Many people wonder about the difference between the German verb forms mögen and möchten.
First of all, you need to know that there is no German infinitive *möchten.
I’m aware that there are some websites where you can find the expression “the verb möchten” but this information is wrong.
Möchten is a verb from derived from the modal verb mögen, namely the Konjunktiv II, but used with present meaning.
Difference in meaning between mögen and möchten
The modal verb in its infinitive form mögen generally means “to like” and this is the meaning you express if you conjugate it with a -g- in its root (mag).
However, the conjugation with -chte (möchte) means “to want/would like”.
Thus, there are two ways of conjugating the German modal verb mögen as you can see in the following table:
|Modal verb infinitive mögen|
|Meaning →||to like something/somebody||want/would like something|
How is it possible for one verb to have 2 conjugations with different meanings?
The explanation is similar in English: “liking something” doesn’t mean you “want” it.
But used with the modal verb “would” (corresponding to Konjunktiv II in German), i.e. saying “you would like something”, this is a polite way to express that you want something.
For the grammarians interested: In order to obtain the Konjunktiv II of the irregular verbs, in German we use the Präteritum (simple past) root plus umlaut dots on the root vowel and an -e at the end (if there isn’t one already):
mögen (Infinitiv) → ich mochte (Präteritum) → ich möchte (Konjunktiv II)
to like (infinitive) → I liked (simple past) → I would like
The last important thing you must know is that the conjugation with -g- (mag/mög-) normally is combined with a noun while the conjugation with -cht- (möchte) can be combined both with a noun and a verb.
- Ich mag Fisch. (I like fish.)
- Ich möchte Fisch. (I would like fish.)
- Ich möchte bestellen. (I would like to order.)
- Ich möchte Fisch bestellen. (I would like to order fish.)
If you wonder how we express in German that you “like doing something”, we use the adverb gerne after the conjugated verb:
Ich esse gerne Fisch. (I like eating fish.)