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: Lüften

One of the first lessons you learn when living in Germany is that airing out rooms is extremely important.

German word of the day: Lüften

Whether you sublet, rent a flat or own your home in Germany, it’s likely you’ve been told how important it is to lüften, or open your windows and let air in and out regularly. 

Lüften can be a verb or noun in Germany. As a noun it uses the ‘das’ article and stands for ventilation. The verb lüften means to air out something. It comes from the German word die Luft which means air.

The proper airing out of rooms is a very German thing. Hell, it’s a way of life. 

Just check your rent contract. Foreigners in Germany are often surprised to find that ventilating their homes is usually written into their contract and accompanied by instructions. That means it’s literally legally binding! 

There are very important rules to remember, and German even has a set of vocabulary dedicated to getting fresh air safely in and out the room. 

Words like Stoßlüften – which translates to shock or impact ventilation. This is needed at least twice a day (and more in summer) and involves opening the windows or balcony doors wide to let a ‘shock’ of cold air in. According to experts, you should do this for about five minutes a time in winter, 10-15 minutes each time in autumn and spring, and up to half an hour in summer.

Meanwhile, Querlüften or cross ventilation involves opening all the windows of a house or building and letting the fresh air flow through.

The aim of all this lüften is to stop mould from forming, get rid of smells and to stop rooms from getting too humid. The more people that live in your home, the more airing out you’ll have to do. 

Germans recommend that you turn off your heating while airing out your room (to save on money and to protect the climate) – so be sure to have a big jumper on if you’re airing out in winter. 

READ ALSO: Why Germans are obsessed with the art of airing out a room

Lüften took on a whole new meaning in the pandemic as other countries – or at least those that didn’t have the same culture for airing out – began recommending it to people as a way of helping protect against Covid-19 transmission.  

A good German habit

Lüften can quickly become a habit. Whereas before Germany, I was happy to leave a window tilted open for a while to get some fresh air, I’m now obsessed with the proper way to do it. 

I throw open the windows of my flat wide at regular intervals to get that fresh air circulating, even in the dead of winter. When I’m at home in Scotland or on holiday somewhere else, I do the same thing, which can be alarming to people who think you are trying to freeze them.

I find myself feeling pleased when the neighbours across the road from my Berlin flat open their windows or balcony doors wide. It’s like we’re all part of the secret society of fresh air.

There is nothing now that stands between me and Lüften. When I tweeted about this habit, lots of people said they felt a similar way. 

One Twitter user said: “Been telling my family this for years – as they shiver and complain about how cold it is, and my partner and I passive-aggressively follow each other around shutting and reopening windows. Makes for fun times.”

Another said: “My little sister spent an exchange year in Germany before me and when I visited was thoroughly disturbed by her obsessive window opening. A couple years later I was living in Germany and had become a convert, too.”


Hey Karl, Kannst du bitte dein Zimmer lüften?

Hey Karl, can you please air out your room?

In Deutschland muss man die Zimmer richtig lüften.

You really have to air out rooms the right way in Germany.