How to say “I love you” in German

Do you know the feeling of having butterflies in your tummy and that your legs turn to jelly? Well, most probably this is a sign that you have fallen in love with someone! Since there are so many different forms and levels of love or being in love, it is sometimes difficult enough to express your feelings in your mother tongue. But how to say “I love you” or “I have a crush on you” in German? Depending on how deep you are in, there are many different ways to express yourself appropriately (or inappropriately) in such a case.

How to say “I like you” in German

The early stage

Love and all related feelings evolve step by step. Luckily, the German language offers you the opportunity to express all different levels according to your emotional budget/level and thus, to get straight to the point. The following expressions can be used for the very beginning.

Du gefällst mir

This one can be used when you feel attracted to someone – be it in terms of behaviour or simply of biological nature. It is a very general expression and can be translated as “I like you”. That is why you usually add a sentence which is more precise. For example: “Du gefällst mir. Ich mag deine Art, zu reden.” (… I like the way you talk.) or “Du gefällst mir. Ich mag deine Augen.” (… I like your eyes.) It is perfect for those of you who definitely cannot hold back with their feelings but do not want to make a clear statement about further steps with regards to the future this is the right choice. 

Ich steh’ auf Dich

The meaning of “Ich steh auf dich” is close to “Du gefällst mir” but it’s a bit more daring as it goes clearly in the direction of “I’d love to be closer to you”. On top of that it sounds more cool and means more or less “I’m into you”.  At this stage everything is still open and it is not decided yet if this is the beginning of a serious relationship or not.

Ich find’ dich knorke / Ich find dich dufte

If you find yourself a Berlin lover impress him by saying “Ich find’ dich dufte” or “Ick find’ disch knorke” (that’s the infamous Berlin dialect). “Dufte” is a famous Berlin casual word for “very good/ great”.  While “dufte” might remind you of “duften” i.e. to have a lovely scent, “dufte” has nothing to do with smell of any kind.

Like many other words in the Berlin dialect (called Berlinerisch in German) it is derived from  Yiddish; from the words “tow” and “toffte” which both mean “good”. The origin and actual meaning of “knorke” is not known. Apparently the word arrived in Berlin around 1916 and has since been used as it is today. It simply means “great” or “fantastic”.

How to say “I’m in love with you” in German 

The middle stage

Once you cannot think of anything else other than your object of desire and you have the world famous goose bombs (goose skin in German: Gänsehaut, f) it seems like you have a crush on someone.

Ich bin verknallt in dich 

The reflexive verb “sich verknallen” is related to the German noun “Knall, m” which means “bang”. A bang is short and loud and so might be your feelings in this phase. When you are “verknallt” in someone you cannot hide your feelings anymore and you might do stupid things as well. But in contrast to being in love with someone this is just a very intense and short-termmatter. Funny enough, there is the German colloquial expression “einen Knall haben” which can be translated with “to be crazy”. According to the DWDS (Digitales Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache) the meaning derives probably from a cannon shot near to the head, which led to dizziness. Having this in mind, “verknallt sein” describes very well the state of mind of the speaker.

Ich bin verliebt in dich

Your crush on someone is ongoing and your emotions have turned into deep feelings? Things are (quite) clear for you and you are ready for the next step? Then it is time to say “Ich bin verliebt in dich” (which means “I’m in love with you”). 

Ich bin bis über beide Ohren verliebt (in dich)

If “Ich bin verliebt in dich” sounds too simple to you and you would like to express even more emotions, this (cheesy) expression can be used. Literally it means “I am until over both ears in love (with you)”. The English equivalent is “I am head over heels in love”.

How to say “I love you” in German

The final stage

After a certain period of time in which you have gone through all the emotional stages described above, you are now aware of your feelings and it seems like you are in a serious relationship. That is if the target of your emotions felt the same way, of course. 

Ich liebe dich

“Ich liebe Dich” is the classic way to say “I love you” in German. Even though it is considered to be the most appropriate phrase for serious long-term relationships, a survey in 2017 revealed that German lovers do not wait for too long to say “Ich liebe Dich”. According to the survey 20% of the respondents have already dropped the “I-love-you-bomb” after the first week! By the way, 2% of the people asked said they have never loved anyone.

Du bist die Liebe meines Lebens

If you are tired of always saying “Ich liebe dich” to your partner and you would like to emphasize that this is the most beautiful and special relationship you have ever had you could use this phrase which means “You are the love of my life”. The depth and seriousness of this statement does not need not be explained. For those of you who are more careful with such statements can save this sentence for the wedding.

Du bist mein Ein und Alles

This phrase means “You are my (one and) everything”. Like “Du bist die Liebe meines Lebens” it is a serious thing to say and might cause some pressure for some people. However, it is also used by parents to express their love towards their children.

Ich hab’ dich lieb

Since this phrase is also used for family and friends, “Ich hab’ dich lieb” (which can be seen as a casual “Love you” or “I’m fond of you”) should not be used during the early days when you are smitten by someone. In this case better go for “Ich mag dich” (I like you).

Also, if you say “Ich liebe dich” to the other and they respond with “Ich hab dich lieb”, things are not really in balance yet. There is a huge gap between the meaning of these two expressions.

German nicknames – Kosenamen

Closely connected with being in love is the use of nicknames. There are many ways in German to give your partner and even your friends and family a nickname. A nickname is usually used in a broader sense than a German Kosename. E.g. you wouldn’t really use a Kosename for your friends. That’d rather be a Spitzname (also translated as nickname). 

kosen” is related to speaking eloquently and eventually saying things in a tender manner. “Spitz” in “Spitzname” though is less tender. It usually means that a certain feature of a person is being emphasized or even exaggerated. E.g. a friend of mine loves those new e-scooters and since I notice that affinity, I call him Scooter. 

While giving a friend a Spitzname (those are always given to you by the way, never chosen) is usually done with a well meant attitude, giving non-friends such a name is offensive and rude. On reddit e.g. people with a certain attitude or demeanour are often called “boomer” which is not done in order to be nice.

Or in other words, the use of nicknames can be viewed from two sides. In a relationship the nickname is the expression of a very special connection. Some others wish to get a nickname from friends or colleagues. They want to belong to a group and to be liked. A nickname can show “you are one of us”. Others just hope for a nickname because they are unhappy with their own name. On the other hand, there are many who want to get rid of their nickname. Just remember unflattering nicknames from your school days! 

However, nicknames enrich everyday life and relationships of all kinds!

German nicknames for lovers

Taking a closer look at German nicknames, one will notice that the German love of animals seems to be the inspiration of many such names. Listening to German lovers sometimes might evoke the impression of being in a pet shop or in the zoo. “Ich liebe Dich, Schnecke” says he and she replies “Ich liebe Dich auch, mein Bärchen”. I found a translation for “Kosename” though that makes me think whether in English this is a thing as well. Google said that “Kosename” can also be translated as “pet name”. Coincidence?

Schnecke, f (snail)

This German nickname is only used for women. It might be difficult to understand why of all things “Schnecke” is used as a nickname. Snails are sticky, slow and can at best be described as sweet, but certainly not as beautiful. That is why caution is advised when using it because some women do not react positively to this nickname. 

Maus, f (mouse)

Same as for the nickname “Schnecke” you might find it weird to call your beloved one “Maus”. Mice are for sure cute – but rather from far away if you ask me. No one would like to have a mouse in their apartment and for many people mice cause disgust and sometimes even panic. Nevertheless, German men like to call their wives “Maus”, “Mausi” or “Mäuschen”. The latter expression is also often used for children. Same like “Mäusezahn” which literally means “mouse tooth” and the funny not real existing “Mäusebär” (imagine what a crossover of mice and a bear would look like!).

Hase, m / Hasi, n / Häschen, n (bunny)

Finally, here is a cute animal! Rabbits are small, have big eyes, are fluffy and they tend to trigger positive feelings. “Hase” or the diminutive form “Häschen” is rather used for women and children than for men. 

However, according to some psychologists the nickname “Hase” has a erotic or sensual connotation. You might have a different opinion but just think of the famous “Playboy bunny”!

Bärchen, n (little bear)

This diminutive form of “Bär” (“bear”) is one of the most common German male nicknames. A woman who calls her husband “Bärchen” probably loves the clumsy and cosy things about him. For example a belly which is perfect for cuddling. At the same time the bear stands for strength and protection.

Spatz/ Spatzi, m (sparrow)

The nickname “Spatz” (‘sparrow’) is used for both women and men. You will also hear “Spatzi” (little sparrow) or the dialect form “Spatzl”. 

Täubchen, n (little dove)

The diminutive form of “Taube” (‘dove or pigeon’) is used for women only. Same as for the word “Schnecke”, it seems a little surprising to call your girlfriend like that but who understands the thinking of men anyhow, right?

Other German nicknames

If you are not the animal kind of person, just go for the following German nicknames.

Puppakin, n

This is a Berlin nickname which is hardly used anymore. “Puppakin” probably derives from the word “Puppe” which means “doll” which in its diminutive form turns into “Püppchen”.

Schatz/ Schatzi/ Schatzilein/ Schätzchen (treasure)

“Schatz”, “Schatzi” or even “Schatzilein” (which is a double diminutive form) and “Schätzchen” is the stock and standard of German nicknames. Literally it means “treasure” and is the equivalent of saying “sweetheart” or “sweetie pie” in English.

Süße oder Süßer

This nickname has a slightly coquettish undertone in German and means “sweety”. “Süße” is used for women; “Süßer” for men. It can also be used for close (!) friends.

Schnucki/ Schnuckiputz/ Schnuckelchen (little goat)

A “Schnucke” is a north German sheep breed. “Schnuckelchen” or “Schnucki”, is the diminutive form and therefore means “little goat”. There also exists the German adjective “schnuckelig” which means “cute, small, pretty” and “lovable’. The extension to “Schnuckiputz” is a fantasy word and makes no sense in this composition. But there’s no need to hold back when it comes to expressing your feelings 😉

Baby/ Babe

Influenced by English, (mainly younger) people now also use this term very often. You won’t need a translation right?

Liebling, m

This is also one of the classic nicknames and means “darling” which probably derives from “dear”. “dear” is related to “teuer” i.e. expensive in German. So what is expensive is probably dear to you. 

Mutti/ Vati (mummy, daddy)

Couples who have been married for a long time and usually also have children use this nickname. Why is that? Because “Mutti” is a colloquial word for “Mutter” (mother) and “Vati” for “father” (Vater). Hence, couples which are freshly in love do not use these names at all! And if you ask me, this is rather a disturbing way of expressing your love, although it might be what their relationship is all about. But that’s up for their psycho analyst to figure out. By the way: a common and rather derogatory nickname for Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is “Mutti” which is referring to the “title” “Mutter der Nation” (mother of the nation). Don’t get fooled: That’s never meant non-ironically in this context.

Muschi, f

This very old fashioned nickname means “pussy”. It is mainly used by elderly men and emancipated women do not react positively at all when being called “Muschi”. However, it is also a common nickname for a cat.

In the early 2000s, the famous Bavarian CSU politician Edmund Stoiber revealed in a press interview that he calls his wife “Muschi”. The reaction was a lot of mockery and numerous articles in the media. Even today he is still associated with this nickname and his wife has been called in the media “Muschi” ever since. (Her first name by the way is “Karin”.)

Stoiber is also a bit of an unvoluntary comedian. His sentence structure in public speeches resembles that of Donal Trump. Here’s an example in which he tries to explain the benefits of having a maglev train called “Transrapid” between the Munich airport and the inner city of Munich. Don’t expect to understand much though. 

But enough about politics. There are many more German nicknames. The above mentioned ones are the most common ones. In case you cannot get enough of German nicknames here are some more.

Engel/ Engelchen – “angel”

Schöne / Schöner – “beauty”

Mein Ein und Alles – “my everything”

Mein Held / Meine Heldin – “heroe”

Göttin – “goddess”

Elfe / Fee / Zauberfee – “elf”/ “fairy”/ magic fairy”

Prinzessin / Prinz / Märchenprinz – “princess/ prince/ fairytale prince”

Meine Angebetete / Mein Angebeteter – 

Meine Teure / Mein Teurer – “my precious”

Meine Geliebte / Mein Geliebter – “my lover” or “my beloved (one)”

Herzblatt – “darling” (this is the German word for “inner leaf”)

Traummann / Traumfrau – “man/ women of your dreams”

Meine Königin – “queen”

Herz / Herzchen – “heart”/ “little heart”

Goldstück – “treasure” (literally it means “gold coin”)

Engel auf Erden – “angel on earth”

In summary, as you can see you have plenty of options to express your love towards your significant other. However, in Germany caution is advised when using nicknames for lovers in public. If you have an invitation for a business lunch or dinner and you are allowed to bring your partner, you should not call him or her “Spatzi” in front of others. This is considered to be inappropriate and embarrassing (for all participants) and is related to a strong desire for privacy in Germany. As already described above, some of the nicknames might reveal the balance of power in a relationship and/or provides information on the understanding of the gender roles in a relationship. 

German Nickname for friends and family

Atze, m

“Atze” is a typical nickname in Berlin. Many people use the word as a synonym for a homie. However, the word originally stands for one’s own brother. You can say “meene Atze” which can mean “my brother” or “my homie”. Once you hear “Ey Atze, vafatz da!” caution is advised. It can be translated with “Get out of my way!” and may be related to “farting”

Keule, f 

Another Berlin nickname is “Keule” which stands for “brother” or “buddy”. Like for the word “Atze”, caution is advised when using it for people you do not know very well because it sounds quite rude.

Liebe/ Lieber/ Liebes

“Hallo meine Liebe/ mein Lieber” can be used for good friends. It is not common to call an acquaintance like that. The word “Liebes” is only used for women. 

Meister, m 

This colloquial used nickname is only used for men and has a slightly derogative connotation when used outside of a professional context. “Meister” means “master craftsman” and is also a title in German for someone with a special Meister training. In Turkey, this title is used more commonly which can lead to misunderstandings if you are a Turk in Germany. 

Kollege, m

Like the latter, “Kollege” (“colleague”) is only used for your male mates. In Germany the name is mainly connected with work colleagues but can also used ironically, hence with a slightly derogative, provocative touch, for people outside of the work context.
In Switzerland it is simply a common synonym for “friend” when used outside of the work place. 

Schwesterherz/ Bruderherz, n

The relationship between siblings is unique. If you are tired of calling your siblings always by their first name you could use “Schwesterherz” for your sisters and “Bruderherz” for your brothers. Literally it means “sister/ brother heart” and can be translated with “sister/ brother dear”.

I think that’s enough for the beginning. Once you get your German citizenship, we can discuss the secret names Germans call themselves when no one is watching. 😉

Enjoy being in love and using nicknames, Ihr Keulen!

Written by Angelina

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