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Untranslatable German Words: das Fingerspitzengefühl Posted by on Nov 27, 2015 in Language

Hello and welcome to another post on untranslatable German words, where I bring you the quirkiest, funniest and most intelligent words that the German language has to offer – and ones that are difficult to find a direct translation for!

Today’s word is das Fingerspitzengefühl.


Foto: sidelong on flickr.com under CC BY 2.0

What does das Fingerspitzengefühl mean?

To have Fingerspitzengefühl means to have an intuitive instinct about any given situation, and to know how to react to it without having to deliberate. It also suggests a certain tact or sensitivity that comes with experience.


What is the literal translation of das Fingerspitzengefühl?

The word Fingerspitzengefühl is made up of the following words:
der Finger – finger
die Spitzen – tips (plural of die Spitze)
das Gefühl – feeling

Its literal translation, therefore, is ‘the fingertips feeling’. This is because fingertips are very sensitive, yet very small parts of the human body: to have a ‘fingertips feeling’ implies understanding the finer details of a situation through heightened sensitivity to it.


How would you use das Fingerspitzengefühl in a sentence?

You would say Fingerspitzengefühl für etwas haben – to have a fingertips feeling for something. An example sentence would be:
‘Jens hat so ein Fingerspitzengefühl für die Wirtschaft‘ (Jens has such a fingertips feeling for economics). This is often said as a huge compliment for anyone who displays a natural flair for something.

To use a different context, displaying a complete lack of Fingerspitzengefühl would be to say something like:
‘Der Pullover sieht schrecklich aus’ (‘This jumper looks awful’) to someone who is sensitive about the way they look. Somebody with Fingerspitzengefühl would recognise a person’s self-consciousness and say instead, ‘Der Pullover ist schön, aber mir gefällt den Roten besser.’ (‘This jumper is nice, but I prefer the red one’).

The word Fingerspitzengefühl is most commonly used in business, politics, and personal relationships. It is also something that, according to one journalist, UK politician Ed Miliband does not have!


What is the nearest English equivalent to das Fingerspitzengefühl?

The English language has actually adopted Fingerspitzengefühl as a loanword, so in a way it is its own English translation!

However, there are a few phrases in English that hint at its meaning (and stick with the theme of body parts!). They are:

‘To keep one’s finger on the pulse’
Meaning: To be up to date with goings-on in any particular field. This isn’t exactly the same as having Fingerspitzengefühl, but the metaphor behind it is similar.

‘To have a gut feeling’
Meaning: To have an intuitive feeling about something. Like a Fingerspitzengefühl, having a gut feeling is something that comes naturally and is not based on any facts. But it could be based on experience, or great sensitivity to any given situation and/or person.


Can you think of any more translations for Fingerspitzengefühl? Do you have a similar word in your language?

Bis bald!


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About the Author:Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze. I'm half English and half German. I write here because I'm passionate about my languages and my roots. I also work as a translator & group fitness instructor.


  1. Carol Hyland:

    Wonderful blog. It is so clear and concise,
    I am a Senior struggling to learn German with the aid of Babbel and these posts help me very much .
    I look forward to receiving them. Thanks so much!

  2. Carol Hyland:

    Wonderful blog. It is so clear and concise.
    I am a Senior struggling to learn German with the aid of Babbel
    and these post help me very much.
    I look forward to the.
    Thanks so much!

    • Constanze:

      @Carol Hyland Very pleased you find the blog useful, Carol!! All the best with your studies. Let us know if there’s anything you’d like us to focus on! x

  3. Brigitta Lake:

    Another translation for “Fingerspitzengefuehl” would
    be: “I have an uneasy feeling” about something.

  4. Brigitta Lake:

    I have an uneasy feeling about something.

    Brigitta Lake

  5. Allan Mahnke:

    I’ve not heard an English speaker for Fingerspitzgefühl, but I don’t get out much! However, I think it’s “hands down” (an untranslatable English phrase) that, “I have a gut feeling” captures the sense of the German word best!

    • Constanze:

      @Allan Mahnke I haven’t either, but apparently it gets used sometimes in politics (see the Ed Miliband article for an example of how). Haha! “Hands down” is a great English phrase! 🙂

  6. Allan Mahnke:

    Sorry, that should have read, “An English speaker use Fingerspitzgefühl.”

  7. Jeremy:

    Interesting article! Online dictionary and translation sites suggest a wide range of translations, depending on context, but ‘flair’, ‘innate feeling’ and ‘intuition’ on the one hand and ‘sensitivity’ & ‘tact’ on the other crop up quite a lot for the two meanings you explain.

    • Constanze:

      @Jeremy Heyyy, Jeremy! Nice to see you here. 🙂 And yes, it’s a rather diverse little word! I found it quite hard to translate to one, specific thing in English. That’s the beauty of German words, I guess! 🙂

  8. Orlando Campos:

    Hi everyone! I just remember one expression in English that means a person who handles very well with plants, which is a “green thumb” person…

  9. bree:

    Sounds like a “Hunch” to me. Or “Tact”

  10. robin:

    Surely too much is being made of this. A simple and acurate translation is “feel” , as in to have a feel of/for.
    The German word is fun and illustrates the rather litteral and cumbersome ways of German thought.

    • Constanze:

      @robin You can never explore or analyse language too much and that is the beauty of it. 🙂 ‘The German word is fun and illustrates the rather litteral and cumbersome ways of German thought.’ Exactly. 🙂 Glad you liked the post!

  11. Tim:

    Hi. I’m here as I just read an English article on economics and it used the term ‘spitzenfingergefuhl’. I guess it is a rearrangement of the same word. Looks daunting to pronounce but I might write it.