I was having a conversation with my friend in another language, and I was wondering how in German I'd express the idea of "two people having a heated argument where one of them throws a tantrum and, for instance, dishes may soon start to fly".

Mais Séréna... ne partageait pas mon enthousiasme. Et le ton est monté entre nous ce soir-là... c'est moi qui te le dis.

In French, the expression "le ton est monté {literally: "the tone has risen"}" fits the bill. This is where in German I'd probably have said:

≈ Aber Séréna ... war nicht so begeistert. Als ich es ihr sagte, gab es ein gewaltiges Donnerwetter, das kannst du mir glauben ...

I think my phrasing is a bit straightforward, though. How is this idea commonly/idiomatically/metaphorically expressed in conversation in German?

  • Note you can get to the other end of the temperature scale: "als ich es ihr sagte, wurde der Ton eisig"
    – tofro
    Aug 23, 2019 at 12:58
  • @tofro "eisig" indeed describes a changing mood in a conversation. But while "hitzig" means people talk faster, louder, more, there is no end ... the word "eisig" means the opposite. This discussion suddenly "freezes", people stop discussing and only say what's really necessary. Compare "eine Hitzige Diskussion" (people talk talk talk...) with "eisige Stille" (silence).
    – puck
    Aug 24, 2019 at 11:05
  • @puck "...wurde der Ton eisig" still means there is conversation (where would the tone come from, otherwise?)
    – tofro
    Aug 24, 2019 at 12:56

4 Answers 4


I think a heated argument would be best translated by

eine hitzige Diskussion haben

That would usually mean two or more people strongly disagree in certain points, and both/all are defending their opinions with vigor.
They will most likely being involved emotionally.

Your other example with

Als ich es ihr sagte, gab es ein gewaltiges Donnerwetter,

would rather mean that one person gets really angry at something and gives the other one (usually inferior or equal) a telling-off.
Like a parent to a child/teenager who has either done something inappropriate or received a bad mark in school, a boss to an employee who has done something wrong or someone to a spouse/partner who made a decision the first person is not happy with (or thinks the other should not have made this decision without consultation.

After your last (12:56) edit it seems that you are more referring to an argument, where only one of the persons involved is getting really angry. In this case, the second part of my answer would be the more fitting.
If indeed dishes start to fly literally, you might even say

Séréna ist regelrecht ausgerastet

(ausrasten = to go ballistic)

If the dishes only fly metaphorically, in German you might say

... da flogen die Fetzen

(shreds were flying)


German idioms for "having a heated argument": it pretty much depends on the context (social environment, register of speech, etc.)

I suggest we start a community Wiki to collect good expressions.

  • sich (über etwas) zanken wie die Fuhrknechte (outdated)
  • sich (über etwas) in die Haare geraten (colloquial)
  • sich beharken (zu...) (pretty colloquial)
  • etwas kontrovers diskutieren (rather formal)
  • (wegen etwas) mit jemandem Knatsch haben (pretty colloquial)
  • To me, etwas kontrovers diskutieren means that the points of view are far apart, but not necessarily that the discussion is heated (even though this is the more likely the farther the POVs differ...) Aug 23, 2019 at 13:08
  • @jonathan.scholbach The question did not ask for excluding certain registers of speech. Aug 23, 2019 at 18:29
  • @VolkerLandgraf You are totally right, etwas kontrovers diskutieren does not necessarily (!) mean that there is a heated argument. But you can indeed use that expression in order to discribe - with perhaps ironic understatement - a heated argument. Aug 23, 2019 at 18:30

Aber Séréna – war nicht so begeistert. Als ich es ihr sagte, gab es einen gewaltigen Krach, das kannst du mir glauben …

Literally: When I told her, there was a huge noise, believe me.

Krach = Streit haben:
make a row
make a racket
make a fuss
make noise


I'd like to throw in "sich einen Schlagabtausch liefern" which is a metaphor coming from boxing or a similar fighting sport. It literally means to exchange blows.

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