There Are Lots of Ways to Say "I Love You" in German

Make sure you're using the right one!

Historic half-timbered houses and Town Hall - Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Romantic Road, Germany. Getty Images/Jorg Greuel

A widespread cliché of Americans among Germans is that they tend to love everybody and everything and do not shrink from telling everybody about it. And to be sure, Americans do tend to say “I love you” more often than their counterparts in German-speaking countries. 

Sure, “I love you” translates literally as “Ich liebe dich” and vice versa. But you can't sprinkle this phrase quite so liberally throughout your conversation as you might in English.

 There are many different ways to tell people that you like or even love them.

You only say “Ich liebe dich” to somebody you really, really love--your long-term girlfriend/boyfriend, your wife/husband, or somebody you have very strong feelings for. Germans don't say it rashly. It is something they must feel sure about. So if you're in a relationship with a German-speaker and waiting to hear those three little words, don't despair. Many would rather avoid using such a strong expression until they are completely sure it's true.

In general, German speakers, particularly older ones, use the word “lieben” less frequently than Americans do. They are more likely to use the phrase "Ich mag" ("I like") when describing something. Lieben is considered a powerful word, whether you are using it about another person or an experience or an object. Younger people, who have been more influenced by American culture, may tend to use the word "lieben" more often than their older counterparts.

 

Just a bit less intense might be “Ich hab’ dich lieb” (literally, "I have love for you") or just “ich mag dich” which means “I like you”.  This is the phrase used to tell your feelings to beloved family members, relatives, friends or even your partner (especially in an early stage of your relationship).

It is not as binding as using the word “Liebe”. There is a huge difference between “lieb” and “Liebe”, even if there is just one letter more. To tell somebody you like him as “ich mag dich” is just not something you would tell everyone. Germans tend to be economical with their feelings and their expressions.

But there is another way of expressing affection: “Du gefällst mir” is hard to translate properly. It wouldn’t be suitable to equal it with “I like you” even it is indeed rather close. It means more that you are attracted to somebody--literally "you please me." It can be used to mean you like somebody's style, their way of acting, the eyes, whatever – perhaps more like “you are lovely”. 

If you have made the first steps and acted and especially talked correctly to your beloved, you can go further and  tell him or her that you have fallen in love: “Ich bin in dich verliebt” or “ich habe mich in dich verliebt”. Rather ponderous, right? It all comes together with the basic tendency of Germans to be rather reserved until they really know you. 

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Schmitz, Michael. "There Are Lots of Ways to Say "I Love You" in German." ThoughtCo, Jul. 18, 2016, thoughtco.com/how-to-say-i-love-you-in-german-4054300. Schmitz, Michael. (2016, July 18). There Are Lots of Ways to Say "I Love You" in German. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-say-i-love-you-in-german-4054300 Schmitz, Michael. "There Are Lots of Ways to Say "I Love You" in German." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-say-i-love-you-in-german-4054300 (accessed November 23, 2017).