I am having troubles expressing "bringing/keeping someone in line" in German. This is synonymous with, "to keep somebody in control", or in German, closely related to "jemanden gefügig machen". In dictionaries, I see "jemanden auf Linie bringen/halten" here: https://www.dict.cc/?s=Linie+halten , here: https://de.pons.com/%C3%BCbersetzung/deutsch-englisch/auf+Linie+bringen, and a few other places as well.

The problem is, there are no accompanying examples with these sentences, and a colleague told me that this was incorrect usage of the phrase. To make sure, do the following translations then work?

  1. Eltern müssen manchmal bestimmt sein, um Kinder auf Linie zu halten

1.1 Parents must sometime be firm in order to keep kids in line (under control).

  1. Der Aussenminister versuchte Land X durch Bedrohungen in Linie zu bringen.

2.1. The foreign minister tried to bring country X in line (get them to behave) through threats.

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    1.: Eher "bestimmt auftreten" als "bestimmt sein", letzteres ist zweideutig. 2.: ... auf Linie bringen. Und doch, auf Linie bringen, insbes. in der Politik sehr verbreitet, oder auch "in der Spur sein", Spur i.S.v. Gleisen wird so benutzt. Was schlägt denn Dein Kollege vor? – user unknown Aug 24 '20 at 20:33
  • Danke... I used it in the context with kids...to "keep the kids in line" so that they don't misbehave in certain situations. Can you use it in this context as well? – Mark Aug 24 '20 at 20:36
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    Nicht in Linie verwendet man, sondern da, wo es paßt, auf Linie. – Martin Peters Aug 25 '20 at 6:04
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    One issue here is "bring into line" more commonly means to make something/someone conform to a common standard. Wiktionary has the example "These changes will bring the country's anti-piracy laws into line with the rest of the European Union." I'm not sure if there's a difference between "bring into line" and "bring in line". Unless you're looking for a similar idiom, I'd suggest first rephrasing the English to not use the phrase and then translating the new version into German. – RDBury Aug 25 '20 at 6:48
  • @RDBury Thank you for this excellent clarification with "conform to a common standard". This clarifies the matter for me. I understand that direct translations should be avoided, but when phrases look so similar between the two languages it can be difficult to see the fine differences. – Mark Aug 25 '20 at 12:05

I can't remember hearing the expression "auf/in Linie", and it feels strange. Maybe it is a translation of the English expression, with is quite common these days.

I would use the expression "im Zaum halten". "Zaum" or "Zaumzeug" means "bridle" and as such expresses the control. Originally control of the horse, but it can also be used for children or subordinates. I personally wouldn't use it for another country, because the other country is supposed to be independent and not under control of someone else.


All occurrences I remember of auf Linie bringen (see DWDS for further examples) were in context of party politics, therefore Stern

Merkel will CDU-Länderchefs wieder auf Parteilinie bringen.

Since the emphasis here is an alignment with a strict framework (as here party agenda), I guess it derives from military marching formation. It is not covering a general well-mannered behavior, which the English term seems to convey according to your examples. This regulating effect is also addressed by:

In die Schranken (ver-)weisen

For the keeping in line aspect im Zaum halten is already coverd in another answer.


If you present jemanden gefügig machen as a possible translation I offer jemanden an der kurzen Leine halten.

Besides, I could imagine jemanden auf Kurs bringen resp. jemanden auf Kurs halten. And jemanden bei der Stange halten if the problem is to let someone stick to something e.g a task/job/idea.

jemandem Einhalt gebieten and jemanden bändigen are further alternatives.

Edit: I have made some more research and found the following documented translation of to get someone in line: jemanden in die Spur bringen

  • "Jemandem Einhalt gebieten" means that you want to stop somebody from doing something specific. It doesn't fit the examples in the question. – Discostu36 Aug 28 '20 at 7:08

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