By phrase here I mean an expression consisting of multiple [separate] words, without being a full sentence. (For example, Witze reißen, mein sogenannter Urlaub, zwischen achtzig und scheintot, etc.)

When I look for phrase in my English-German dictionaries, invariably the translation given is Phrase, but when I look up Phrase in my German dictionaries, the meaning given is something like platitude or cliché or empty phrase.

What would be a translation of phrase that more closely captures the sense I'm interested in?

The context for this is that I am making some lists of German vocabulary, and I want to classify the entries into words (Worte), phrases (???), and sentences (Sätze). (I realize that this distinction is pretty artificial, especially in reference to a language with German's agglutinative tendencies; nevertheless, I find it helpful somehow.)


To clarify, I'm looking for a translation of phrase that only emphasizes the fragmentary nature of a phrase (i.e. it is not a full sentence), without implying anything about how colloquial, idiomatic, literary, etc., the phrase may be. For example, ein blaues Hemd is a phrase.


OK, I found two potential translations:



  • 1
    "Redewendung" might work in your context. May 17, 2018 at 16:04
  • @πάνταῥεῖ: Maybe I'm being too literal here, but I thought that Redewendung was the same thing as turn of phrase, in which case it would be a bit more specific than what I'm looking for. The distinction I'm making is admittedly subtle (if not downright questionable), but, as I understand it, all the expressions that I'd classify as "turns of phrase" I would also classify as "phrases", but the converse is not true.
    – kjo
    May 17, 2018 at 16:20
  • @πάνταῥεῖ: ...For example, I'd classify the expression "to draw a distinction" as a phrase, but not as a turn of phrase. In contrast, "to draw a line in the sand" is a turn of phrase in my book. (And so is "in my book," for that matter.) The only difference between the two is that a turn of phrase is somewhat less prosaic, more flamboyant than a mere phrase.
    – kjo
    May 17, 2018 at 16:20
  • No "turn of a phrase" doesn't make sense. I think "Redewendung" is the correct translation (see here also) May 17, 2018 at 16:23
  • Some concise examples would be nice also. May 17, 2018 at 16:30

3 Answers 3


"Phrase" has two meanings in German, firstly the one you mentioned, secondly, in lingusitic terminology, the one you are looking for (basically the same as in English). Satzteil or Teilsatz could work too, but strictly speaking these are grammatical expressions for specific parts of a sentence (= clauses) and not just phrases.

Depending on your readership, I'd probably use either "Phrase" or "Ausdruck" (=expression).

"Versatzstück", as sb. mentioned above, doesn't work at all in this context. "Redewendung" might be OK for some entries, but it's more like an idiom or saying, so if you have a vocab entry like "ein kleines Haus" this could be a phrase (in the lingusitic sense) or an "Ausdruck", but not a "Redewendung".


A concatenation of some words, ready to be used in a sentence, can be called

Versatzstück (plural: Versatzstücke)

which can also be a complete sentence or even more.

Another option is

Textbaustein (plural: Textbausteine)


I am making some lists of German vocabulary, and I want to classify the entries into words (Worte), phrases (???), and sentences (Sätze).

Wortgruppe would fit in this context. Duden defines it as:

Gruppe von Wörtern, die zusammengehören

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.