For the verb lieben, it is close to the English usage for love, e.g.:

John loves Mary. -> John liebt Mary.

For the verb gefallen, it's rather weird. A dictionary entry for gefallen didn't help much in explaining the meaning and usage of the word:

John gefällt Mary. -> Mary likes John.

But is the translation for "John gefällt Mary." correct?

How should one use the verb gefallen to mean like (in English)? Is the subject-object always in reverse (i.e. "lover verb lovee")?

Is there another verb/verb phrase in English that has the same syntactic order as gefallen?

  • The last part of the question is about English rather than German, isn't it?
    – Em1
    Jan 14, 2016 at 8:19

1 Answer 1


First, we have the problem in the sentence

John gefällt Mary.

that it is not clear whether John or Mary is the subject. Let us assume the former and switch to

Er gefällt ihr.

to make this clear.

You are right that this means something like

She likes him.

but not so much in the sense that she loves him, more in the sense that she has a positive opinion of him. It can mean that she fancies him, or just that she thinks that he is fit.

You are confused by the role of the subject and object, but the first entries for the verb on the page that you have linked should make this clearer. The construction is like

He appeals to her

(which actually is also a very good match regarding the meaning) or

He pleases her.

  • Just for the sake of completeness: John gefällt Mary could also mean 'John likes Mary' (3rd verb in link mentioned). So subject-object is not always in reverse.
    – Futurecat
    Jan 14, 2016 at 8:46
  • another addendum: If you want to avoid ambiguities and have the english order you could say something like "John mag Mary"
    – Bort
    Jan 14, 2016 at 9:59

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