German Language Blog

Untranslatable German Words: Versemmeln Posted by on Oct 19, 2016 in Language

Guten Tag! It’s time for another ‘untranslatable German word’ – one of those words that, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t find an equally quirky, unusual or downright funny translation for in English! The untranslatable words I’ve shared with you here have mostly been nouns, but this time I’m giving you a verb, and that verb is versemmeln.


What does versemmeln mean?

Versemmeln is a verb meaning ‘to fail’ or ‘to mess something up’ – and to mess it up in such a way that it can’t be fixed.


What is the literal translation of versemmeln?

It literally means ‘to ‘bread-roll’ or ‘to be bread-rolled’. But what’s bread got to do with anything?!

Basket of rolls

The verb versemmeln is inspired by these: bread rolls. Photo by rubber_slippers_in_italy on under a CC license (CC BY-ND 2.0)


The word Semmel in versemmeln is a German word for bread roll. You may have heard bread rolls called Brötchen – the word used varies from region to region. With the word Semmel (or indeed any noun), by adding the prefix ‘ver’ and the ‘n’ on the end you can create a verb out of it. The prefix ‘ver’ is very versatile and has a number of different meanings, but one way it is used is to talk about something that’s gone wrong, and this is the most applicable here.

Ich habe mich verfahren – I have driven the wrong way (in which the verb fahren means to drive)


Versemmeln means you’ve messed something up in a way that can’t be fixed. Why? Because once you slice a bread roll, you can’t put it back together again! Makes sense, I guess?!


Once you slice bread, you can’t put it back together again. It has been versemmelt. Photo by simonbleasdale on under a CC license (CC BY-ND 2.0)


How would you use the word versemmeln in a sentence?

The conjugation of this verb in the present tense would look something like this!

Ich versemm(e)le
Du versemmelst
Er/sie/es versemmelt
Wir versemmeln
Ihr versemmelt
Sie/sie versemmeln

Du versemmelst deine Prüfung – You’re messing up your exam.


What’s the nearest English equivalent to versemmeln?

Anyone got any food-related ways of saying you’ve failed or messed up in English (or any other languages, for that matter)? I’ve found just one, and it’s a phrase: To say someone has ‘had one’s chips’. This phrase means you’ve completely failed with what you set out to achieve. Do you have any more to add? Leave a message in the comments!


Hope you’ve enjoyed learning about another brilliantly quirky German word. Perhaps next time you want to tell someone in German how badly they’ve messed up, you can hit them with ‘Du hast das versemmelt!’ – ‘You’ve bread-rolled it!’ 😉

Bis bald!


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About the Author: Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze and I live in the UK. I'm half English and half German, and have been writing about German language and culture on this blog since 2014. I am also a fitness instructor & personal trainer.


  1. Tilak:

    my dad would say “You nade a right hash of things” whenever I messed up (which is often)

    • Constanze:

      @Tilak Haha! I know this one! We could argue that the word ‘hash’ comes from ‘hash brown’ and is therefore food-related. 😉

  2. CJ:

    In American English, one might say SNAFU or FUBAR, acronyms originating in the military (as I understand it) meaning:
    SNAFU – situation normal all f*cked up
    FUBAR – f*cked up beyond all recognition

    • Constanze:

      @CJ Very interesting, CJ! Thanks for commenting. 😀

  3. Clive Shakesheff:

    The best example in English that I can think of is: You’ve The best example in English that I can think of i:”to cook someone’s goose” meaning something like, to spoil someone’s plans or to bring about their ruin. “Your goose is cooked” would mean ,your plans have come to nothing, you are ruined and there’s nothing you can do about it.

    • Constanze:

      @Clive Shakesheff That’s a good one, Clive! Is that in American English or UK English? I’m from the UK and I’ve never heard this phrase before!

  4. Gregg:

    A similar saying from the American South: ” that melon is busted.” (you can’t put those together again either).

    • Constanze:

      @Gregg That’s brilliant, Gregg! We don’t have that (in the UK). Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  5. Carlos R. Barron:

    Hello Constnze danke for the useful sentences aud deutsg abd English, I like to learn German I was exposed tp it in 1964 whenI was stioned in Germany , in Erlangen.

    I bin 81 jahare alt , Ich bonne nun in Antioch, Ca , aber haute ich bin in Milwaukee, Wi meine Frau whinne da .

    Ich weissmeinde Deutsh is nich sher gut , aber Danke fur the hilfe.
    Carlos R. Barron
    Ich war geboren in Bolivia, aber ich whone in fer USA fur 55 jahren