Over at ELL, I've opened a question about bad dream i.e. nightmares. English doesn't see a nightmare but it uses it with the verbs have and be (as in: it was a nightmare). I would like to know how it is used in German and with which verb it is associated?

That project was a nightmare! We were over a year late and a million dollars over budget. (Das Projekt war ein Alptraum! Wir waren über ein Jahr zu spät und eine Million Dollar über dem Budget.)

Last night I had a nightmare. (Letzte Nacht hatte ich einen Alptraum.)

  • In which language do you see dreams/nightmares?
    – Iris
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 11:16
  • The ELL-Q currently is a HNQ. Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 11:32
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    @hiergiltdiestfu: Was ist ein HNQ? Hit'n'quit? Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 11:39
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    Man kann Phrasen (war ein Alptraum, hatte einen Alptraum), von denen man vermutet, dass sie gängig sind, übrigens bei Google ausprobieren, sehen wieviele Treffer sie provozieren und ein, zwei davon näher betrachten, um zu überprüfen, wie sie verwendet wurden. Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 11:42
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    Alptraum ist eine alternative Schreibweise von Albtraum. Der Duden empfiehlt aber die Schreibweise mit b (duden.de/rechtschreibung/Albtraum)
    – Iris
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 13:18

2 Answers 2


It's like in English Language:

Last night I had a nightmare.

would be translated as:

Letzte Nacht hatte ich einen Alptraum.

My relationship with Chuck was a nightmare.

would be translated as:

Meine Beziehung mit Chuck war ein Alptraum.

If you had bad dreams you also could say:

Ich habe schlecht geträumt.

This would be literally translated as:

I dreamed bad.

But you wouldn't say "Ich habe einen Alptraum geträumt" instead you would use my last phrase "Ich habe schlecht geträumt."

  • Hey and welcome to the German Language StackExchange. If you want, you can take a look at the tour or browse around help center. Have fun! :) Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 10:57
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    One thing that isn't quite the same is "being in a nightmare". Rather than "Ich bin wohl in einem Alptraum!", Germans more often say "Ich träume wohl schlecht!" Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 13:36

In short:

100% identical to the English usage.

And longer:

If something is or was ein Alptraum, we do not mean the literal thing, but rather use it in a metaphorical sense.

Das Projekt war ein Alptraum.

If you are talking about "having a bad dream" literally, use "haben".

Gestern Nacht hatte ich einen Alptraum.

There is some sort of grey zone inbetween, expressed in the context, however:

Nach meiner Fahrprüfung habe ich immer noch Alpträume.

That doesn't necessarily mean the preson is having bad dreams - But could be. English has this grey zone as well, however.


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