There’s a popular idiom in the English language:

To walk in someone’s shadow

This idiom is used to portray that something, or someone, is following in the footsteps of someone larger who is perhaps ahead of them in life; this figure could be, and usually is, a father figure, a business person, etc.

I was wondering if there is an equivalent to this in the German language.

  • 2
    Could you clarify please: my wbsearch gives a somewhat ambiguous meaning of the term. Do you mean with an underlying "can not be better than the shadow caster" or meaning "to emulate someone, e.g. a movie star".
    – Stephie
    Apr 1 '16 at 5:00
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    – Stephie
    Apr 1 '16 at 5:02
  • The title has an additional in that’s not in the prose. Which variant is correct in English?
    – Crissov
    Apr 1 '16 at 11:29
  • "In" is correct. I had made a typo! I am sorry.
    – Halkscout
    Apr 2 '16 at 14:34

Es gibt "jemandem wie ein Schatten folgen", but the meaning is a bit different: It means to always follow someone like a shadow follows a person, to always be in s.b.'s wake.

There's also "in jemandes Schatten stehen" which means "to be less important than s.b.", "to be in the background while this person gets all the attention", etc.

And just like there's "to follow in s.o.'s footsteps", there's "in jemandes Fußstapfen treten" which is closest in meaning to "to follow s.o.'s shadow"

I can't think of an idiom that's a direct equivalent.

So as always when translating something, you have to make a choice: Do you want to keep the image of a "shadow", and change the meaning slightly? Do you want to translate the meaning exactly, but change the image?

  • 5
    "In jemandes Fusstapfen treten" has an additional connotation of "continuing work" that someone else started and couldn't finish which is not necessarily what the English expression says. My understanding of the original expression is imitation by the "follower" as well as invisibility to third parties - "In jds Fusstapfen treten" hits the first, but not the second. You'd need to add that if you need it, like "...mit der Nachfolge als Geschäftsführer trat er in die Fussstapfen des Vaters, blieb aber zeitlebens in seinem Schatten...
    – tofro
    Apr 1 '16 at 9:29
  • 1
    jemandem wie ein Schatten folgen is also closely related to jemanden beschatten which is different from English to shadow and Denglish shadow(e)n.
    – Crissov
    Apr 1 '16 at 11:27
  • Warning: Fussstapfen is the Swiss spelling, the German spelling is Fußstapfen Apr 1 '16 at 12:53
  • @WalterTross: That was not Swiss spelling, it was me entering a search term too quickly :-) Corrected.
    – dirkt
    Apr 1 '16 at 22:47
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    Thank you all for answering! It means a ton, and I am glad to have this added to the little knowledge over the language I already have. :)
    – Halkscout
    Apr 2 '16 at 14:36

As dirkt explained, there is no exact equivalent. Following phrases have a very similar meaning:

in jemandes Fußstapfen treten - to be someone's successor and do the thing same as good, for example:

Er tritt in die Fußstapfen seines Vaters, er übernimmt seine Firma.

We can use this metaphor also in another way:

Die Fußstapfen sind groß, ob er die ausfüllen kann? (lit. The footprints are big, wondering if he can fill them out)

jemanden als Vorbild haben - to consider somebody an example, how to live and act

nach jemandes Vorbild leben - to live similar way somebody else does/did

zu jemandem aufblicken - to look up to somebody, try to be like he/she

  • Can you explain what meaning those phrases have and how it differs from the intended one?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 1 '16 at 9:53
  • Done. (9 more to go...)
    – Liglo App
    Apr 1 '16 at 10:04
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    Thank you so much! I quite love the way the metaphors can be differed, and I'm going to try to incorporate it into daily speech. I appreciate your answer and your time tremendously. Thank you again :')
    – Halkscout
    Apr 2 '16 at 14:39

To walk in someone's shadow does NOT mean the same thing as to follow in someone's footsteps.

  • to walk in someone's shadow

means that the other person, the person casting the shadow, is more famous, powerful, etc. and commensurately that the person in the shadow is relatively unimportant or obscure


  • to follow in the footsteps of another

means a person is following the path someone started, building on their experience, etc.

In german, the equivalents would be im Schatten einer anderen Person stehen/sein and in die Fußstapfen einer anderen Person treten

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