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I’ve answered this question, How one can distinguish between the usage of "gern" (or "gerne" for this matter) as "gladly" and as "like to"?, in the Duolinguo thread for the sentence

Wir würden gerne Ihre Wohnung durchsuchen

which is translated there as

We would like to search your apartment.

but my question remains unanswered.

My question arised because, in Duolinguo, until this question was put to translation, the site uses gern(e) mostly as gladly or like(ing), as in Ich höre gern(e) Musik (I listen gladly to music, or, I like listening to music). On the other hand, we have Wir würden gern(e) Ihre Wohnung durchsuchen (We would like to search your apartment, in oposition to Wir würden Ihre Wohnung durchsuchen, as We would search you apartment).

I don’t know if it is a translation problem, something about the conjunctive II that I haven’t grasped yet, or that I’m just too limited to get the German subtleties, but to me there is a difference to both meanings, one being doing something gladly, or with pleasure (I like to), and the other as a polite form for asking something (I would like to), both using the word gern(e) in German. Anyway, I would apreciate immensely your answers.

  • 1
    Is there a difference? In any case, the police would hardly say so, as it sounds like a polite request that could simply be refused. – chirlu Jun 11 '15 at 5:05
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    How do you differentiate when “I would like to” means “I would enjoy to” and when “Please, I want to”? – Carsten S Jun 11 '15 at 8:24
  • I don't understand the question. "We would gladly search..." - "We would like to search". Where's the problem? – Emanuel Jun 11 '15 at 9:33
  • Can you please edit your question such that the first part is less confusing (what did you do on Duolingo) and the question body contains the titular question? – Wrzlprmft Jun 11 '15 at 10:44
  • I've edited it a bit. Hope it makes clearer for you to understand my question. Again, many thanks for the answers and commentaries. – franics Jun 12 '15 at 5:00
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The word gerne is an adverb expressing, that the subject likes to do something, or he/she/it does it gladly. But the translation with gladly is not common in English, it doesn’t sound natural.

Ich höre Musik.

means depending on context: I listen to music or I’m listening to music. It doesn’t imply if you like to do it or not, you are now hearing to music. The word gerne specifies, that you like doing it.

Ich höre gerne Musik.

which literally means I listen gladly/willingly to music, but no one speaks in English like that, the meaning is simply I like listening to music. One cannot translate between languages like 1:1, word by word, it doesn’t work in 9 of 10 cases.

Wir würden Ihre Wohnung durchsuchen.

It is difficult to say what this sentence exactly means without context. It translates literally to: We would search your apartment.

Wir würden gerne Ihre Wohnung durchsuchen.

The würden gerne etwas machen construct expresses a polite wish to do something. I would do it, gladly and willingly, if you allow me/if it possible etc. This combination of conjunctive and gerne is commonly used to express polite wishes:

Hallo, ich hätte gerne einen Hamburger mit Cola und Pommes.

Ich würde gerne wissen, woher du kommst.

Ich wüsste nur zu gern, ob sie seine Freundin ist!

Nur zu gern means I’d really love to know …, I am so curious about …

There is even another usage of gern, somewhat difficult to grasp for learners:

- Danke!

- Gerne!

This is short form of gern geschehen!, literally meaning happened with pleasure/I was glad to let it happen. In English nobody would ever say this. You’d rather say You’re welcome.

Another example is using gern in sentences in imperative mode:

Komm gerne rein!

This is a shorter form of saying

Ich hätte gern, dass du reinkommst.

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