In English, to flirt clearly describes an activity that can be performed both between strangers, but just as well between long-term partners.

My impression with flirten in German has been that it is only (or mostly) use to describe the behavior of people who are not in a romantic relationship, but they are, well, flirting with the idea of starting one (or pretending they are).

Can someone confirm or refute this impression?


Both, the English to flirt, and its German loanword flirten are used in the same, identical way.


  • jemandem durch ein bestimmtes Verhalten, durch Gesten, Blicke oder scherzhafte Worte seine Zuneigung bekunden und auf diese Weise eine erotische Beziehung anzubahnen suchenDuden
  • jmdm. vom anderen Geschlecht scherzend und unverbindlich durch Verhalten und Worte seine Zuneigung zu erkennen geben. DWDS

to flirt

  • to behave amorously without serious intent Mirram-Webster
  • Behave as though sexually attracted to someone, but playfully rather than with serious intentions. Oxford Dictionary

In both languages the lighthearted non-serious and playful act is a decisive element.

This however does in no way mean that couples having a long lasting relationship do not occasionally play with each other and start flirting again. I believe this is the same in German and in English.

  • I note that the German first meaning mentions “anbahnen zu suchen”, while the English first meaning says “without serious intent”. That seems to be hardly identical to me. – Joachim Breitner Oct 31 '16 at 14:26
  • @JoachimBreitner: that's the Duden interpretation which does not say anything about the seriousness ... the DWDS definition is much better. – Takkat Oct 31 '16 at 14:30

I'll firmly disagree with the notion that flirten is restricted to people who are not in a romantic relationship. My marriage of 10+ years would be sad and boring if my husband and I wouldn't be occasionally flirting with each other.

Perhaps the notion that flirten happens only outside a relationship is based on the fact that some married or long-term couples are hesitant to show their admiration for each other in public.

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