I have found the following translations for running out of something. Some verbs that make sense to me to use are ausgehen, ablaufen and enden. Note that I'm not interested in the literal meaning of to run out, i.e. hinauslaufen.

Some useful expressions found in dict and Linguee:

  • Mir gehen die Ideen aus. — I'm running out of ideas.
  • Unsere Vorräte gehen zu Ende. — We are running out of supplies.

  • Mir läuft die Zeit davon. — I'm running out of time.

  • in Zeitnot sein — be running out of time

Can I use these verbs interchangebly for expressing the running out of things, time, thoughts, etc.? I could not get the feeling which verb or construction is more appropriate, correct; or even if there are stablished expressions, which are more commonly used.

  • Perhaps you're looking for too literal a translation? "Wir haben nur wenig Zeit" seems more natural. – Michael Kay Jan 13 '17 at 20:43

You can use the first expression (ausgehen) for almost anything that you are running out of. For example the following sentences are fine:

  • Mir geht die Zeit aus.
  • Mir gehen die Vorräte aus.

Using zu Ende gehen is in my opinion not always a good translation for running out. For example

  • Meine Zeit geht zu Ende.

sounds more like you are almost dying rather than that you are running out of time for example in an exam. Also the sentence

  • Unsere Vorräte gehen zu Ende.

sounds strange to me. I would rather use

  • Unsere Vorräte gehen zur Neige.

I would argue that zu Ende gehen implies more of a temporal running out and zur Neige gehen more of a material running out of things. (Not every German may agree with me, though.)

The examples

  • Mir läuft die Zeit davon. — I'm running out of time. and
  • in Zeitnot sein — be running out of time

are really restricted to time. It does not make sense to say

  • Mir laufen die Vorräte/die Ideen davon.


  • Ich bin in Ideennot.

Also ablaufen is quite restricted to temporal use.

So, as a conclusion, if you stick to Mir geht/gehen ... aus as a translation for I am running out of ... then you will be right most of the time. Zu Ende gehen and zur Neige gehen sound a bit more advanced, but may be a bit harder to use correctly.

  • As a native, I wouldn't say "Mir geht die Zeit aus". That sounds strange. – Iris Jan 13 '17 at 11:34
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    @Iris As a native as well, I do say that. Maybe this is regionally different. – TheAbelian Jan 13 '17 at 12:40
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    You can say “Mir laufen die Vorräte davon” when you had living creatures rather than dead meat, in other words, when they are literally running away… – Holger Jan 13 '17 at 15:23
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    in Zeitnot sein has a totally different background than the other phrases. ìn [sth]not sein` means to have little of [sth] as Ideennot, which does exist btw, simply means I have little ideas (to solve problem at hand). Just because time is always moving forward, in [sth]not sein has the same meaning as Mir geht die Zeit aus. – Toscho Jan 13 '17 at 19:02
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    davonlaufen can be used for humans as well e.g. Kunden, Bewerber – user2740 Jan 13 '17 at 21:01

Different metaphors underlying the two languages.

ausgehen can be applied to material as well as immaterial things, when you can make a mental image of that thing somehow leaving. In other words, it can't be applied to continuous things like time or emotions.

ablaufen has an implication of ending. We have "Ablaufdatum" on our food - the "best before" date. So you can't say it with things like ideas or emotions or other things which regenerate, but you can say it with time (dying) or with food (spoiling). The mental concept is that the thing is somehow still there, but it's over (bad, spoilted, ended). The most direct metaphor is an old wind-up clock, which stops running. The clock is still there, but it's not serving the function of showing time anymore.

enden is actually "to end". "zu Ende" is the state of having ended. "Meine Zeit ist zu Ende" means your time has come to an end. It has a connotation of finality.


It depends on what you want to say. I guess you can employ "Es wird knapp" too to "Running out". Usually it has to do with something else. Running out of what? Perhaps time, food, blood, friends etc.

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