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.)

Do You Want to Learn Conversational German?

If you are interested in this detail of German grammar you probably already speak some German and you would like to learn more.

This German learning program is very good at getting you the basics of German conversation very quickly.

  • Avatar

    I think having this explanation is tremendously helpful. I have been trying to figure it out, and been so frustrated. Thank you for providing a clear explanation….I will only use mochte when I feel the need to be bossy!

    • Avatar
      Shereen Ellinger

      This explanation is great. I have no one to speak German to as we work in English, Hence, I am backword in class as I have no practice in speaking. Any suggestions???

      • Brent Van Arsdell
        Brent Van Arsdell

        I’d spend about 80% of your time with a spaced repetition program like and about 20% of your time practicing with a German teacher. Teachers are not that helpful at drilling things into your mind, but they do a great (and usually very pleasant job) of correcting you which is very valuable.

  • Avatar

    Danke! The only drawback with the lessons so far is that it has been hard to know how to mark myself if I use “hatte” when the lesson calls for “wurde” or “mochte,” for example. But I’m going to quit worrying about it now that I’ve read this. Thanks!

  • Avatar

    Es war sehr gut!!!

  • Avatar

    So helpful….My husband is a native German speaker from Austria and I had to ask him this very question last night. I am guessing this is a question that many people have so I think it is great that you have provided an explanantion that takes the worry out of which word to use!

    • Brent Van Arsdell
      Brent Van Arsdell

      We try to help, and your encouragement helps keep us going.

  • Avatar

    thanks, this says:
    1) difference between möchte and the other.
    2) how we use würde and hätte.
    my question was:
    what is the difference between würde and hätte?
    I did not get the answer. you only said both are the same which I don’t think so.

    • Avatar

      Hamid –

      I apologize for the lack of information in the previous response. I found this response to the same question on a different site, so I will include it here with a linked reference for credit to the author (who appears to be writing a new German Grammar book):

      So… the subjunctive 2, in German jargon it is called Konditional 2, works as follows:

      First the present tense… here an example in English to clarify what we are talking about:

      – I would go, if I had time.

      So… every verb in German has its own form for it… every verb. So for every verb there is a form that means “would verb”. Here are some examples:

      – haben – hätte
      – sein – wäre
      – können – könnte
      – wissen – wüsste
      – kommen – käme
      – gehen – ginge

      This form mostly often looks like the real past form + umlaut + ending of present tense. However, for the vast majority of verbs the real past form and the conditional form look alike… just as in English by the way:

      – kaufen – kaufte…

      This could be “bought” as well as “would buy”. That is a problem because it is unclear. So German has a second way to build the conditional 2 and that way uses the helper verb werden and puts that into conditional while it takes the original verb as an infinitive:

      – kaufen – würde kaufen (would buy)
      – nehmen – würde nehmen (would take)

      This can be done for EVERY verb. Even for the ones that have a unique form for conditional of their own:

      – sein – würde sein (would be)
      – haben – würde haben (would have)

      So we have the choice between 2 ways that mean EXACTLY the same.

      – Es wäre gut,… = Es würde gut sein … = it would be good.

      The decision which one is used depend on what the majority does and it is pretty much the same pattern as for the decision whether to use the spoken past or the written past.
      For helper verb, modals and the most common normal verb, that do have a unique form (verbs like sehen, gehen, nehmen, kommen and so on) people tend to use the real conditional. But the other one, the würde-conditional is not wrong. It just sounds weird. “Es würde gut sein” sounds pretty bad, because we’re not used to it. We’re use to “Es wäre gut”. But for many verbs both versions are being used. Generally the real conditional is better style so in books you will see a lot of that, while in spoken you’ll here würde this and würde that all the time.

      And now how does it work in past tense… again an example in English so we know what we are talking about:

      – It would have been good…

      Unlike some other language, German verbs have NO own form for that… thank god. So we have to use a helper verb to get the idea across. And the helper just so happens to be the one you would use for the spoken past… haben or sein.
      So you basically build the spoken past according to the book and then you exchange the helper with its real conditional form… that is with either hätte or wäre. And that’s it. So there is NO würde in past tense conditional… theoretically we can but it sounds really bad.

      Here an example in present tense:

      – Ich esse.
      – I eat.

      – Ich äße. (real conditional…not used here)
      – I would eat.

      – Ich würde essen (würde conditional… this is what people say)

      and in past:

      – Ich aß. (real past… not used here)
      – I ate.

      – Ich habe gegessen. (spoken past… this is what people say)
      – I ate.

      – Ich hätte gegessen. (past conditional… this is what people say)
      – I would have eaten.

      – Ich würde gegessen haben (past conditional using the würde-conditional of haben… possible but noone talks like that)
      – I would have eaten.

      So the system kind of parallels the system of past tense. There are 2 version which mean the same and it is only convention which is used in spoken.
      That is it in a nutshell. Hope that helps… and if there are more questions.. just keep on asking :)

      Taken from:


  • Avatar

    I think there is mistake in OP

    -würde means : Would like to (do something)

    *Example : was würden sie gern Essen? (Essen: Eat = doing something)

    -hätte : Would like to (have something)

    *Example : ich hätte gern eine tasse Tee, bitte.
    (I would like to have a cup of tea, please)

  • Avatar

    Having lived now in Berlin for three months, I think I can give a pretty definitive answer, having listened intently in shops and eateries when locals ask for food. I can say that 90% of the time, I hear people say: ich hätte gerne…when asking for any type of food or drink. I have heard: ich würde gerne used only twice. So that’s a large majority for ‘ich hätte gerne’, at least when it comes to food and drink. I have never heard anyone say ‘ich möchte gerne’.

    Also I would have to slightly disagree with the author about ‘möchte’. I think it’s English equivalent is the polite form ‘would like’ rather than ‘want’, as it’s the conditional form of mögen. A less polite ‘I want’ would be ‘ich will’ or ‘ich mag’, which is considered a bit impolite for an adult, although children use this form, just as they do in English – ‘I want an ice-cream’, which of course, most adults would never say.

    • Avatar

      I believe the information about “möchten” equating to “want” in English is incorrect. Möchte is the more polite form of “would like”, as oppposed to wollen, which is to “want”
      Ich möchte (I would like)
      Ich will (I want)

      • Avatar

        I think you are exactly right about this error. The way this article describes ‘Ich möchte’ is what I have learned about ‘ich will’.

  • Avatar

    Thanks for the explanation!

Leave a Comment

I want to learn

Forgot your Password?
Remember Me