How to express preferences in German- mögen, gern, lieber, am liebsten

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 almost always used with nouns and therefore communicates a general preference.

E.g. Ich mag Tennis

Die Frau mag kein Fleisch

Ihr mögt keine Äpfel

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

Die Frau isst nicht gern Fleisch

Ihr esst nicht gern Äpfel

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

Ihr esst lieber Bananen

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

Die Frau isst am liebsten Fisch

Ihr esst am liebsten Birnen.

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.

Learn about other grammar topic such as the conjugation of verbs in German, separable verbs, the Perfekt tense in German, German reflexive verbs, and word order in German on our blog.

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