I just ran across Sieh an, wenn das kein(e) (jemand/etwas) ist. I interpret this in English as "Well, if it isn't (someone/something)." In English this is an expression of mild or feigned surprise, with perhaps a bit of mockery thrown in, see the Wiktionary entry. 1) Does the German version mean the same? 2) Is this a common figure of speech in German? 3) How much can the German be varied while still preserving the meaning? For example, DeepL suggests na instead of sieh an, falls instead of wenn, and nicht instead of kein; which of these substitutions are possible?

Both the English and German versions are ungrammatical since it's a subordinate clause without a main clause. Wiktionary says, as you might expect, that the English version was originally a ellipsis, something like: "If it isn't (whatever) then I'm the King of England." I don't think there is an implied "then" clause in English anymore, but I don't know about German.

Redensarten-Index lists Herein, wenn's kein Schneider ist! But this seems to be a different idiom and you can't substitute Schneider for something else.

  • The idiomatic equivalent would be "(Na, )wen haben wir denn da?". Feb 3, 2022 at 7:35

3 Answers 3


This works the same in German, also with a great deal of flexibility.

It is similarily used to express surprise, true or feigned, mocking or not. From my personal experience it's common, and you can vary it in ways you suggest. One can make a whole sentence from it in a form similar like "Na schau, wenn dies nicht das lang gesuchte Buch ist, dann fress ich einen Besen / weiß ich auch nicht weiter".

Spotting someone:

Na, wer ist denn da? Was eine Überraschung! Wenn das mal nicht die Marianne ist!

Hearing distant thunder:

Hör mal! Wenn das nicht schon das angekündigte Gewitter ist - schnell weiter!

Going hiking, spotting a rare plant:

Ach, guck, wenn das mal kein Enzian ist...!

  • In English you eat one's hat instead of a broom. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to eat either of them though. Is the die in front of Marianne regional or is it because you're surprised to see her? (I asked a question about that a while ago.) I like your examples.
    – RDBury
    Feb 2, 2022 at 10:27
  • The article in front of the name is both (for me): I rarely use an article with names except in circumstance like this. It also varies a lot regionally: atlas-alltagssprache.de/artikelvorname/?child=runde Feb 2, 2022 at 12:40
  • probably more relevant for the article used with the name is this: atlas-alltagssprache.de/artikelform/?child=runde Feb 2, 2022 at 12:55
  1. Yes, the German version means the same.
  2. Yes, it is not uncommon.
  3. sieh an is rather old-fashioned, na is more common, falls is rather formal, wenn is also possible. This is rather a question of substitution sieh an. Dialectal versions would include na da schau her. T

Another form is Na, wenn das mal kein ... ist., adding the mal

In German, it is hard to judge how strongly implied a main clause with dann is, if ever. I think, the ommited / implied main clause is creating the idea of surprise.



As usual, the answer is it depends. In this case a lot on how this phrase is delivered and on context.

Na wenn das mal nicht der Peter ist!

Context: You and Peter haven't seen each other for a prolonged amount of time. real surprise, no mockery

Context: After Peter said he would not attend the party but he is spotted afterall. definitely mocking

Context: Peter is always at the same bar on fridays. feigned surprise, but not necessarily mocking


I'd say it is less common nowadays, but definitely not unheard of. Probably more common in variants (see 3).


Incidentally I seem to have covered this in (1) already. I used the variant that seemed most natural to me. Combining this with (2), the figure of speech has a very clear structure so you can be quite flexible with it.


Your king of England examples exists as well, as in

Wenn du Torschützenkönig bist, bin ich der Kaiser von China

The difference here is that the first half is not negated.

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