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I’m trying to sort out the differences among the following ways to say that I have an affection for somebody:

  • Ich mag dich.

  • Ich stehe auf dich.

  • Ich habe dich lieb.

  • Ich liebe dich.

I’ve listed them in the order I think they express the strength of the emotion (weakest to strongest), but I’m not sure.

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    The difference between Ich habe dich lieb and Ich liebe dich is explained in this post. – PerlDuck Nov 18 '16 at 20:06
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Since we have a question with a very extensive set of answers on the topic of ‘Ich hab dich lieb’ versus ‘Ich liebe dich’, I’m not going to go into any further detail regarding those two.

Ich mag dich.

This sentence translates pretty well to ‘I like you’. Just like someone likes chocolate (‘Ich mag Schokolade’), trains (‘… Züge’) or the colour blue (‘… blau’), in this case they like you, the person. A lot of nuances can be read into this given context but standing alone that’s all there is.

Ich steh auf dich.

This sentence usually implies attraction to the physical features (size, looks, etc.) of a person. While a general translation would be ‘I have a crush on you’, that does not convey the physical aspect which is rather important in my opinion. Even if I was madly in love with (only) the character of a person, I would not use it if I didn’t also find their body at least somewhat attractive. On the other hand, it can also be used in contexts such as ‘Ich steh zwar auf dein Aussehen, aber menschlich bist du ein Arsch.’ (I like you’re looks but you’re an arse.)

  • Being madly in love with the character of a person - sowas existiert? Und zu einer Person, die Du als menschliches Arschloch bezeichnen würdest, würdest Du sagen können "Ich steh auf Dich"? Ich steh auf Dich umfasst m.E. die ganze Person - ist nur das Aussehen gemeint, muss man das sagen. Wobei Gestik, Mimik, Auftreten sowohl zum Charakter, als auch zum Aussehen gezählt werden können. Dazu kommen Temperament und Stimme, selten verbalisiert der Geruch, als Attraktivitätsmerkmale. Ein wohlgeformter Körper der sich wie ein Roboter oder ein Trampeltier bewegt ist nicht attraktiv. – user unknown Nov 19 '16 at 7:12
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This is not easy to answer as a lot will depend on the situation the phrase is used in and also on the person and/or age group.

I agree that Ich liebe dich/I love you would be the strongest, and I'd only use this in very close relationships, i.e. between couples or parents/(usually small) children.

Lieb haben/liebhaben would be somewhat weaker and could for instance be used from an aunt to a child. Also note the related phrase: Habt euch bitte wieder lieb. Which an adult could say to two fighting children for instance, or conversely a child say to his/her fighting parents.

Ich steh auf dich/I have a crush on you, to me feels not so much as an expression of affection, but rather as part of a pick-up line, basically to let the other know about your interest.

Ich mag dich is weaker than "liebhaben", and I could imagine this being said between close friends or at the start of a relationship or even between couples in situations where "ich liebe dich" would be too much.

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These are "degrees" of love. In ascending order, they are,

Ich mag dich. I like you.
Ich stehe auf dich. I'm fond of (interested in) you.
Ich habe dich lieb. I have (some) love for you.
Ich liebe dich. I (really) love you.

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Like others said: Ich mag dich. = I like you. (Maybe because you are a good friend)

Ich stehe auf dich. = I find you hot.

Ich habe dich lieb. Ich love you. (Maybe because you are a member of my family)

Ich liebe dich. Ich love you. (Maybe because you are my lover or my girl-/boyfriend)

You can see it as if there's an order, but "Ich stehe auf dich" you would possibly never say to a family member.

Exchanging the other sentences vice versa is possibly no huge mistake, but might lead to misunderstandings.

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Ich mag dich. / Ich hab dich lieb. --> I like you because you're a nice person

Ich stehe auf dich --> I have a crush on you

Ich liebe dich --> I love you

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    Das mit dem "because ..." ist aber eine sehr freie Übersetzung. Sagen wir es deutlich, es ist Unfug, schlicht falsch. – user unknown Nov 18 '16 at 20:41

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