Ich liebe dich vs. Ich habe dich lieb

Are you confused between "ich liebe dich" and "ich habe dich lieb"? You aren't alone.

I just had a long conversation with my German husband about these expressions and I might still be a bit confused, so I'll do my best to put it into words.

Both expressions translate into into "I love you", but don't be fooled, it's not as simple as it looks. The difference between both expressions may be a bit complicated to explain.

Imagine you have a love scale for your significant other and another one for family and friends. Both of these expressions mean the top of the scale, but the audience and type of love for each is different.

We can say that "ich liebe dich" denotes a strong and more profound type of love. This is what you would say to your significant other and the list stops there. Some people would add parents/children to this list, but many others would not (my husband is one of them). When you tell a person "ich liebe dich", you are declaring your love to a person. Say this to your husband, wife, long term partner to let them know you aren't joking around, you mean business, you LOOOOOVE them! Good for you.

"Ich habe dich lieb" is what you would say to your friends, relatives, close family members or to the person you are dating. This expression won't put you in the true-love-together-forever-and-ever,-till-death-do-us-part category.


I know. So what does one say when you are dating but not in the I-Love-You phase? You can tell them "Ich mag dich" or "Ich habe dich gern". These expressions mean you like this person and have some kind of affection for them but not the I'll-love-you-forever kind.

Have you heard of any other uses or rules for these expressions? Let us know!