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Is there any difference between all the translations of "cute" listed here? It's quite confusing.

Except the one tagged [ugs] which means colloquial, I'm not sure which one is preferred in which situation:

niedlich, possierlich, hübsch, süß, nett, herzig, putzig, reizend, aufgeweckt, klug, schnuckelig, pfiffig

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4 Answers 4

up vote 21 down vote accepted

IMO there are two basic uses for cute: young animals and humans, or adult humans which you feel attracted to / would like to date.

I will try and explain the usage of the more common meanings and also give some idea about subtle differences (this may be a little bit subjective).

  • niedlich: cute as in a cute kitten. You would feel a little bit protective about someone which is "niedlich", so this will not be used very often to describe adult men, unless you want to ridicule them and don't take them seriously ("Du willst mir drohen? Wie niedlich!" sneering).

  • possierlich: has some sense of clumsyness, e.g. a newborn duckling which is not yet used to walk and tumbles around. Used mostly with animal, sometimes with newborn humans. Almost never with adults (unless they really act clumsy)

  • hübsch: kind of beautiful. Quite a broad term, can be used in every case.

  • süß: Somewhat similar to niedlich, but maybe a little bit less helpless?

  • nett: nice, likable. This has something to do with character, so this one is used more with adults (as we don't judge the character of animals and babys that often.)

Another suggestion is to do something what you could call a double dictionary lookup: Look for meanings of "cute", then find English meanings of "niedlich", "süß" and so on. This often gives you some idea about subtle differences.

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+1 for the double dictionary lookup. –  celtschk Jul 2 '12 at 8:53
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I think in almost every case you can translate "cute" into "süß".

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1 pretty and attractive

niedlich, possierlich, hübsch, süß, nett, herzig, putzig, reizend, schnuckelig

2 (informal, especially North American English) sexually attractive

hübsch, süß, reizend, schnuckelig, nett

3 (informal, especially North American English) clever, sometimes in an annoying way because a person is trying to get an advantage for himself or herself

aufgeweckt, pfiffig, klug


Definitions from OALD

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If you want to describe a baby I would suggest:

süß

or

putzig

If you mean something like

A cute girl.

I would use

Ein hübsches / reizendes Mädchen.

The remaining words are IMHO either frumpy or not appropriate.

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2  
putzig, possierlich, and herzig are mainly used for cute animals like squirrels. I would rather translate aufgeweckt and pfiffig with clever than with cute. Furthermore, nett rather aims at the character of a person than its visual appearance. I have never heard klugschnuckelig in my live and as Baz stated most of these words are only seldom used these days. –  Jan Christiansen Jul 1 '12 at 12:59
    
@Jan: If you follow the link then you see that it was two translations, "klug" and "schnuckelig". I've edited the question accordingly. –  Hendrik Vogt Jul 1 '12 at 17:55
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