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I don't like phrase books for their original purpose. I prefer to use them to find out different ways to to say the same thing and learn the differences.

This brings us to these three...

1 ."Ich möchte"
2. "Ich hätte gern(e)"
3. "Ich würde gern(e)"

I saw these wordings repeatedly to say "I would like" in a phrasebook awhile back.

So the questions are...

What's the difference between the three phrasings listed above?

Are they used differently?

Why would I use one over the other?

Is "würde" merely a shortcut to being lazy with the subjunctive in the example?

And finally, which is more common in spoken and written german?

Also, I assume that "Ich hätte gern(e)" can only be use on nouns that follow but I'm unsure. I believe the other two may only be used with verbs.

Please use example sentences.

18

Ich hätte gerne

This expression (usually) requires a noun following it.

Ich hätte gerne drei Semmeln
Ich hätte gerne einen Freund

But:

Ich hätte gerne gezahlt

This last one is substantially different from the first two. Those first two are the subjunctive II forms of haben followed by the word gern(e) (to make the sentence more polite), and are a polite way of asking for something you can buy (Semmeln) or expressing a wish (der Freund). Gern(e) is mandatory.

The last one is a subjunctive past form of zahlen, implying that the guest at the restaurant already asked for the bill at least once, and wishes that the waitor gets a move on.

Ich würde gerne

This expression requires a verb following it.

Ich würde gerne zahlen
Ich würde gerne Ski fahren
Ich würde gerne Urlaub machen (or: Ich hätte gerne Urlaub; see above)

Generally, this can be described as the more colloquial form of subjunctive II, and all sentences of this form can be replaced by a subjunctive II construction (Ich zahlte gerne; ich führe gerne Ski, ich machte gerne Urlaub), although it would come across as anything between old-fashioned and plain awkward.

Here, the gerne is required or the meaning of the sentence changes:

Ich würde Ski fahren

does no longer imply that the speaker wants to go skiing. It can mean that s/he prefers skiing, even though the rest of the group will go snowboarding, or it can be the answer to a question like Imagine you had a day off work. What would you do?

Note also that some dialects hardly use würde, and instead use tun or others as an auxilliary verb for subjunctive II constructions:

I dad gern Ski fahrn (Bavarian)
= Ich täte gerne Ski fahren (literally transformed into standard German)

Ich möchte

This is originally the subjunctive II of the verb mögen. However, it is also used as a more polite form of saying ich will. Compare it with e.g. English, where I want is considered impolite, but I would like (same meaning but auxilliary construction) is considered polite.

It can be used both with verbs and with nouns:

Ich möchte ein Eis
Ich möchte Schlitten fahren
Ich möchte Blut spenden
Ich möchte schreiben
Ich möchte einen Kaffee

It is definitely the most flexible of all constructions here, as it can also easily be negated:

Ich möchte keinen Streit.
Ich möchte keinen Kaffee.
Ich möchte nicht kämpfen.

(The others can be negated, but wouldn't usually be used in a negative form.) If you use möchte, you can add an additional gern(e) to make it sound slightly more polite

Ich möchte gerne einen Kaffee

However, I would most likely not use these sentences with gern.

Note that sometimes this has a 'childish' ring to it: One of the first things parents attempt to teach their children is to say ich möchte ein Eis instead of ich will ein Eis.

Tl;dr:

When in a shop or a restaurant, I would order/buy stuff using ich hätte gerne. When expressing wishes that are shorter in verbal form (e.g. pay), I would use würde: Ich würde gerne zahlen. If either my sentence doesn't fit into these two subcases, or if I want to express a negative form, I would use möchte.

  • 1
    Nothing is "Tl;dr" for me. I appreciate the time you took to be concise and accurate! – Autumn Mar 29 '15 at 20:11
  • A comment of yours brought up another good question, you can find it here [also, I'm on my phone so I can't link, just copy and paste] (german.stackexchange.com/questions/22604/…) – Autumn Mar 30 '15 at 18:19
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While c.p. is right with the usage of hätte gerne. I would like to add something.

möchte and würde is in this context the same. It's just the difference of being more polite or not.

You could say.

Ich möchte gerne zahlen.

Or.

Ich würde gerne zahlen.

The same you could say with hätte:

Ich hätte gerne die Rechnung.

hätte:

Ich hätte gerne etwas.

I would like something.

würde/möchte:

Ich möchte gerne etwas tun.

Ich würde gerne etwas tun.

I would like to do something.

You can use all, but würde gerne is more polite than möchte gerne which is more polite than gerne wollen (to want). I'm not sure where I would place hätte gerne to be honest, but I'm sure it's more polite than to want, maybe more polite than möchten.

So all three are commonly used.

  • I had been taught that that "möchte" alone gives the meaning of "would like" so it sort of confuses me to see "möchte gern." Is "gern" droppable with "möchte" and still conveys the message? I don't think you can drop it of the other two without changing the meaning. Or ist it different? – Autumn Mar 29 '15 at 17:58
  • You are right with "gern" is droppable with möchte, but it is also droppable for würde. "Ich würde zahlen." To be more specific "gerne" is to make the sentence more polite, so it's for example common to add it to würde/möchte if you are ordering something. Hätte is something special, because it's also a a form of "haben" (to have). So while it's possible to drop "gerne". It's weird to do it. – medoli Mar 29 '15 at 18:15
  • forget to say: Yes möchte and würde still conveys the message alone without "gerne". – medoli Mar 29 '15 at 18:27
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    No it doesn't: Ich würde zahlen is an entirely different sentence from ich würde gerne zahlen! – Jan Mar 29 '15 at 19:13
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So, würden is pretty much the English particle would. But in German the would have has a particular form:

hätten = haben + würden.

Something similar happens with möchten:

möchten = mögen + würden.

Like mögen and haben, some other verbs are würden-eaters: they have their own natural own form in subjunctive mood. But not all of them are. Here is where your last option (3) comes into play. Before it going into it, another quite exact parallel with English might be useful: würde gern(e) is would like. To this last you can add a verb (which your last sentence doesn't have):

Ich würde gerne was Japanisches essen.

Whereas, when you are already in the restaurant:

Ich hätte gerne eine Udon-Suppe.

is what you might order. Thereafter,

Ich möchte gerne zahlen.

  • No, there is no such verb as hätten or möchten; they are distinct forms (namely subjunctive II) of the respective haben and mögen. Every German verb has a subjunctive II, the question is only if it is in current usage or not: Ich äße gerne Japanisch (subjunctive II). Würde is just an auxilliary form of subjunctive II, comparable to the Perfekt formed with haben or sein. That hätten or möchten are not verbs can be proven, by using auxilliaries: Er wird hätten? Sie wird möchten? – Jan Mar 29 '15 at 19:12
  • Danke, ja. Ich habe die Zeile verändert. So hatte ich das nicht gemeint. Was äß betrifft, das erklärt warum ich natural geschrieben habe. Du sagst nicht ich äße gerne.... Das klänge –trotz der Korekheit– komisch. Fändest du nicht? Was ich meine ist, es gibt Verben deren Konjunktiv II form komisch klingt. Ich schätze: je modaler ist ein Verb desto üblicher ist dessen Gebrauch im irregulären Konjunktiv II. – c.p. Mar 29 '15 at 20:04
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    Es warat zwar ungewohnt, aber es gangat scho ;) I dat des zwar ned überall song, fänd des aber jetz ned zu schlimm. Ja und das im Dialekt ;) Für die meisten Deutschen gilt natürlich schon, dass Konj.II ungewohnt ist. Umgekehrt wird man ihn in Büchern oder Zeitungen lesen, also täts nicht schaden, ihn zu (er)kennen. – Jan Mar 29 '15 at 21:11

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