I am looking for a way to say in German the equivalent of "half the time …, the other half …" but when it's used in a very specific, colloquial context in English. For example:

Joan: So how are things at work?

Jacob: Terrible. Half the time I'm arguing with customers, the other half I'm stuck in meetings. I never get anything done.

The feeling I get when I use this expression in English is that of two dominant elements in a specific theme (Jacob's job), that although not necessarily juxtaposed to one another (i.e. - opposite "valence"), together add up to a very specific result due to the fact that their combined force leads to that result (i.e. - in this case, the result of Jacob not getting anything done at work).

I know there is "ab und zu". But that translates more closely to "occasionally" instead of the sentiment that "half the time …, the other half …" construct indicates.

There's also "einerseits …, andererseits …" and that translates to "on the one hand …, on the other hand …". But that seems to be much more relevant to conversations where you are indicating two concepts that are juxtaposed to each other in at least a somewhat mutually exclusive manner.

Akin to "einerseits/andererseits" there is "zum einen …, zum anderen …" but that too seems to be better suited for a pair of concepts that are at least somewhat in opposition. I believe it can also translate to "for one thing …, for another thing …". But even in that latter translation it does not feel the same as the meaning expressed by the "half the time …, the other half …" construct.

How would Germans express the same sentiment with the nuances I have listed?

6 Answers 6


I suggest, as an idiomatic translation:

Johanna: Na, wie geht's bei der Arbeit?

Jakob: Furchtbar. Den halben Tag ärgere ich mich mit Kunden rum, die andere Hälfte geht mit Meetings drauf. Wirklich was arbeiten, dazu komme ich nie.

Of course, the various verbs and nouns can vary widely.

  • Meetings: Besprechungen, Geschäftstreffen, Besprechungsrunden, Dienstbesprechungen (depending on the environment different terms are used)
  • draufgehen: vergeude ich mit ..., versaure ich in... , etc.
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    "Den halben Tag ärgere ich mich mit Kunden rum, die andere Hälfte geht mit Meetings drauf.… und in der verbleibenden Zeit komm ich zu nix!" Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 14:33
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    @LangLangC Wie wahr! Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 15:10
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    I find the lack of parallelism here slightly awkward, but I'm not sure this isn't just me. Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 14:30
  • @DreamConspiracy Your comment: halb zog er mich, halb sank ich hin. Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 16:35
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    @DreamConspiracy I know what you mean, but this is really how it could be said in a typical oral communication in 2019 in Germany. Whereas if you try to say "Den halben Tag ärgere ich mich mit Kunden rum, den halben Tag verbringe ich mit Meetings" you are already somewhat too far on the side of written language. Somehow it is too artificial for genuine oral speech. Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 17:28

You could use "Die Hälfte der Zeit ... die andere Hälfte der Zeit ..."

  • How about 50% ? Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 5:59
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    Yes, that sounds perfectly idiomatic to me. I would not repeat "der Zeit", though. Just "Die Hälfte der Zeit diskutiere ich mit Kunden, die andere Hälfte stecke ich in Meetings."
    – Theo Tiger
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 21:06

I'm not convinced that the English sentence implies the time slices are equal or even similar-sized, it just seems to mean, that no time is left after considering both.

Therefore in German I would probably say:

Entweder ärgere ich mich mit Kunden herum oder sitze in Besprechungen. Es bleibt keine Zeit übrig, etwas voran zu bringen.

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    I would not say that this is wrong, but it translates to "Either ... or". Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 10:18
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    @АлександрФишер Yes, it directly translates "either ... or", but it actually means (i.e. will be understood as) "halft the time... half the time". It is idiomatic German. Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 14:03

How about

die halbe Zeit - den Rest der Zeit


  • By far the best!
    – TaW
    Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 12:16

"Wie geht es auf Arbeit?" -- "Furchtbar. Wenn ich nicht gerade in Meetings sitze, ärgere ich mich mit Kunden rum."

Note: "Auf Arbeit" (instead of "bei der Arbeit") is (East German?) dialect which has become somewhat fashionable in my Berlin peer group of more or less educated fifty-somethings. It is probably a half-joking attempt to sound working-class.

  • Well, that's interesting! We say "Auf Arbeit", greetings from Thuringia, Eastern Germany - but I wasn't aware that this is more our local dialect ;). Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 12:45
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    @АлександрФишер It's not only your local dialect, we in the Ruhr area do say "auf Arbeit", too (but in a slightly different pronounciation, I presume ^^).
    – orithena
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 12:54

A: Wie läufts (läuft es) auf der Arbeit?

B: Schlecht. Entweder spreche ich mit Kunden oder sitze in Meetings. So werde ich nie (mit irgendwas) fertig.

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