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Gern in German — Complete Guide to Liking and Not liking

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I recently came across the particle gern (sometimes written gerne) and thought… what does that mean? How do you use it? I figured it out, and so this is my guide to using gern in German for anyone else searching.

When trying to say you like something in German (or don’t like it), it’s very tempting for the English speaker to use the verb mögen.

I.e.

  • I like it –> Ich mag es.
  • I don’t like it –> Ich mag es nicht.

These are 100% correct and natural.

Nice and easy, right? It is, until you start seeing example sentences (like I have, using Glossika) with this weird particle “gern”. Or sometimes “gerne” (see below in the FAQ).

There are some times when using the verb mögen is fine, and sometimes when using gern is more natural. This is my guide to using gern in German.

gern in german to like thumbs up

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Gern in German — Brief explanation

A brief explanation of gern in German is that you use it to modify verbs to say “I like” and “I don’t like”.

You use gern to express things we’d express in English as:

  • I like… (doing, running, eating)
  • I don’t like… (playing, talking, dating)
  • I would like…
  • I wouldn’t like…

You use gern to modify both verbs only. So you use it to say “I like running”; but you don’t say use it to say “I like apples”. You can use gern to say “I like eating apples”, though.

Gern vs Mögen — When to use which

The easiest way to figure out whether to use gern or to use mögen is to get a feel for them by example sentences.

There are various way sof saying the below phrases in English. It often comes down to what you’re trying to emphasise.

But in the pursuit of learning 80/20, the below are the most common ways to express these sentences (saying “I like” or “I don’t like” in German).

EnglishGerman
I like apples.Ich mag Äpfel.
I like eating apples every day.Ich esse gern Äpfel jeden tag.
I don’t like sausages.Ich mag keine Würste.
I don’t like eating sausages in the morning.Ich esse morgens nicht gern Würste.
I like to eat early.Ich esse gerne etwas früh.
I don’t like to eat so late.Ich esse nicht gern so spät.
Using gern and mögen in German to say “I like”

Those are example sentences of where to use mögen and gern. Seeing those will raise other questions — like “where does gern go in the sentences??” — see the FAQ section later.

More Gern Example sentences

The easiest way to understand gern is through example sentences.

Go through the following sentences and

GermanEnglish
Ich mache gern SportI like doing sports/exercise.
Ich spiele gern Musik.I like to play music.
Er hört gern Musik.He likes to listen to music.
Ich hör gern nicht Musik, weil ich Musik gern spiele.I don’t like listening to music, because I like playing music.
Ich lese gern, ich laufe gern, und ich schwimme gern.
(C.f. Ich mag Lesen, Laufen, und Schwimmen, which is shorter)
I like reading, running, and swimming.
Ich esse Gemüse gern.I like eating vegetables.
Ich esse nicht gern GemüseI don’t like eating vegetables.
… weil ich Gemüse nicht gern esse.… because I don’t like eating vegetables.
Ich trinke Wein gernI like drinking wine.
Ich wogne gern in Paris.I like living in Paris.
Er arbeitet gern hier.She likes working here.
Ich habe nicht gern in Amerika gelebt.I didn’t like living in America.
Ich lebe nicht gern in der Innenstadt.I don’t like living in the inner city.

I pick these up using Glossika. I quite like the self-taught Socratic approach of learning a sentence and going “what the hell is that word” and doing analysis.

Gern in German — Complete Guide to Liking and Not liking 1

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Gern vs Lieber — Liking vs Preferring

The German adverb lieber (not to be confused with the verb for “to love”, lieben) is how you say something more.

The tendency when translating from English is to search for a verb for “to prefer”. It’s natural… there are verbs like “to prefer” in many languages!

But you actually use lieber.

EnglishGerman
I like to get up very early.Ich stehe sehr gern früh auf.
My girlfriend prefers to sleep in.Meine Freundin schläft lieber aus.
My girlfriend likes to take photos.Meine Freundin macht gern Fotos.
I prefer to write articles.Ich schreibe lieber Artikel.
I prefer to not eat meat.Ich esse lieber kein Fleisch.
My girlfriend prefers not to eat sweet things.Meine Freundin isst lieber keine süßen Sachen.
Gern vs Lieber in German

Understanding gern in German — A FAQ

As I tried to figure out how to use gern, I did some research on some common questions about how to use gern, where it goes, and so on.

Here’s what you need to know.

  • What’s the difference between gerne and gern in German? Answer: They’re the same thing. Gern and gerne are variants on the same word — they’re not modifications by case or gender. They’re listed under the same entry in dictionaries (e.g. if you search for gerne in Wordreference, you get the entry for gern.
  • Is gern a verb? No. Gern is an adverb. It modifies verbs. Also, gern is not an adjective.
  • How do you say you prefer something (like something more)? You don’t use a verb in German to say you prefer something. You use lieber, which is the comparative form of gern.
  • Where do you put gern in a sentence? The adverb gern modifies the thing that comes immediately after it.

Have a look above at the example sentences of where to put gern. For example, ich esse morgens nicht gern Würste emphasise that in the morning, you don’t like eating sausages. So what do you like eating?

The difference between emphasising sausages and morning is subtle and perhaps trivial (so I don’t dwell on it). It might be more important in other situations — if you have a question, send it out.

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