Degrees of Friendship and Relationships in German

Relationships In German E1404894949183

Degrees of Friendship and Relationships in German

Because of Switzerland’s strict immigration laws it used to be when you asked non-Swiss why they were in Switzerland the answer would usually be one of two things: 1. work, 2. love. With the Schengen-Dublin agreement that changed and more people came because they could and many found work and love when they got here. The referendum results from February 9, 2014 might however soon be changing Switzerland back to the way it was before. That will be unfortunate. All of the politics aside though, let’s look at reason 2 though – love in German. Like love in any language it’s never as simple as one wishes. Here are some ways of expressing love in German.

If you’ve spent anytime in the German speaking world you’e probably realised that calling someone a friend (Freund / Freundin) is a big deal. This title isn’t given out easily. The best analogy for German in terms of relationships is that its a scale language. You start on one end of the scale and move up.

Your path to friendship with a German-speaker:

If we look at it, a path to friendship might follow this:


Of course in Switzerland the words Kollege and Kollegin are often used interchangeably with Kumpel and sometimes even where you might call someone a friend (ein Freund von mir). The word Kumpel comes from men working in the mines. Also note that Kollege can also be used as a slang to have the same meaning as homie / gangsta. Mädel is a word that girls use and translates to “girl”. Often they’ll speak about their “Mädels”.  This is no doubt not an exhaustive list, but just meant to give you a basic understanding of some terms.

Your path to marrying a German-speaker:

A path to your spouse (Ehegatte) might look like this:


Note here that Freund or Freundin alone are often understood as meaning boyfriend/girlfriend as in someone you’re in a relationship with. You can really emphasize this by using the word fest. If you want to avoid confusion and they are “just” friends then say Freund/Freundin von mir.

Expressing degrees of likability and love:

When it comes to talking about your emotional relationship to someone the scale might look like this:

lieb haben vs. lieben

Much English ink has been spilled by people trying to assess if “Ich habe dich lieb.” is equal to “Ich liebe dich.” In general it’s not the same. Ich liebe dich means I love you and is as big of a deal to hear in German as it is in English. Ich habe dich lieb means something like I’m fond of you. As the scale shows Ich habe dich lieb is usually used by people before they commit to Ich liebe dich. Don’t worry if you hear them in that order. However, if you have heard Ich liebe Dich and all of a sudden that turns to Ich habe dich lieb, you might start to worry as it sounds like that person is cooling off and might be trying to send you signals. That said, obviously you’ll want to talk about it before jumping to conclusions.

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Terminology review:

Sido – Liebe:

What would a post about love and relationships be without at least one song about love. Here is the German rapper Sido singing about Liebe.

A modern love story:

Here’s a fun and interactive little project from the Goethe Institut about love. Two men, one woman – the stereotypical situation.

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  1. al Pal P09-30-2014

    small correction – in the “terminology review” slide sequence, ‘der Verlobter’ is translated as ‘the fiNancé’ and pronounced (presumably by an automatic voice mechanism) to mean somebody from the finance profession. Of course, it should be translated as ‘the fiancé’ and pronounced accordingly.

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