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I am trying to understand the exact differences between the most common words which may mean "pleasure" in German: Freude, Genuss, Lust and Vergnügen.

My understanding so far:

  • Freude: pleasure resulting from a state of happiness (having a good life), a pleasing activity (eg from seeing an old friend, graduating in college, going to a party, traveling to another country). Also used politely in work activities (to meet a new client)

  • Genuss: immediate pleasure resulting from a sensorial feeling (eg from drinking a wine, eating a dish, hearing a music, watching a movie, having sex)

  • Lust : same usage of Freude + sex context (more usual than the others terms in this context)

  • Vergnügen: same usage of Freude + sex context

Are those right? Some examples for discussion and my guesses:

Mein Lebensstil macht mir Freude / Lust / Vergnügen ( = My life style brings me pleasure)

Es ist mir eine Freude / Lust / Vergnügen, Sie in meinem neuen Haus begrüßen zu dürfen. (= It is a pleasure to welcome you in my new house.)

Die Freude / Genuss / Lust / Vergnügen, einen guten Wein zu trinken, ist einzigartig (= The pleasure of drinking a good wine is unique.)

Sie hat keine Genuss / Lust / Vergnügen mehr mit ihm beim Sex. ( = She doesn't feel pleasure anymore with him during sex.)

The other meanings of these words are out of the scope of this question.

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Freude
This is a very general word to express happiness over something. Common examples would be

Was eine Freude Dich zu sehen! (Literally: What a pleasure to see you.)
Es ist mir eine Freude Dir zu helfen. (Literally: It's a pleasure for me to help you.)
Dein Geschenk hat mir große Freude bereitet. (Your present was a big delight for me).

Note that the idiomatic expression would be "Freude bereiten".

Often these constructions are replaced by the verb "sich freuen":

Ich freue mich, Dich zu sehen
Ich freue mich, Dir zu helfen.
Ich habe mich sehr über dein Geschenk gefreut. (I was delighted about your gift).

Genuss
As you mentioned, this is associated with sensory input. It can be used in sexual context however that would not be my first association. I think it is more commonly used with foods, art and views/scenery. Again, phrases are more common with the verb "genießen".

Ich genieße den Ausblick. (I enjoy the view)
Genieß dein Wochenende! (Enjoy your weekend).
Wann komme ich mal wieder in den Genuss einer deiner Massagen? (When will I be able to enjoy one of your massages again?)

The last example uses the idiomatic expression "in den Genuss von etwas kommen" (etwas is a Genitiv object).

Lust
Lust has different meanings depending on context. "Lust haben" can be used to express the intention of doing/not doing something

Ich habe Lust ein Eis zu essen. (I'd like to eat some ice cream)
Ich hätte Lust nach Berlin zu fahren. (I'd like to go to Berlin)
Ich habe keine Lust den Geschirrspüler auszuräumen. (I don't want to empty the dish washer)
Ich habe Lust auf Dich! (I'm hot for you/I want you)

On the other hand, Lust can also have the meaning of lust (English)

Die Lust in ihm wuchs an. (He became more horny). Man sah die Lust in ihren Augen. (You could see the lust in her eyes).

Vergnügen
Vergnügen also has a non-sexual and a sexual context, although the latter is mainly used as the verb sich vergnügen.

Es bereitet mir großes Vergnügen, Dir beim Klavierspielen zuzuhören. (It brings me great joy to listen to you playing the piano) Lass uns in den Vergnügungspark gehen! (Let's go to the amusement park!) In der Kanalisation zu arbeiten ist wahrlich kein Vergnügen. (Working in the sewers is fairly unpleasant). Adam und Eva vergnügten sich im Sonnenuntergang. (Adam and Eve enjoyed themselves during sunset. Here it's clearly sexual)

Your sentences

Mein Lebensstil macht mir Freude/Lust/Vergnügen ( = My life style brings me pleasure)

Here you would say Mein Lebensstil bereitet mir Freude. Lust and Vergnügen don't fit here.

Es ist mir eine Freude/Lust/Vergnügen, Sie in meinem neuen Haus begrüßen zu dürfen. (= It is a pleasure to welcome you in my new house.)

The idiomatic expressions would be Es ist mir eine Freude/ein Vergnügen. Again, Lust does not fit.

Die Freude/Genuss/Lust/Vergnügen, einen guten Wein zu trinken, ist einzigartig (= The pleasure of drinking a good wine is unique.)

Here Lust and Vergnügen don't fit. I would say it like this Es ist eine einzigartige Freude / ein einzigartiger Genuss, einen guten Wein zu trinken.

Sie hat keinen Genuss/keine Lust/kein Vergnügen mehr mit ihm beim Sex. ( = She doesn't feel pleasure anymore with him during sex.)

This sentence feels a bit clumsy. Try theses alternatives:
Sie empfindet keine Lust mehr mit ihm beim Sex.
Sie kann den Sex mit ihm nicht mehr genießen.
Sex mit ihm bereitet ihr kein Vergnügen mehr.

  • "in den Genuss von etwas (Dative) kommen" or "in den Genuss etwas (Genitive) kommen" ? – Alan Evangelista Apr 18 at 18:12
  • Why "Vergnügen" does not fit in some examples where "Freude" is used (pleased with life style, pleasure to drink a wine)? I saw them as full synonyms, except in the sex context. Is there a difference in meaning or I have to learn usages case by case? – Alan Evangelista Apr 18 at 18:32
  • If that expression requires dative, why your example was "Wann komme ich mal wieder in den Genuss einer deiner Massagen? " ? – Alan Evangelista Apr 18 at 18:33
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    Because I can't speak my own language. Of course you're right, it's Genitiv, my apologies. – infinitezero Apr 18 at 19:06
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    Natürlich haben Erwachsene Lust einen guten Wein zu trinken. Aber die Lust einen Wein zu trinken ist einzigartig, im Sinne von "The pleasure of drinking a good wine is unique" wäre eine fehlerhafte Übersetzung. – infinitezero Apr 18 at 19:53

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