German phrase of the day: Hab’ dich lieb

Waiting for a declaration of love from your German partner? You may hear a different phrase at least in the initial stages of your relationship. Here's what you need to know.

German phrase of the day: Hab' dich lieb
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Perhaps you’re met a gorgeous and kind German and you’ve started a relationship. Now you’re waiting for those special three words from your significant other. But it’s very possible that you’ll hear another phrase first before the more profound: Ich liebe dich (I love you). 

We’re talking about the phrase: Ich hab’ dich lieb, which can imply you love someone or like someone a lot, you’re very fond of them or you hold them very dearly. 

It’s a bit confusing, though, because this phrase doesn’t have a direct English translation. In English there is a clear difference between I like you and I love you.

READ ALSO: 10 beautiful ways to express your love in German

In German it’s more blurred. Ich hab’ dich lieb means more than like. It’s a common way to express love for your partner. If it’s the beginning of a partnership, the statement can also be used as a cautious approach. Note that hab‘ is shortened from habe, showing it is an informal way of communicating. 

Ich liebe dich is seen as that bit more formal and official in Germany – perhaps it’s one to use slightly further down the line with your significant other (but of course every couple is different).

Even Germans get confused about its meaning, as this article by Women’s Health analysing what a man means when he says: ich hab’ dich lieb’ shows. 

“For some, ‘ich hab’ dich lieb’ is the little sister of ‘Ich liebe dich’, or a kind of precursor,” says the article. “For others, both mean exactly the same thing.”

A love heart with the words: Ich hab' dich lieb in a shop window in Dortmund.

A love heart with the words: Ich hab’ dich lieb in a shop window in Dortmund. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Ina Fassbender

“If you know the person who says this to you, then you should know roughly what he means,” says the magazine, further showing the ambiguity of these four little words.

“If you don’t know him well enough to know that yet, then maybe it’s a little too early for the big word ‘love’ and you should practice a little patience.

“The fact that he says that is at least a sign that he finds you more than just likeable. However, if you have the feeling that he is avoiding a deeper commitment by saying “ich liebe dich”, you should be careful.”

It’s not only romantic relationships that you’ll find the sweet phrase. 

Among friends and family, hab’ dich lieb also expresses close attachment and can be used in a platonic or family love way. 

It can also be used in an abbreviated form (hdl) in texts to express love/closeness to someone.

Use it like this:

Ich hab dich lieb!

I am so fond of you/I’m super into you/ I love ya!

Ich dich auch!

Me too! 

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German word of the day: Isso

Perhaps you've seen this word on social media and you're not sure what it means. Let us explain...

German word of the day: Isso

Why do I need to know isso?

Because it’s a nice colloquial expression to use if you’re feeling a little lazy since it combines a few words. It was also one of Germany’s favourite youth words back in 2016, although it’s definitely not particularly cool anymore and is used by all ages

What does it mean?

Isso is derived from the statement: ist so (short for es ist so) meaning ‘it’s like this’ or ‘it is so’ in English. When used as a response to someone’s statement, it usually means you completely agree. A good translation is: ‘right on!’, yes, that’s exactly right!’ or ‘it’s true!’.

You can also use the expression yourself to emphasise your thought. In this case you’d add it on at the end of your sentence. You often find isso used on Twitter, when someone is quoting a Tweet.

It can also be used in a more downbeat form accompanied by the shrugging of your shoulders. In this case you’re saying isso, because it can’t be helped, it’s the way it is. 

Use it like this: 

– Wir müssen gegen steigende Mietpreise in Berlin demonstrieren.

– Isso! 

– We have to protest against rising rents in Berlin. 

– That’s exactly right!

Frauen sind die besten Autofahrer, isso!

Women are the best drivers, it’s true.