The Differences Between Mögen, Möchten, Wollen: Conjugation, Meaning, & Usage

    Frustrated Student: What is the deal with “mögen”, “möchten” and “wollen”? “Mögen” means “to like”, but there is also “gern haben”, which means “to like”. There is also “wollen”, which means to want and this word, I see all of the time called “möchten”, but for some reason can’t find in my dictionary. It seems to mean the same as “wollen”. So what is the difference? What are “mögen”, “möchten”, and “wollen”? How do I use them? I just don’t get it. 

    Herr Antrim: I got you, bro. Sit back and relax. I’ll explain what “mögen”, “möchten”, and “wollen” are, how to conjugate them, the differences between them and how to use them. 

    If you would like a worksheet and answer key to go with this lesson about mögen, möchten and wollen, click here to download your copy.

    Meaning of mögen, möchten and wollen

    First of all, let’s get the easy stuff out of the way. “mögen” means “to like”. “möchten” is technically a form of “mögen”, which I’ll explain in more detail in a bit. The important part is that it means “would like”. “wollen” means “to want”. Let’s see how they look in sentences and follow the change in meaning. 

    Wir mögen Pizza.
    We like pizza.

    Wir möchten Pizza.
    We would like pizza.

    Wir wollen Pizza.
    We want pizza.

    Beginner German with Herr Antrim

    The outlier here is “mögen”, as it doesn’t mean anything close to the other two. It simply shows that we like pizza. Both the second and third sentence are essentially the same as each other, but “möchten” is considered more polite than “wollen”, just as “would like” is more polite than “want” in English. 

    Whiny Antrim: Mutti! Ich will Schokolade.
    Mommy! I want chocolate. 

    Proper Antrim: Liebe Mutter, ich möchte Schokolade.
    Mother dear, I would like chocolate. 

    Conjugation of mögen

    Since “mögen” is the odd man out, let’s take a deeper look at it before we move on to the other two. Let’s get the conjugation out of the way, so you know why it looks the way it does in my example sentences here in a bit. 

    ich mag – I like 
    du magst – you like 
    er, sie, es mag – he, she, it mag 
    wir mögen – we like 
    ihr mögt – you like 
    sie, Sie mögen – they, you like 

    Only the singular forms (ich, du, er, sie, and es) have the stem change. This is standard across all modal verbs, also known as modal auxiliaries. You may be familiar with “dürfen” changing to “darf”. It is the same reasoning. Because that’s how it works with these verbs. 

    mögen vs gern haben

    As I alluded to in the intro, “mögen” means “to like” and when you use “gern” in a sentence, it changes it to mean you like doing whatever the verb is in the sentence. If you use it with “haben”, it simply means you like whatever the object of the sentence is. This, of course, means that you can often interchange “mögen” and “gern haben”. For example:

    Ich mag Züge.
    I like trains. 

    Ich habe Züge gern.
    I like trains.

    Er mag deine Schwester.
    He likes your sister. 

    Er hat deine Schwester gern.
    He likes your sister.

    When to use gern and when to use mögen

    To me, the main difference is that “gern haben” has a bit more warmth to it, but also sounds more childish. In the end, the meaning in each of the previous examples is pretty much the same. When you can’t switch them out, or at least it is less common to do so, is when you have another verb involved. If you like swimming, for example. 

    Ich schwimme gern.
    I like swimming. 

    Ich mag es zu schwimmen.
    I like swimming.

    Notice how the second sentence feels a bit clunky? This is the main reason why most people avoid using “mögen” with another verb. Also, it is often translated as “may” when simply used with an infinitive instead of the “zu” construction that I used in my previous example. 

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    Ich mag schwimmen.
    I may swim. (I might swim.)

    To be safe, if you like a thing, person, place, or otherwise just a noun, you can use “mögen” or “gern haben” interchangeably and it is more common to use “mögen” in those instances. If you like an action, i.e. another verb, you are safer using that verb with “gern” instead of “mögen”. 

    mögen vs möchten

    I mentioned earlier that “möchten” is a version of “mögen”. If you haven’t seen my video about the Konjunktiv 2, you may not know that “möchten” is simply the Konjunktiv 2 version of “mögen”. This changes the verb from “to like” to “would like”. This originally was used for expressing that something contrary to reality, you know, the only purpose of using the Konjunktiv 2. Nowadays, however, it is used for making polite requests and most people don’t realize or care that “möchten” is the Konjuktiv 2 of “mögen”. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter in order for you to be able to use it properly. 

    Sarcastic Antrim: Then why even bother bringing it up? Is this just another opportunity for you to try and prove that you are smarter than me? 

    Actually, I bring it up, so you know why the conjugation is a bit different than the other modal verbs and why you might have trouble finding “möchten” in your grammar book or in Duden. The forms are the same as the Präteritum forms of “mögen”, but with umlauts. You know, the way you form the Konjunktiv 2 of things.

    Conjugation of möchten

    So the conjugation of “möchten” or “mögen” in Konjunktiv 2 is: 

    ich möchte – I would like 
    du möchtest – you would like
    er, sie, es möchte – he, she, it would like 
    wir möchten – we would like 
    ihr möchtet – you would like 
    sie, Sie möchten – they, you would like 

    How to use möchten

    Unlike the normal forms of “mögen”, you can and often will use “möchten” with another verb. When you do this, you will put the other verb at the end of the sentence or clause in the infinitive form.

    Möchtet ihr Beispiele sehen?
    Would you like to see some examples?

    Dann möchte ich euch ein paar zeigen.
    Yes? Then I would like to show you a few. 

    Möchtest du am Samstag mit mir ins Kino gehen?
    Would you like to go to the movie theater with me on Saturday? 

    Nein. Das möchte ich nicht.
    No. I would not like that. 

    Möchtest du mit mir essen gehen?
    Would you like to go out to eat with me? 

    Nein. Das möchte ich nicht.
    No. I would not like that. 

    Möchtest du, dass ich jetzt weggehe?
    Would you like me to go away now? 

    Ja. Das möchte ich.
    Yes. I would like that. 

    Beginner German with Herr Antrim

    Conjugation of wollen

    “wollen” is used basically the same as “möchten”, but it is a bit less polite. If you walk up to your mom and say “Ich will einen Keks.” (I want a cookie.) let’s face it, you aren’t getting a cookie. If you say, “Ich möchte einen Keks.” (I would like a cookie.) she might be more apt to give you one.

    You can use “wollen” with a direct object without an extra verb, as I just did or you can use it with another verb, which again will be moved to the end of the sentence or clause as an infinitive. In order to use it at all, however, you will need to conjugate it, which is as follows: 

    ich will – I want 
    ich will, dass ihr mir vertraut – I want you to trust me
    (Ich will) ich will, dass ihr mir glaubt – (I want) I want you to believe me
    (Ich will) ich will eure Blicke spüren – (I want) I want to feel your views
    (Ich will) jeden Herzschlag kontrollieren – (I want) to control every heartbeat

    The Real Conjugation of wollen

    Sorry. It is a bit of a requirement that when you hear “ich will” you automatically start singing Rammstein. Seriously the conjugation of “wollen” goes like this: 

    ich will – I want 
    du willst – you want 
    er, sie, es will – he, she, it wants 
    wir wollen – we want 
    ihr wollt – you want 
    sie, Sie wollen – they, you want 

    How to use wollen

    Example Time! 

    Ich will nach Hause gehen.
    I want to go home. 

    Dann geh einfach nach Hause. Ich will dich nicht mehr jammern hören.
    Then go home. I don’t want to hear you whining anymore.

    Das wollen wir auch.
    We want that, too. 

    Wollt ihr, dass ich nach Hause gehe?
    Do you all want me to go home? 

    Nein. Wir wollen dich nicht mehr sehen oder hören. Wenn du zu Hause bist, wird unser Traum wahr.
    No. We don’t want to see you or hear you anymore. If you are at home, our dream will become reality. 

    mögen, möchten and wollen: 3 Minuten Deutsch

    Conjugation of mögen, möchten and wollen: 3 Minuten Deutsch

    German Modal Verbs Conjugation: mögen, möchten & wollen
    Conjugation of mögen, möchten & wollen

    mögen vs gern haben: 3 Minuten Deutsch

    “Mögen” is generally used as a stand alone verb. It is essentially the same thing as the combination of “haben” and “gern”. That means there are two ways to say that you like something (there is also a third one, but we will save “gefallen” for another time). Compare the two versions of each of the following sentences.

    gern haben vs mögen
    gern haben vs mögen

    wollen vs möchten: 3 Minuten Deutsch

    “Möchten” is technically the subjunctive form of “mögen”. You often use the subjunctive to express hypothetical situations and polite forms. In this instance we use it to indicate the polite form “would like”. “Wollen” means “to want”. As in English, “to want” and “would like” are both very similar. English speakers consider “would like” to be more polite in English and German speakers consider “möchten” to be more polite than “wollen”. Let’s take a look at a few more examples to illustrate the point.

    wollen vs möchten
    wollen vs möchten

    Don’t forget that if you use another verb with a German modal verb, the meaning verb goes to the end of the sentence as an infinitive. This is the form you will find in the dictionary or the form with an -en at the end of the verb.

    Need More Help?

    Alright, alright. Leave the boy alone. Do you understand the difference between “mögen”, “möchten” and “wollen”? You should be able to conjugate them and use them in sentences now. If you want, you can find worksheets and other things to go along with this lesson here. Das ist alles für heute. Danke fürs Zuschauen. Tschüss. 

    Herr Antrim

    Herr Antrim is a German teacher with over 10 years of teaching experience. In 2011 he started his successful YouTube Channel "Learn German with Herr Antrim". In 2015 he created this website to enhance the German language lessons he was providing on YouTube. He is now the author of his own e-book, "Beginner German with Herr Antrim". He has also been featured on numerous blogs and other sites.