I hear native German speakers respond to a danke with bitte as often as with gerne.

Is there a semantic difference between the two of them? Or a usage rule behind the choice? Is one more polite than the other?

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    I don't think that I really see any significant difference in using one over the other, but mgoni made a point. If I made something rather unwillingly, I'd never say "gerne" as I wasn't happy to do the favor; but I still might say "bitte". If I did the favor willingly (or happily), I'd go with both equally often — I guess. – Em1 Jun 28 '17 at 13:38
  • @Em1 It is better to note that if something done unwillingly, it can be also said that: ungern – Ad Infinitum Jun 29 '17 at 9:59
  • "Gerne" as an answer to "danke" is a newer phenomenon in spoken German. I would consider it as a colloquial sloppiness, and my native feel for language always gets a little bit offended when I hear it. ;-) – aventurin Jun 29 '17 at 19:05
  • Note that there are plenty of other (maybe regional) variants of how to answer danke, such as (mentioned in comments below) "nichts zu danken", "keine Ursache", "für nichts", "kein Problem", etc. – O. R. Mapper Jul 3 '17 at 17:53

"Bitte" is the "standard" answer to "Danke".

"Gerne" is short for "Gern geschehen!". According to the Duden, "gern" means

mit freudiger Bereitwilligkeit, Vergnügen

It therefore implies that the speaker was happy to help or do a favor ... and it all sounds more polite.

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With a quick search I found this (it's a bit tongue in cheek, but he's quite well known as a linguist): http://bastiansick.de/kolumnen/fragen-an-den-zwiebelfisch/bitte-danke-bitte

The author argues that "Bitte" is short for "Ich bitte Sie, das war doch selbstverständlich!" or similar sentences (maybe "Oh please, that was nothing!" in English). Here, you do not accept the gratitude, in your view you did nothing that would require it.

Answering with "Gerne" is noted as a new trend, mainly because people didn't understand the first option anymore. There you accept the gratitude, but express that you liked to do the action, so it was no problem for you.

So in conclusion, "Bitte" may be a bit more old-fashioned, but also more polite in theory.

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    I would follow @mgoni's answer and say that "gerne" is more polite because it additionally implies that the helping person didn't do it unwillingly. It leaves the helped person with a better feeling i guess. – trixn Jun 29 '17 at 13:09
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    @trixn Arguably with "bitte" you do it so willingly that you don't even need a thanks. However, in current usage I would agree that "gerne" could be considered to be more polite because people actually understand what it means. The historical usage just says that "bitte" is comparable to, for example, "nichts zu danken". – mwil.me Jun 29 '17 at 14:13

"Bitte" corresponds to the English "You're welcome."

"Gerne" is more like "My pleasure."

The implication of the first set is, "Ok. here's what's yours."

The implication of the second set is, the doer feels that the asker is doing a favor, something "A to A" on Ouora.

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  • Can you please clarify what you mean with the sets and favors. – problemofficer Jul 2 '17 at 5:45
  • @problemofficer: "Sets" refer to sentences. Set 1 is "bitte" and "you're welcome." Set 2 is "gerne" and "my pleasure." The implication of the second set is that the asker is asking the second person to do something they would want to do anyway. Example: First person, "Would you like have sex?" Second person, "Gerne," or "my pleasure." – Tom Au Jul 2 '17 at 9:30
  • Hm, but this contradicts the answer imo. In general I think it is still confusing. Maybe you want to do a rewrite. – problemofficer Jul 2 '17 at 10:57
  • @problemofficer: I wrote, "the doer [recipient] of the [sexual] request feels that the asker [of the sex] is doing the favor," (not the "requestee"). Recipients of "Ask to answer" on Quora often feel that way when asked to expound of their favorite topic, even though they are technically the provider (requestee) of the favor. I'll agree that the fundamental concept is confusing, because it is "reverse" psychology.. – Tom Au Jul 2 '17 at 11:09

For most people, bitte and gerne are almost entirely exchangeable when they are used as a response to danke. If anything, I would perceive gerne as slightly more polite/formal and therefore would tend to use it less with family or close friends. But that’s more of a very vage tendency.

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