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For example, it’s common among many English speakers to refer to their female partners as girls (e.g., that is my girl). So is it also acceptable in German to claim, for example, “das ist mein Mädchen” when referring to your lady lover (similarly for Junge, if it’s your male lover); or would this come across as crude—or worse, perverted?

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It is pretty, if not completely unusual to use Mädchen or Junge when referring to your girlfriend or boyfriend. You might do that jokingly or ironically, but even then I’d say it would sound a bit weird. Mädchen seems very old fashioned and may suggest that you don’t see your partner really as a grown-up, Junge would be used by mothers to refer to their sons.

Freund and Freundin are the most common words used to refer to your partner. Partner/Partnerin are much less common but completely acceptable. Lebensgefährte/Lebensgefährtin is typically German in that it is a monster of a word, but you can use it (you should be above forty years of age, though).

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    Thank you for the feedback. I can see how using Mädchen in reference to your girlfriend could be seen as unusual. In fact, on an anecdotal basis I see more guys calling their girlfriends "girls" than girls calling their boyfriends "boys" (in America), usually preferring "man." I suppose it could come across as sexist. – Cody Rudisill Oct 16 '15 at 23:00
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    "Lebensgefährte" is used for long-term marriage-like relationships regardless of age. Both "Partner" and "Lebensgefährte" sound sterile compared to "Freund" and are used in situations where this is deemed appropriate. – user568 Oct 17 '15 at 4:21
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    Good answer. I would like to add that calling your girlfriend mein Mädchen would not sound perverted as in my girlfriend is underage. – Deve Oct 17 '15 at 8:40
  • I read "Lebensgefährte" today in a magazine ad under "Sie sucht ihn" (W4M, women seeking men). The age bracket was 35 to 65 or so, if that gives some context. – Ledda Oct 17 '15 at 11:45
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Back in the day, say 1950s rock’n’roll youth culture, possessive pronoun plus Mädchen (or Mädel) may have been normal, as would have been Puppe, Baby/-e, Süße, Perle, Schnecke, Schnitte, Schnalle, Tusse, Ische, maybe also Fräulein or Frauchen. For the other sex, however, one would never have used Junge the same way (and neither Knabe or Bube), preferring instead stronger male nouns like Kerl, Macker, Typ, Stecher.

More obvious and individual sexual metaphors would be used where appropriate, i.e. mostly by third persons or in private.

There are some words applicable to both genders and even in marriage, e.g. Alte(r) / Olle(r) or Liebste(r). In many cases, though, people will just use Freund(in) or Frau and Mann. The latter may not require marriage nowadays, i.e. it’s not necessarily short for Ehefrau and Ehemann any more.

In more formal or legal texts and depending on the officially recognized level of the relationship one will find other designations, of course, like Lebensgefährte or Lebensabschnittsgefährte “LAG” (but rarely just Gefährte), Partner or (eingetragener) Lebenspartner, Gatte or Ehegatte, Gemahl, Angetrauter, Verlobter, Geliebter or Liebling. (Add +in or +e for female version, of course.) Interestingly, Braut can be used more freely – as in Rockerbraut – than Bräutigam, which is of course a sign of sexism.

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There is a implication present in each of the two possibilities that probably although somewhat unconsciously stop a German from using mein Mädchen/Junge for their girl-/boyfriends apart from both sounding somehow like my daughter/son.

For Mädchen, it is that that can also be understood as Dienstmädchen or Küchenmädchen both of which imply a master/servant relationship rather than two lovers. That is also part of the reason why chancellor Kohl’s ‘mein Mädchen’ towards Angela Merkel sounded so condescendingly, and is a reason why you should never use that term in the presence of feminists.

For Junge, that word is not used all across Germany to mean boy. In the South-East of Germany, one would use Bub or Bua (the latter being dialectal). However, these terms scream child even more than a plain Junge would — incidentally, I remember a local newspaper article thanking three unknown Buben for helping a person who had a heart attack. Two days later, their identity was revealed as 15 to 16-year olds, which prompted the newspaper to take back the Buben of before.

In areas where Junge is used to mean boy, you still would not use it towards your boyfriend though; maybe it is still too child-sounding, or maybe it doesn’t fit with the strong/male implications Alexander mentioned.

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  • Although I personally wouldn't use it, I don't think referring to one's girlfriend as "mein Mädl " (or "Madl" in parts of Bavaria) is that uncommon. – Gerhard Oct 17 '15 at 20:17
  • I didn’t mean for the answer to mean ‘strictly don’t use’ but rather ‘very uncommon at least’. Personally, I can’t remember any of my mates from school using Madl. – Jan Oct 17 '15 at 20:20
  • I fully agree with you that using "mein Mädchen" is pretty much impossible. But somehow the situation seems different with "Mädl" - probably because "Mit den Mädls weggehen" is fairly commonly used - mainly for girls going out with their girlfriends, but it could be used by guys as well. It somehow seems to have lost the connotation of "Mädchen", and can be used pretty much like the English "girl". (But still, I find its use to describe one's girlfriend a bit derogatory). – Gerhard Oct 18 '15 at 7:50
  • @Gerhard Oh yes, that’s pretty much true: When referring to friends it’s often die Mädls or die Jungs that one goes to meet. But the question specifically asked for partners. – Jan Oct 18 '15 at 15:46
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Mein Mädchen ist in einigen Milieus durchaus üblich, mein Junge dagegen soweit mir bekannt ist nicht, und zwar weil Frauen eher verniedlicht werden als Männer, für die eine ähnliche Form aber mein Kerl wäre.

Weil die Verniedlichungsformen für Frauen oft als problematisch empfunden werden, sind sie aber in vielen Milieus auch eher tabu. Je kleiner und privater der Kreis ist, desto eher sind sie möglich. Wo man nicht das geschlechtsübergreifende mein Schatz sagen würde, weil es zu privat klingt, würde man auch Mädchen und Kerl vermeiden.

Die Jugendsprache verwendet sehr oft immer neue Formen, auch boy und girl konnte man eine zeitlang hören, aber Personen, die mit einer Mode groß geworden sind behalten diese gerne bei.

Krude und pervers ist beides nicht, aber womöglich kommt es altmodisch oder distanzlos rüber. Freund/Freundin sind wohl die neutralsten Formulierungen. Ansonsten hängt viel vom Milieu und eigenen Alter ab. Immer die gängige Jugendsprache zu verwenden, obwohl man selbst 80 ist, kann unpassender wirken als eine veraltete Form zu wählen. Aber eine 80jährige kann in der richtigen Umgebung auch fröhlich ihren 82jährigen Feund als 'mein Boyfriend' vorstellen, wenn sie gerade mit dieser jugendlichen Konnotation spielen will.

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At least mein Mädchen doesn’t sound too wrong. Although it is a bit of a slang phrase and right now the only situation I can imagine where somebody says it completely serious would be a talk between guys with a sentence like das ist mein Mädchen. Junge on the other side sounds wrong to me in the context of a relationship. It’s probably one of these terms where the relation in terms of strong, male vs. weak, female should be emphasised.

It is certainly not used in the broad public and usually it is rather used for children by their parents.

Funnily enough, once you grow older it’s totally normal to call your husband and wife mein Mann and meine Frau.

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