9

When they tell a waiter what food they'd like, why do Germans say "Ich möchte _" even though that translates as "I want _". Saying you want something sounds demanding in English. "I like" would be softer, but "Ich mag" seems inappropriate here for some reason.

And how does "Ich möchte" (I want) compare to "Ich mag" (I like) in terms of strength/demanding, proper situations for verb usage?

6
  • 14
    "I like to have" ist die passende Übersetzung. Es gibt häufig Übersetzungen, wo je nach Situation die eine Formulierung passt oder die andere, und äquivalente Ausdrücke der einen Sprache sind nicht äquivalent in der anderen. "I want cake" würde ich ins Deutsche mit "Ich will Kuchen" übersetzen, nicht mit "Ich möchte Kuchen". Mit anderen Sprachen ist das genauso. Oct 3, 2021 at 16:15
  • 4
    It's different in different languages. In Spanish, you say ''Dame una cerveza, por favor'' (literally, ''give me a beer please). ''Me gustaría una cerveza'' would sound very unnatural and stilted.
    – Tom
    Oct 4, 2021 at 0:33
  • 11
    Historically, ich möchte is past subjunctive of mögen, hence literally I'd like.
    – David Vogt
    Oct 4, 2021 at 6:22
  • 14
    The premise of this question is wrong, as mögen = to like and wollen = to want. Oct 4, 2021 at 6:56
  • 2
    @userunknown Jetzt aber ich doch glatt versehentlich deinen Kommentar mit einem Upvote versehen, weil ich ihn sehr treffend finde. Aber eigentlich sollte das eine Antwort sein. :/
    – Olafant
    Oct 4, 2021 at 11:11

4 Answers 4

59

"Ich möchte" doesn't really correspond to "I want", but more to something like "I would like...". "I want" would be more something like "ich will", and that would actually be too demanding in a restaurant situation in my opinion.

Using "ich möchte" in a situation like that may be on the more demanding side of things, but is still completely fine in my opinion. Possible alternatives are "ich hätte gerne" ("I would like to have"), "ich nehme" ("I'll take") or just your order followed by "bitte" ("please"):

Ich möchte ein Stück Kuchen.

Ich hätte gerne ein Stück Kuchen.

Ich nehme ein Stück Kuchen.

Ein Stück Kuchen, bitte.

If you consider "ich möchte" to be too demanding, you can also "soften" it with a "bitte":

Ich möchte ein Stück Kuchen, bitte.

Same for "ich nehme":

Ich nehme ein Stück Kuchen, bitte.

"Ich mag", by the way, isn't commonly used to order something, but more to express preference or fondness.

Ich mag Kuchen. Ich möchte ein Stück Kuchen.

I like cake. I would like a piece of cake.

11
  • 16
    Spot on, +1. Add to that a bit of cultural difference that Germans tend to be to-the-point and not beating around the bush, "ich möchte" is totally acceptable. Oct 3, 2021 at 15:37
  • 8
    möchte is actually cognate to English "may", so it's pretty soft in the demand spectrum. Oct 4, 2021 at 0:07
  • 8
    @RossPresser It may be helpful, though, to note that "möchten" and "may" don't have the same meaning. "Möchten" refers to the will, the want, the desire that someone has: "Ich möchte dieses Buch kaufen", "I'd like to buy this book". On the other hand, "may" is more about permission, which would put it in the vincinity of the German "dürfen": "Darf ich mir dieses Buch leihen?", "May I borrow this book?" And I wouldn't consider it that soft in the spectrum, because it kind of thrusts the speaker's will on the listener. But that would be a discussion of finer graduation. Oct 4, 2021 at 8:36
  • 1
    to be honest, you'd usually always add bitte so even "Ich will die Pasta bitte" doesnt sound rude or too demanding. Its a bad style, sure, but I doubt this will be frowned upon.
    – Alex
    Oct 4, 2021 at 9:13
  • 1
    @cruthers “Darf ich ein Stück Kuchen haben?” is definitely possible, in fact a very polite phrasing. In a restaurant/bakery this would be almost a bit under-assertive – if they have cake then surely they'd allow you to buy a piece! Where the question form is of course the way to go is when you really do ask whether it's possible, like “haben sie heute Steinbutt da?” And if you ask for something to drink in a non-restaurant setting then “kann ich ein Glas Wasser haben?” would be the most usual way. Oct 6, 2021 at 18:18
11

"Ich möchte" is perceived as a more polite form of "ich will", so translating both to "I want" will lose important nuance and arguably be wrong.

Grammatically, "ich möchte" is Konjunktiv II of "ich mag", as you can see by checking a suitable dictionary. (Even though I think that it is mostly perceived as a form of the non-existent verb "möchten", we may witness the development of a defective verb here.) So it does indeed directly correspond to "I would like".

9

"Ich möchte" does not translate as "I want". It means that you have a wish, not a demand. To a waiter you would typically say "Ich möchte bitte das Steak" which is a bit more polite than "Ich möchte das Steak".

Already young children are taught the distinction between "ich möchte" and "ich will". Parents usually correct them when they say "ich will ein Eis" - they have to learn to say "ich möchte bitte ein Eis".

2
  • 4
    Already young children are taught the distinction between "ich möchte" and "ich will". Indeed. I remember the phrase "Wer will, wer will, der kriegt was auf die Brill[e]" in response to children saying "ich will". Oct 4, 2021 at 11:20
  • While I fully agree with the distinction and training, I'm still baffled about some (Ober)bavarian experiences: people at the baker shop rather say "Ich bekomme ein Brot" instead of "Ich möchte ein Brot". Oct 4, 2021 at 11:37
-2

The problem here is, that many Germans don't even realise it, when they sound a little demanding. Subtlety is not a German virtue. ;-) Though Germany is a big country and it may vary by region. To be on the safe side you can use "Ich möchte gern ..." for "I would like ...". You can also add a "Bitte" as the cherry on the top. I wonder if being polite is being perceived as being weak by some Germans.

(These are my 5 pennies of wisdom. Btw. I consider myself as a German.)

2
  • Many people even order their food saying Ich bekomme. Oct 5, 2021 at 20:56
  • 1
    -1 because your answer confuses literal meaning and pragmatic meaning, and because it doesn't really acknowledge how politeness actually works.
    – Schmuddi
    Oct 6, 2021 at 17:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.