I have found the following translations for to start from scratch:

  • (ganz) von vorn(e) anfangen/starten/beginnen

  • bei Null anfangen/starten/beginnen

And for to do sth from scratch:

  • von Grund auf

Also for instance, in Linguee one can find the sentences:

  • He learned it from scratch. — Er hat es von der Pike auf gelernt.

  • production from scratch — Neuanfertigung

Which form sounds the most natural for this expression? Is there any other equivalent form, specially with the word scratch?

I would really appreciate if someone would digress a bit about this.

  • "Von Grund auf" passt in jeder Hinsicht. In speziellen Kontexten kann es aber feste Phrasen geben, die häufiger sind. Natürlich ist in der Sprache wenig, das ist alles kulturell, sprich, bei anderen Völkern ist es anders. Daher gibt es auch kein natürlich klingen. Für den einen ist dies vertrauter, für den anderen jenes. Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 10:20
  • komplett neu, vollständig selbst, ganz allein ... may fit in translations of made from scratch
    – Crissov
    Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 14:34

4 Answers 4


Which form sounds the most natural for this expression?

Please note that this is a very subjective question. Personally I would say that 'von Grund auf' or '(wieder) bei Null anfangen/starten' sound the most natural.

However, the different translations you found are also somewhat context-sensitive:

He learned it from scratch. — Er hat es von der Pike auf gelernt.

This one is very specific and is (as far as I'm aware of) only used when talking about learning. You wouldn't say 'Es wurde von der Pike auf gebaut' (it was built from scratch)

production from scratch — Neuanfertigung

Here the meaning of something is done anew is integrated into a noun, here 'production'. I advise caution with this, because depending on the noun it might sound odd.

  • Appreciate the input.
    – Belzebu
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 14:40
  • 3
    "Von der Pike auf gelernt" is indeed a fixed idiom and neither usable for any other activity than learning, nor IMHO as a neutral translation. It goes back to the pike often being the first weapon to train with for soldiers.
    – jarnbjo
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 17:58

There is a somewhat established expression, which may fit:

auf der grünen Wiese

It employs the picture of starting a new building in a place without streets, water, electric current etc. It is used also for other areas (projects, software) to indicate, that anything has to be created newly anyway, so no consideration of existing stuff is necessary. (Obiously it won't fit for the career context.)

  • Auf der grünen Wiese might work in a few select contexts but from scratch is far more versatile …
    – Jan
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 19:00

It’s often the case that a language has a specific idiom that does not translate to the same in all cases in another langauge; that may even be specific to that language and any translations will need different words. This is the case with the expression from scratch. I don’t know how it originated (and that’s a question for ELU, not this site) but it is not a common expression in any language I speak except for English. You can do so many things from scratch in English that just require entirely different expressions in German.

Which one you end up using should depend on the sentence, the audience, the intended effect and your personal preference. Listing all expressions that can be used to translate from scratch in one way or another would not fit in this margin.


Well, the translations you found are to the point. The original expression from scratch is very idiomatic and so are the German translations von der Pike auf or von Null an. You can not use these in every context.

von der Pike auf is mostly used with lernen. von Null an is used when you indicate you are starting something.

The word scratch itself has many meanings in German and many of them have nothing to do with the meaning in from scratch. You can not translate this word by word.

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