I’m referring to the tendency of some people to follow a straight, unbranched path, with no deviations. For instance, waiting for a stoplight to change to green even at midnight even though there are no cars coming from a perpendicular direction.

The expression that I use is streng and eng. It is direct and straightforward, and even rhymes, so IMHO, it does the job. Is this, however, “standard” German, or is there a more idiomatic way to express this idea?

  • 1
    linguee says "sittenstreng" ( look here ). You can also see there that there are a lot of ways to translate it. In your case, I would maybe use "prinzipientreu".
    – ixolius
    Jul 6, 2017 at 18:30
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    sittenstreng is way off. That's more like "prude". prinzipientreu is better, but has a notion of merely following your own rules instead of those of others.
    – tofro
    Jul 6, 2017 at 18:35
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    well, prude is, at least nowadays, something most Germans would not exactly consider a virtue. Your call, however.
    – tofro
    Jul 6, 2017 at 18:55
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    Please don't abuse comments to answer the question. Use answers instead, please. Jul 7, 2017 at 7:13
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    What you're describing isn't quite what the English idiom "straight and narrow" (correctly "strait and narrow") means. “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life,” i.e. it's difficult to attain Heaven and relatively few people do it. Jul 7, 2017 at 18:44

8 Answers 8


The word you are looking for is geradlinig.

Walter ist sehr geradlinig. Wenn er eine Sache anfängt, zieht er sie auch durch.

  • The best fit by far. It almost exactly matches the image of "following a straight path" (path ~> line - even more straightness!) and it is connotated positively.
    – Annatar
    Jul 7, 2017 at 6:51
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    @Annatar Not sure - Misses the aspect of "following common rules". If a person who is "geradlinig" decides it would be a good idea to cross the street at a red traffic light, he will do so. Close to prinzipientreu in a comment above.
    – tofro
    Jul 7, 2017 at 7:43
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    In the English idiom "straight and narrow" as I know it, a person who is described so would never cross the street at a red traffic light unless it was to perform some morally superior act in a rare emergency. "Straight and narrow" does not mean simply "straight and direct" as geradlinig appears to mean, but has a strong connotation of always following the rules and deepest-held traditions... at least, as I understand it.
    – Darren
    Jul 7, 2017 at 20:39
  • Geradlinig also means following the rules, once set. You may set your own rules but follow them afterwards. Straight and direct has to be translated geradeheraus.
    – Janka
    Jul 7, 2017 at 21:46

It depends a bit whether you want to express this trait as positive or rather as (partially) negative. I'm assuming a positive notion from your question. Then you might want to look along the lines of

  • tugendhaft and
  • immer auf dem rechten Pfad der Tugend gehend.
  • tadellos und
  • frei von jedem Tadel might fit as well.
  • gesetzestreu and
  • hochanständig could also be used.

streng und eng would probably not be understood or understood wrongly. That is not idiomatic in German and too close to engstirnig, which is "bigoted" and "narrow-minded". engstirnig and pedantisch could, however, be used for the more negative notions of this attribute.

  • I consider this trait positive. So the closeness of my expression to "engstirnig" was a pitfall I was looking for.
    – Tom Au
    Jul 6, 2017 at 18:47

What about


  • 1
    Not a bad answer.
    – Tom Au
    Jul 6, 2017 at 20:08

I want to explain some idioms from the question and from other answers, to give you a chance to understand and compare them:

  • streng and eng
    »and« is not a German word, but even »streng und eng« will not work in German. Nobody will understand what you mean. Maybe some English native speakers might understand it because they might translate it back into english, and then understand the English idiom.

    »streng and/und eng« is like translating German idioms word by word into English, like in this example:
    »My English is not the yellow from the egg, but it goes«. (The German idiom is: »Mein Englisch ist nicht das Gelbe vom Ei, aber es geht«, and a correct translation would be: »My English is not exactly brilliant, but it's ok.«)

  • streng
    This word can mean: severe, strict, stiff, stringent, draconic, grim, austere
    None of this meanings has a really positive connotation. »Streng« is a property, that police officers, judges, teachers, parents and directors can have.
  • eng
    This word has a very different meaning. It can mean: tight, narrow, close
    If an alley is so narrow, that hardly one car can pass through, then it is »eng«. Trousers, that are so tight, that you hardly can close the zip, are »eng«. In German there is absolutely no idiomatic connection between »eng« and »straight and narrow«. (See also »engstirnig«)
  • engstirnig
    When I did read »streng und eng«, then my first association was »engstirnig«, because »eng« doesn't make any sense in combination with »streng« (as described above). But »engstirng« is: narrow-minded, small-minded, parochial, blinkered, hidebound, close-minded
  • sittenstreng
    This word carries all connotations that are in »streng« (see above), plus all connotations of »Sitte« or »sittlich«. The noun »Sitte« can mean morals, convention, customs, manners
    The adjective »sittlich« is: ethical, moral
    So, »sittenstreng« is puritanical, strait-laced, strict and grim with morals.
  • prinzipientreu
    The noun »Prinzip« means »principle, set of believes« and the adjective treu is faithful, allegiant, loyal, constant. So the compound adjective prinzipientreu is principled, faithful to the own convictions, but it also has a connotation of »... without thinking about wether this convictions are right or wrong«
  • tugendhaft
    There is not really a good englisch translation for the German noun Tugend. I just find virtue and goodness, but both have much a much wider field of meaning than the German word. A »Tugend« is a morally high-quality property, that a person can have. And the adjective »tugendhaft« is used to describe the morally flawless behavior of such a person. It has a strong connotation with ethics and moral. I think morally is a good translation for tugendhaft.
  • auf dem (rechten) Pfad der Tugend gehen
    This is a idiom that just is a longer way to say »tugendhaft« or »sehr tugendhaft« (very morally)
  • tadellos
    The noun »Tadel« means blame, flaw and the suffix -los is -less. So this adjective means blameless, flawless, immaculate and has a respectful positive (even a little bit admiring) connotation.
  • frei von jedem Tadel
    Just a longer way to say tadellos
  • gesetzestreu
    I explained treu already (look at prinzipientreu). The noun »Gesetz« is »the law, the laws. So gesetzestreu is law-abiding.
  • anständig
    The adjective anständig is derived from the noun »der Anstand« which means decency, decorum, integrity. So anständig is fair, decent, modest.
  • hochanständig
    The adjective hochanständig ist just an enhancement of anständig.
  • pedantisch
    This is pettifogging, finical, micrological, niggling
  • geradlinig
    Literally this means along a straight line (gerade is straight, direct; Linie is line, route) and can be translated as upright, straightforward, no-nonsense, straight
  • gewissenhaft
    This is conscientious, scrupulous, assiduously, painstaking
  • solide
    firm, respectable, strong
  • What, in your opinion, is the difference between "Tugend" and "virtue" (and thus, "tugendhaft" and "virtuous")? I have always treated those as exact translations of each other. Jul 7, 2017 at 8:07
  • @SebastianRedl: I am not so good in English, maybe I am wrong. But I think that virtue also has a connotation of benefit (Vorteil, Wert, Vorzug) that is not in the German word »Tugend«. Plus: virtue can also be translated as »Heilkraft« (healing power) (of herbs for example), and this meaning is definitely not a meaning of »Tugend«. Another meaning of virtue seems to be chastity (Keuschheit). Some people might say, that Keuschheit is a Tugend (like »a house is a building«) but Keuschheit and Tugend (as well as house and building) do not mean the same. Jul 7, 2017 at 8:24
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    Note that even a serial killer could easily qualify as geradlinig and prinzipientreu as long as he goes straight for his targets and applies the same principles - Both entirely miss the ethical notion.
    – tofro
    Jul 7, 2017 at 9:23

The straight and narrow is "der Pfad der Tugend" in German, but this is kind of an archaic expression (as are many suggestions that have been made already). Think Shakespeare. It can also be translated as "die rechte Bahn", but this has more of a connotation of being normal and slipping into crime would be to deviate from the "rechte Bahn" (right road). Which is also an old fashioned expression not in common use anymore. (Since about a decade or two, I'd say.)

The straight and narrow, I think, expresses more of an inherent incapability to judge situations for what they are and instead follow rules blindly, like the traffic light example. It's a subtle way to mock someone for doing the right thing.

As such, I would suggest "Gutmensch". It describes someone that always does the right thing, even if it is to his own detriment and it is also not meant as praise, but to mock such a person.

  • 1
    Agree with your first two proposals, but don't agree with "Gutmensch" - this is not used to describe any positive notion at all. Straight and narrow is, however.
    – tofro
    Jul 7, 2017 at 17:32

Just to add one choice not yet mentiond


is in my opinion quite close to the favourite geradlinig and would still fit when the person follows a moderately meandering path, but with the strong intention to follow it up to the end.

  • Doesn't fit in my opinion - Does not cover the ethical aspect and does not cover the "path of virtue" the English expression has. Could maybe fit together with another adjective.
    – tofro
    Jul 8, 2017 at 8:17

strikt (Adj.)


.. someone who does not allow much space for interpretation of things and follows the rules.

  • that is true for "strikt", but does not fit "straight and narrow" well.
    – Robert
    Jul 7, 2017 at 19:15

I think the best fit is


It describes the positive quality of being honest and good and also indicates that the person will not deviate from this path even if it would have advantages.

Another word which describes more the being strict to themselves part:


describing a person which will not yield or change its behavior whatever comes. It could be described as negative trait for having rigid behavior, but mostly it has the positive connection that the person will not be dominated by anyone.

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