I have often encountered the forms möchte, möchtest.... Does the verb möchten exist? Is it some special form of mögen or an independent verb?


Technically, möchte is the subjunctive II (Konjunktiv II) of mögen.

However, mögen is special, as it changes in a different way than other verbs do when put into the subjuncitve mood: While with most verbs, the subjunctive II mainly conveys the irrealis (i.e., that whatever is described, is not real), mögen changes its meaning from to like (and some others) to to want¹. Some examples to illustrate this:

Er sagt, dass er meistens Pizza esse. [no subjunctive II]
He says that he usually eats pizza. [No implications are made about the correctness of his statement.]

Er sagt, dass er meistens Pizza äße. [as above with subjunctive II]
He says that he usually eats pizza. [It is stated that his statement was not correct: He does not actually eat Pizza usually.]

Er sagt, er möge Pizza. [no subjunctive II]
He says that he likes pizza. [No implications are made about the correctness of his statement.]

Er sagt, er möchte Pizza. [as above with subjunctive II]
He says that he wants pizza. [No implications are made about the correctness of his statement.]

This is comparable to the difference between the English like and would like.

Such a shift of meaning in the subjunctive II mood happens to some other modal verbs in German (namely sollen, dürfen, and müssen²), but the subjunctive II of these verbs can still be used for the irrealis of those verbs. In contrast, you cannot use möchte and similar anymore for the irrealis of mögen. Instead you have to use a würde construction (which is used for the irrealis of regular/weak verbs and in some other cases):

Er sagt, er würde Pizza mögen. [würde-Form of mögen]
He says that he likes pizza. [It is stated that his statement was not true: He does not actually like Pizza.]

One could therefore say that möchte and similar forms detached themselves from mögen and are to some extents forms of an independent, defective verb, which does not have an infinitve, subjunctive II or perfect form. Analogously, mögen has turned defective and lost its subjunctive II, which has no big consequences, as we can use a construct with würde instead.

¹ To add to the confusion, mögen can still mean to want in some dialects.
² And brauchen to some extent.

  • 3
    "mögen changes its meaning from to like (and some others) to to want" - it should be noted that in some German dialects, I think Bavarian and/or Austrian German, mögen is indeed used as "to want". For example, the sentences "Magst du spielen gehen?" and "Magst du ein Stück Kuchen haben?" do not ask for the general preference or desire about playing and a piece of cake, respectively, in those dialects, they mean whether the person concretely wants to go playing and to have a piece of cake now. Aug 14 '14 at 7:15
  • " you cannot use möchte and similar anymore for the irrealis of mögen" . Yes you can... "Du möchtest bitte in dein Zimmer gehen" "Das möchte man meinen". This is an older "mögen"-meaning, the true modal one, but it is likely that "möchten" is actually based on this one and not on mere liking.
    – Emanuel
    Sep 26 '14 at 12:20
  • @Emanuel: None of your cases is an irrealis in my opinion, as it isn’t implied that the respective statement is not true. The first example is a Konjunktiv II of politeness (and not used anymore at least where I live). The second one is a semi-fixed phrase and whether it originated from an irrealis or not, it’s no productive use of the Konjunktiv, as you cannot replace mögen with any synonymous verb.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Sep 26 '14 at 12:37

There's no verb "möchten", the forms you see are the Konjuntiv II forms of mögen. In fact it's so common that it's often introduced, confusingly, as a modal verb independent from mögen, but that's not correct.

It must be said, however, that the Konjunktinv II is used far more often as a true modal verb than the Indicative. Whereas "ich möchte etw. tun" clearly denotes "I'd like to do sth.", the same usage with the indicative is less common and has a slightly different meaning, eg "Ich mag etw. tun" is more similar to the english "I might do sth.".

"Mögen" however retains its meaning of "to like" in the indicative when used with a direct object: "Ich mag dein neues Auto".

  • 4
    The difference in frequency is so extreme that it's more reasonable to say it's a form already more than half-way on the road to establishing a paradigm as a verb on its own. It just hasn't managed to establish itself as a standalone infinitive yet. In the face of language change, it's often inadequate to classify things in a black/white manner - it has some characteristics of an independent verb, but not yet all. Aug 13 '14 at 11:23
  • It's really similar to English when you think about it. "Ich möchte" literally translates to "I would like". Aug 13 '14 at 17:51
  • The fact that phrasings like "muss man möchten" "jetzt muss er möchten" are understood and used (sometimes) suggest that it is seen as a independent verb in our brain. You couldn't do the same play with "muss man würden/könnten"
    – Emanuel
    Sep 26 '14 at 12:12
  • same for "unser Wollen ist entscheidender als unser Möchten" and "Möchten darf man viel"
    – Emanuel
    Sep 26 '14 at 12:14

Möchte is indeed a special form of mögen, the Konjunktiv II.


Little children may say "Ich mag ein Eis" to the waiter, till they learn that "ich mag" is not said. The polite form is "Ich möchte ein Eis, bitte". "möchte" is the past subjunctive of "mögen" used as a subjunctive of politeness. But actually it derives from a conditional sentence: Ich möchte ein Eis, wenn es Ihnen recht ist. - Or something like that. (I would like some ice cream, if you don't mind.)

By the way I don't like the German terminology of Konjunkiv I and Konjunktiv II. Here the German terminology steps out of line. In English, French, Italian or Latin there is no Konjunktiv I and II, and learners have to learn what German grammars mean with their special terms.

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