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I don’t really understand the nuances between these two sentences:

  • Er könnte zum Friseur gehen.
  • Er mag zum Friseur gehen.

Or:

  • Er könnte Recht haben.
  • Er mag Recht haben.
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  • "mögen" transports some skepticism. I wouldn't use it without following with an "aber". – Roland Feb 22 at 12:48
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    @RolandChaumat, the verb sein is not correct where you put it, which is why I deleted it. – Björn Friedrich Feb 22 at 14:53
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Both English and German can be ambiguous with this type of thing, but I think what you're trying get at is how to express possibility as opposed to ability or permission. Perhaps the easiest solution is to use vielleicht:

Er geht vielleicht zum Friseur.
Er hat vielleicht recht.

The fact that the English and German constructions are similar can be confusing since they are sometimes ambiguous, and ambiguous in different ways. Specifically, both könnte and mag have multiple meanings and if you were going to use either then you'd have to make sure that context makes the exact meaning clear:

Er könnte zum Friseur gehen.

Might be translated as:

"Perhaps he will go to the barber."
"He would be able to go to the barber."
"He is allowed to go to the barber."

Er mag zum Friseur gehen.

Might be translated as:

"Maybe he's going to the barber"
"He likes to go to the barber."

Maybe there are other meanings as well, but that covers the ones I can think of.

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Simply adding it up, with no extra words.

Er könnte zum Friseur gehen.

Translates as:

He could go to the hairdresser. (It is one of his options)

He could go to the hairdresser. (He is in dire need of a haircut)

Er mag zum Friseur gehen.

Translates as:

He likes going to the hairdresser. (He enjoys it.)

He may go to the hairdresser, (but it won't make him any prettier.)

Er könnte Recht haben.

Translates as:

He could be right. (But then again, he could be wrong.)

He might be right. (Who knows? he might.)

Er mag Recht haben.

Translates as:

He likes being right. (Smartass) More often written like: "Er mag es recht zu haben."

He may be right. (but it won't save his day.)

So könnte goes could, whereas mag can go like or may or might, but there also is,

Er möchte Recht haben.

Which means he would like to be right.

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  • In the present context it would be very unusual to understand "er mag Recht haben" as "he wants (or likes) to be right". See context.reverso.net/%C3%BCbersetzung/deutsch-englisch/…. – Paul Frost yesterday
  • @PaulFrost It is that without context or in general in most any context, but not in every context. Germans generally loving unusual word play makes it worth mentioning. IMO – Berend yesterday
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Ich mag alt sein - auf dem Rad hänge ich Dich noch locker ab!

Das wäre ein typischer Gebrauch von mögen dieser Art. Eins zu eins übersetzten lässt sich das mit können nicht:

Ich kann alt sein - auf dem Rad hänge ich Dich noch locker ab!

Man müsste hier, um kann zu verwenden, sagen:

Es kann sein, dass ich alt bin - auf dem Rad hänge ich Dich noch locker ab!

Ein anderes Beispiel wäre:

A: Morgen wird's regnen! B: Es mag morgen regnen. Wir gehen trotzdem raus grillen!

Auch hier ist ein kann nicht deckungsgleich:

A: Morgen wird's regnen! B: Es kann morgen regnen. Wir gehen trotzdem raus grillen!

Die erste Aussage besagt, dass, egal ob es morgen regnet oder nicht - man geht raus grillen. Dass es morgen regnen wird, wird nicht explizit bestritten.

Die zweite Aussage stellt deutlicher in Frage, ob es überhaupt regnen wird. Das ist aber nur eine Nuance.

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