When Should I Say Möchte, Würde or Hätte?
The English sentence “I’d like some tea” can be translated into German in three different ways:
1. Ich möchte etwas Tee. (I want something tea – I want some tea, please.)
2. Ich würde gern etwas Tee haben. (I would like something tea have – I would like some tea, please.)
3. Ich hätte gern etwas Tee. (I would-have like something tea – I would like some tea, please.)
These sentences essentially all mean the same – somebody would love some tea and is asking for it. The difference between the three ways to say it – the difference between “möchte” (1), “würde” (2) and “hätte” (3) – is the following:
1. “Möchte” – in English, this translates into “want”. You’d use this to say that you want something when you’re among friends that you know well or if you don’t care to be extremely polite in a given situation. For example, if asked, “Do you want tea or coffee?” – “Möchtest du Tee oder Kaffee?” (“Want you tea or coffee?” informal), you could reply “Ich möchte Tee.” (I want tea). Or, to give another example, if you’re at McDonald’s ordering a Big Mac, you could say “Ich möchte einen Big Mac, bitte” (I want a Big Mac, please) without being impolite at all.
2. “Würde” – this translates into “would like”. Just as in English, this is a more polite way to express the same idea. If, for example, asked whether you’d like anything to drink, your reply would usually be, “Ich würde gern eine Cola haben” (I would like a coke have – I’d like to have a coke). Just as a side note: würde + infinitive is the very common, very easy way to form the subjunctive in German. Thus, would drink = würde trinken, would sing = würde singen, etc.
To give another example of when to use “würde” (or, to be exact, “würde…haben”), if in a nice restaurant asked for your order, the situation would be as follows:
Waiter: “Bitte schön?” (Please beautiful – How may I help you?)
Guest: “Ich würde gern die Suppe haben” (I would like the soup have .- I would like to have the soup”)
3. “Hätte” – sounds weird but is true: This is exactly the same as number 2. It is another very polite way to express a desire, and its meaning is exactly the same as “würde…haben”. That’s because there are two ways to form the subjunctive in German: You can either take the simple route and use “würde” + infinitive, or you can learn the irregular forms of the verbs in subjunctive. For die hard grammar lovers, here’s an excellent explanation with lots of examples:
There are no preferences and the meaning is the same. In writing, however, this form is preferred.
To return to our examples from number two: In reply to the question whether you’d like anything to drink, you may as well answer, “Ich hätte gern eine Cola”. (I would-have like a coke – I would like a coke.)
In the nice restaurant situation, the conversation may as well be:
Waiter: : “Bitte schön?” (Please beautiful – How may I help you?)
Guest: “Ich hätte gern die Suppe” (I would-have like the soup – I would like to have the soup.)
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