I'm quoting the movie "Der Untergang" for this particular sentence.

"Je später der Abend, desto lieber die Gäste."

I found a site here that tells me "lieber" is the comparative of "gern(e)." Which I'm not sure is helpful but I'm referencing it just in case,

I understand that "gern(e)" is used to express you like to do something and "lieber" that you would prefer to do something.

I do understand the "je...desto" construction but I just don't get how that particular word fits. I think I may be missing something fairly simple and at the risk of looking like a dummy I just had to ask.

So my question is how is "lieber" working in this sentence? Does it have a different meaning here? I just can't get this particular usage.

  • 1
    "gerne" can't have a comparative because it is an adverb. Same with "bald" on that site you quoted. "Lieber" and "eher" as pseudo-comparatives to "gern" and "bald" are workarounds which come pretty close if you want to say. e.g., "Ich habe XY gerne, aber YZ ist mir noch lieber". Mar 26, 2015 at 8:00

5 Answers 5


lieber is not only the comparative of gerne - first of all it is the comparative of lieb (Duden entry).

That is what it is used for in your example sentence. So the second part of your sentence translates to

..., the nicer (or dearer) the guests.

It is probably worth noting that lieb in its adjective form

Jemand/Etwas ist lieb.
Someone/something is nice/cute.

is rarely used except in child language or adults referring to children. I remember that the quoted line struck me as somewhat odd when I first heard it in the movie.

  • 2
    Note the difference in English between "nice" (Someone is nice - Das Kind ist lieb) and "dear" (I hold him dear - Er ist mir lieb) - might be some archaic short form of "...desto lieber (sind mir) die Gäste". Mar 26, 2015 at 8:14
  • 1
    Nearly correct. As the above user comment points out, lieber is here the comparative of jemandem lieb sein=to be dear to someone, and not lieb sein=to be nice.
    – Toscho
    Mar 26, 2015 at 8:41
  • I disagree with the thesis, that this lieb has anything to do with child language (see my own answer). It is just part of a normal greating-phrase, that is common among adult friends (»Willkommen, mein lieber Freund«). Maybe (I'm not sure about this) the sentence »Je später der Abend, desto lieber die Gäste.« is more common in southern parts of the german speaking area (Bavaria and Austria). Mar 26, 2015 at 10:51
  • I also disagree with the statement that it is a word only used by children after I have done much research to verify what Hubert said and found it to be true. However everything else you said was quite helpful! Especially the corrections made here in the comments!
    – Autumn
    Mar 26, 2015 at 18:22
  • Hm.. I am Austrian (currently living in Vienna), and I understood it as I described. I agree that this is playing with the quite idiomatic adress "Liebe Gäste".
    – Hulk
    Mar 27, 2015 at 6:24

When you write a letter to a friend in German, you start it like this:

Lieber Hans,

wie geht es dir? Wir haben uns lange nicht gesehen …

in English:

Dear Hans,

how are you? We didn't meet for a long time...

Here you could replace »lieb« by »geschätzt« (I guess its »valued« in English, but I'm not absolutely sure):

(ger) Geschätzter Hans,
(eng) Valued Hans,

But this is not the only possible usage of this word. When you welcome friends that come to your house to visit you, you might say:

Herzlich willkommen, meine lieben Gäste.
Herzlich willkommen, meine geschätzten Gäste.

in English:

Welcome, my dear guests.
Welcome, my valued guests.

This lieb in the meaning of geschätzt has nothing to do with the lieb that children use to describe lovely or cute things like fluffy animals with big eyes. The lieb that is used in greetings is used among adult friends as part of a welcome-phrase.

To welcome special guests, who usually don't follow every invitation, or who – when they come – come late because they have such a busy life, it is very common to say:

Oh, das freut mich, dass ihr doch noch gekommen seit. Je später der Abend, desto lieber die Gäste.
… desto geschätzter die Gäste.

in English:

Oh, I'm very pleased that you did come. The later the evening, the dearer the guests.
… the more valued the guests.


It might be possible, that the phrase »Je später der Abend, desto lieber die Gäste.« has not the same amount of commonness across the whole german speaking region. I have seen the movie »Der Untergang«, but I can't remember who said which sentence. I guess it was Hitler (played by the swiss actor Bruno Ganz) who said the lieber-quote.

As you know, Hitler was not born in Germany, but in Austria (in Braunau at the border to Germany, where his father had a job as a customs officer), and his ancestors lived near Zwettl in Lower Austria. Hitler himself spent the first 24 years of his life in Austria (19 years in different places in Upper Austria and 5 years in Vienna).

So maybe (I am not sure) you did hear a phrase, that Hitler learned in his young years, when he grew up in Austria, where this phrase is rather common.

  • 1
    Actually, the quote came from Himler's assistant, Hermann Fegelein. He was a sarcastic man who thought for himself more than follow orders blindly up until he was executed in the film.
    – Autumn
    Mar 26, 2015 at 15:26

In this instance, "Je später die Abend desto liebe (or lieber?) die Gäste" means "The later the evening, the more dear (preferable) the guests." It depends on whether "liebe" or "lieber" was spoken in the movie. Both words sound very alike. One would need a copy of the screenplay to know for sure, but really, the meaning for the intention is close enough between the two words.


It was said, "Je später der Abend desto lieber die Gäste", which means "The later the evening, the dearer the guests".

  • Welcome to German.SE. I fail to see how you add something that is not already there? (see answer by Ray). So please reconsider your answer if you are able to add aspects that are new. Thanks. Nov 19, 2021 at 17:52

I don't think that this is simple. It strikes me as fairly unusual, as I am not aware of a suitable meaning for lieber in this context, inasmuch as handsome, frieny seems to be ruled out by context.

Picking up on your reference it should be prudent to point out that gern is related to yearn (for) and, if I am not mistaken, yawn. It follows that, if the phrase is of old age and inherited, lieber (which is fairly securely attested coming from a root "love") may have become substitute for a sense of either greed (Gier is related) or maleability, that is the more they are drinking the more they will want to drink (which is beneficial for the inkeeper's) if it may need a nudge of the server ("more wine?"). At any rate that's how I am feeling at the moment, *more wine!! *

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