German phrase of the day: Was soll das

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
German phrase of the day: Was soll das
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Whenever you need to express annoyance, frustration or just downright bewilderment, this simple German phrase can be a lifesaver.


Why do I need to know was soll das?

While you're unlikely to hear this phrase in a formal news report or read it in an academic text, it's definitely something you'll come across while out and about in a German-speaking country like Austria - and it's a surefire way to get your feelings across succinctly. 

What does it mean?

You may recognise the three words that make up was soll das, and taken literally, it may sound a bit nonsensical: "What should that?" 

In fact, was soll das functions as a kind of catch-all phrase to express disdain, annoyance or disbelief at a situation. You can think of it as an abbreviation of other rhetorical questions like, "Was soll das heißen?" or "What's that supposed to mean?" - or "Was soll das nützen?" - which means "What's the point of that?"

READ ALSO: The essential words and phrases for a night out in Austria 


A helpful equivalent in English might be the phrase: "What the hell...?" or "What's all this?". The words don't mean all that much grammatically but it's used as a powerful way to express your feelings without spelling the whole thing out. 

This is partly why it's such a good phrase for foreigners to learn: if you remember it, your conversational partner will likely fill in the blanks based on the context.

So if you see someone doing something they shouldn't, a simple: "Entschuldigung, aber was soll das?" will communicate that you're wondering what the hell they're up to.

But if you think your partner is overreacting to something, a more gentle: "He, Schätzchen, was soll das?" will express something along the lines of: "Hey, darling, what's all this about?". 

On the other hand, if you're railing about an annoying colleague who just won't stop stealing your parking space, ending your tirade with an: "Ehrlich, was soll das?" will communicate that you're at your wits' end, along the lines of: "Honestly, what's that about?". 

Just a small word of warning: was soll das isn't a phrase to bandy around too much in professional or polite situations, so it may be best to get a feel for using it around your friends before cracking it out in other contexts. 

Use it like this: 

Und er hat sich einfach nicht gemeldet? Was soll das? 

And he didn't even get in touch? What's that all about! 

Was soll das eigentlich mit Thomas momentan?

What's the deal with Thomas at the moment? 


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