses on the breadth of a street, while Die Straße ist eng suggests there is an external reason why the street is narrow. I'm not sure how exactly to articulate it.
    – icedwater
    Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 10:04

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