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Why do we use "mir gefallen" instead of "ich liebe"?

The sentences are:

Mir hat die alte Wohnung besser gefallen.

Ich liebe die alte Wohnung mehr

Which one of two is correct? Why do we use "mir gefallen"?

  • 3
    Why do you say „I like the old flat“ vs. „I love the old flat“. And „besser“ only comes with gefallen, the right adverb for „lieben“ is „mehr“... – Torsten Link Jun 11 at 17:49
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    What does your favorite dictionary say about the difference? – Torsten Link Jun 11 at 18:03
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    also, the second sentence is gramatically wrong. You can't use "besser" (better) with "lieben"(to love), you need to use "mehr" (more). This happens to be the same with english – Hobbamok Jun 12 at 10:23
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    Or in other words: speakers of English tend to use the verb "to love" excessively for any kind of positive attitude towards everything (food, weather, arts...). Users of other languages (e.g. German) use the equivalent verbs ("lieben") in the narrower sense of love between people. - There are some tendencies to be observed also in German to abuse "lieben" for other positive attitudes; this can best be understood as a contamination coming from all-dominating American popular culture and marketing. – Christian Geiselmann Jun 12 at 11:10
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    @Hobbamok, this is wrong. First, whether besser fits with lieben is not a matter of grammar, but of semantics. Second, there are cases in which both fit, e.g., "Mein neuer Freund kann besser lieben als mein Ex." – Björn Friedrich Jun 13 at 9:13
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Remark: The question was changed on June 22nd, 2019. Previously, the first example sentence was

Mir hat die alte Wohnung mehr gefallen.


gefallen versus lieben

The verb gefallen is used to express that something pleases you, i. e., that you simply like it. The verb lieben expresses a strong affection, typically between lovers. Even though you may find lieben also in reference for things, it is used rather reluctantly there, for it would sound melodramatic.

gefallen ⇆ to like

Mir hat die alte Wohnung besser gefallen.
⇆ I liked the former appartment more.

Notice that in German besser gefallen is more idiomatic than mehr gefallen. In English the opposite is true, i. e., to like more is more idiomatic than to like better.

Moreover, the roles of the subject and the object are reversed. While in German the subject is the thing that is liked and the object is the person who likes the thing, in English it is the other way round:

Mir(object) gefällt(verb) die Wohnung(subject).
⇆ I(subject) like(verb) the appartment(object).

lieben ⇆ to love

Ich liebe die alte Wohnung besser mehr.
⇆ I love the former appartment more.

Here, mehr lieben is more idiomatic than besser lieben, similar to English love more rather than love better.

Furthermore, the roles of subject and object remain the same when translating:

Ich(subject) liebe(verb) die Wohnung(object).
⇆ I(subject) love(verb) the appartment(object).

  • "...for [lieben] would sound pathetic." - What would you say colloquially, that's the equivalent of the use of "love" in English, in this example? (Or, "I love ice cream", "I love this park", etc.) – BruceWayne Jun 12 at 16:22
  • @BruceWayne, see Christian Geiselmann's comment below the question. – Björn Friedrich Jun 13 at 9:14
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    "pathetic" is a deceitfully false friend: It means "induces pity", armselig. You probably wanted to express the German pathetisch, perhaps as "lofty", "pompous" or "melodramatic". I find it not that easy to translate. I'll edit accordingly. – Peter A. Schneider Jun 13 at 9:46
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    @PeterA.Schneider, vielen herzlichen Dank für diesen wichtigen Hinweis und die Korrektur. Man lernt nie aus! – Björn Friedrich Jun 13 at 10:39
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Liebe is a strong feeling in German and so is the action lieben. Much of German speakers' impression of U.S. Americans being superficial comes from their excessive use of to love.

McDonald's had no scruple translating their catch phrase in verbatim.

I'm lovin it. — Ich liebe es.

Only an U.S. company can get away with that. Don't try it at home.


Instead of lieben, German speakers prefer other verbs for non-passionate love, most common are mögen and gefallen.

Ich mag die neue Wohnung.

Puzzling, if you want to say you like the old flat better, it's:

Aber ich mag die alte Wohnung lieber. (not besser!)

Lieber as an adjective in comparative is common for some odd reason. It's still some affection you signal in regards to the old flat. Its cozyness, being your home for years. Something like that.

With inanimate stuff, German speakers prefer gefallen:

Mir gefällt unsere jetzige Wohnung besser. (not lieber!)

Our current flat appeals better to me.

Unsere jetzige Wohnung is the subject, which gives mir an appeal. Mir is ich in dative case because ich becomes the receiver of something – the appeal.

  • 4
    Actually, there was a slogan in the 68er student's protests movement which went something similar as Wie kann ich noch sagen: "Ich liebe Dich!", seitdem ich weiß "Autos lieben Shell!"? – jonathan.scholbach Jun 11 at 20:16
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    Edeka behauptet, Lebensmittel zu lieben. – user unknown Jun 11 at 21:33
  • Die behaupten auch, Papis seien doof. Werbeagentur Alt und matt oder so … – Janka Jun 11 at 21:50
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Both verbs have in common that they are used to express positive emotions.

However "gefallen" refers in general more to properties or outcomes of an event. Here you use it to express something that has happened has fullfilled your expectations.

For example:

Mir gefällt es zu studieren.

I like to study. Here you would mean that the study program (or studying itself) fullfiled your expectations and you don't regret it.

You can see that in the other answers as well, almost all citations with "gefallen" refer to something new or old.

Also it is almost always used to describe emotions for things.

Mir gefällt dein Haustier.

I like your pet.

This would sound a bit distant, here we would at least say Ich mag dein Haustier.

As already said "lieben" is used to show a strong feeling of true and deep love (Ich liebe meinen Bruder). It is almost exclusively used for people or at least pets (hence something that is or was alive).

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