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How To Express Preferences in German- Mögen, Gern, Lieber, Am Liebsten

Updated: Jan 4

Beginners usually learn how to express preferences in German early on in their course. However, as they usually learn them without much of an explanation on the grammatical differences between them, students usually think they can pick and choose whichever word they fancy using. Alas, things aren‘t that easy in German. In this post, I explain how to use mögen, gern, lieber, and am liebsten correctly.

The most common preference word in German is mögen. "Mögen" is a modal verb in German that is almost exclusively used with nouns and therefore communicates a general preference.

E.g. Ich mag Tennis.

(H doesn't like tennis)

Die Frau mag kein Fleisch.

(The woman doesn't like meat)

Ihr mögt keine Äpfel.

(You all don't like apples)

It is important to note that when we say “ich mag Tennis”, we only say we like the sport, we don’t say that we actually play it. So it’s a general preference in that sense.

Gern, by contrast, is used for preferences regarding verbs, so specific preferences.

E.g. ich spiele gern Tennis.

(I like to play tennis)

Die Frau isst nicht gern Fleisch.

(The woman doesn't like to eat meat)

Ihr esst nicht gern Äpfel

(You all don't like to eat apples)

The position of adverbs like "gern" is normally third, straight after the conjugated verb.

""Lieber" is the comparative form of gern and usually translates as prefer. We normally use it to suggest alternatives to what was said before. Someone might ask you ‘spielst du gern Tennis” and you might want to respond “ich spiele lieber Fußball”. So you prefer/you’d rather play football.

E.g. Ich esse lieber Gemüse.

(I prefer to eat vegetables)

Ihr esst lieber Bananen.

(You all prefer to eat bananas)

Am liebsten is the superlative form of gern and communicates the strongest preferences, so when you like doing something the most.

Ich spiele am liebsten Volleyball.

(I like playing volleyball the most)

Die Frau isst am liebsten Fisch.

(The woman likes eating meat the most)

Ihr esst am liebsten Birnen.

(You all like to at pears the most)

To summarise, "mögen" is used with nouns, gern is used after verbs, as are "lieber" and "am liebsten" but they are the comparative and superlative forms of gern.



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