Word of the day – “Liebling”

Hello everyone, heart

and welcome to our German word of today. This time we will have a look at the meaning of the word:

(der) Liebling – (pron.: leab-ling) 

Now you might say: “Yeah I know where that comes from – love!” And of course die Liebe and Liebling have the same origin and stem – lieb.
Lieb can mean different things between the poles dear, nice and well-behaved.

  • Liebe Maria, heute bin ich in Berlin angekommen…
  • Keine Angst, keine Angst! Der tut nichts… der ist ganz lieb.

The first sentence could be used to start a letter with while the second one is something you are told by an old lady when one of those little dogs barks at you as if you just took away its bone. You have to be careful though because lieb does not apply to things the way dear or nice do. If your room looks lieb, it looks like the room of a person who is not going to harm anyone and if a good beer is lieb to you, it means that it treats you nicely and makes all your worries disappear but it does not mean that the beer is dear to you. So its better to use it only for living things for now.

But back to our actual word of the day Liebling. The two best translations in my opinion are darling and sweetheart. You can use it for your dog but it is also used by lovers of all ages. Of course there are many words lovers call one another. The animal kingdom provides dozens of possibilities like Hase, Maus ,  Schnecke oder Bär. The most common one, according to the German Wikipedia, is Schatz. Schatz literally means treasure so it is not a bad choice but the pronunciation really might bring it down because it sounds like… shots or shuts.
Now imagine yourself on a couch in a candle-lit room sipping red wine and you break the silence with “SHOTS!”. A soft “Liebling” with an optional sexy tongue flap for the ‘l’-sounds might be more appropriate :) .

Now if you have had a look at the Wikipedia-list of the most common words of endearment in German you might say “So why do we have to learn Liebling? It barely made it onto the list…”.
The answer is the second meaning of Liebling. If you are not quite ready to say ‘darling’ to your crush as you are only on your first date, Liebling still is a very handy word to know as it also means favorite. Just put a little ‘s’ at the end and then add whatever noun you want and you can start to exhaustively interrogate your love interest about his or her likings.

  • Was ist dein Lieblingsfilm?
  • Was ist dein Lieblingslied? (song)
  • Was ist dein Lieblingsessen? (food)
  • Was ist deine Lieblingsfarbe? (color)
  • Was ist deine Lieblingspferderasse? (horse breed)

Note that Lieblings alone doesn’t work. So if you want to say something like :

  •  “Oh my god, they have Tastybeer ™ here??? That is my favorite!!!”

you will need to say beer again:

  • Oh Gott, die haben Tastybier™ hier??? Das ist mein LieblingsBIER!

To wrap this up here is that little bit of grammar you have all been waiting for.
The plural of Liebling is Lieblinge. You don’t have to add extra letters except for case 3 plural where you will have to add an ‘n’. It just never gets old.

Hope you enjoyed the word of the day and see you next time.

Just in case you ended up here doing a Google search for “Leibling” … if this is really the word you are looking for… it is NOT a German word. If you have seen it somewhere it must be a typo.

21 responses to “Word of the day – “Liebling”

  1. by any chance “-ling” it’s a diminutive suffix like in english? or one that softens things? in english there are wolfling, sweetling, fosterling, lordling, nestling, seedling …


    • Hmmm… I’d actually say no. I think it used to be diminutive but at least the way I perceive it it doesn’t make things particularly small or cute. It just makes other words into people. The only other example I could think of right away was “Lehrling” which is “apprentice”. But I figured there’d be more so I looked at dict.cc… here’s the link


      There are a few others for persons like Neuling or Schreiberling (which both carry a slightly negative connotation) but I think 99 % of this list is made up of names of plants (mainly small ones) and bugs. So I think the diminutive heritage shows there but -ling is not really productive anymore. So it doesn’t work that well to make up new words like Malerling (painterling)… I guess it is the same in English after all :D


  2. thanks a lot! yeah, it is not productive any longer but the resemblance seemed interesting to me so I had to ask :D


  3. Very well explained and interesting. I had sort of figured out the “liebling- ” usage, but this essay put it all into perfect place for me! Thanks!
    By the way, referring to Alina’s comment on -ling being a diminutive in English, those words in that list may be found in obscure poetry (and do exist in dictionaries), but I have never heard the words “lordling” or “sweetling” or “nestling” etc., spoken, or seen them written, in my life, ever… The only word from that list that has some currency in regular English is “seedling” but this is not a diminutive of the word “seed”. A seedling is a small plant, grown from a seed, that is now ready to be transplanted into a garden or into nature to grow on its own. So, just to set the record straight, adding -ling to words in English would sound awkward and most people would probably not have a clue what they mean. Just my 2 cents ;-)


    • That’s good to know. I like to play around a lot with language even if I only have a few rules and sometimes I do something that totally doesn’t work. And then there’s this awkward phase of me explaining that I was trying to make a joke and the other person trying to explain what I did wrong. :D

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alex is right (although “lordling” is familiar from somewhere). “Seedling” is the only normal word Alina listed. I was surprised, actually, that she didn’t mention probably the most common English “-ling” that would occur to me: “weakling.”

        There is definitely sort of a smallness vibe to “-ling,” though… a seedling is sort of a baby plant, and a weakling sounds like someone small as well as weak, at least to me.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Actually there are quite a few -ling words and they do imply something small and defenceless
          Duckling = a young and small duck
          suckling = a young animal, usually a piglet but actually anything that is still on the teat
          Hatchling = a newly hatched bird,
          fledgeling = a young bird before it has adult plummage
          Fosterling, foundling, helpless child without adults
          Hireling = somone at the lowest rung of the job market, willing to do anything for money
          Earthling = an inhabitant of planet earth, a weak creature according to a powerful alien (allegedly)
          Codling = a young cod
          Gosling = a young goose
          I could go on.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Looking at a couple of online dictionary resources, I guess “-ling” is taken to be a diminutive suffix. But in a lot of the cases you list, it’s really a matter of overlap between “-ling” as a way to turn a verb into a description of a person/animal and the diminutive sense:
            – suckling = animal that still suckles
            – hatchling = animal that has hatched
            – fledgling = animal that has fledged (this is apparently an actual verb)
            – foundling = person (OK, it always refers to a child) who has been found (I guess “fosterling” is a thing, but I’ve never heard it in the US)
            – hireling = person who has been hired

            “Hireling” doesn’t have the connotation to me that you list, at least in terms of “willing to do anything for money” – it just means a hired worker rather than a career professional. I think it does have a bit of a “bottom of the totem pole” sound (or possibly “new guy”), but again, that’s also a function of the fact of just having been hired.

            But “duckling,” “gosling,” and “earthling” are pretty clear diminutives, so I don’t want to be too contrary about it.

            I have never in all my years heard of a “codling.” :)


          • Maybe the term “diminutive” just is a bit off and the “-ling” is just a suffix carrying the meaning “young one of a kin”, which is occasionally broadened to mean “one of that kind”.
            Either way…. your discussion made me think of a German ling-word which is especially common in the “veganosphere”

            – Bratling
            – patty)

            I have never ever though about or realized how odd a word that is. There are all kinds of Bratlinge (Gemüsebratling, Grünkernbratling, Blumenkohlbratling…) but as far as I can think it’s the only “ling” based on a verb.
            “Fry-ling”… :D


  4. Isn’t the German suffix -chen a better equivalent for the English -ling, or at least a diminutive; as in Hundchen, Kätzchen, or Meerschweinchen?


    • I think “-chen” is much more common than “-ling” and at least based on the discussion in the comments I assume that “-ling” isn’t just making things small and cute. You can add “-chen” to any noun pretty much and be understood. That’s not possible for “-ling”

      – Fahrädchen … sounds silly but every one understands “small cute bike”
      – bikeling … to me it sounds more like a person who has some strong tie with a bike.

      I feel like “-ling” has a notion of life in it that “-chen” lacks.


      • Right. That’s what I meant to say. The English “-ling” might not have the diminutive qualities that some have suggested, but the German “-chen” certainly does.


  5. I think we (ok, maybe I) sometimes use -ling in English conversation to mean ‘a type of X’ or ‘an X thingy’, as in ‘it is not a full X but a sort of X’ or ‘an almost X’. Just a complete aside :)


  6. Aus dem Wikipedia Artikel: »Zehn Prozent der Deutschen werden bei der Wahl des Kosenamens noch kreativer und setzen auf Eigenkreationen, wie “Hexe”, “Töffel” oder “Dickerchen”.«
    hehe. Hexe, ehrlich?
    Vermute es gar nicht so schlecht ist, wir haben auch Dickerchen/”fatty” auf Englisch (jedenfalls für Babys).


    • Also “Hexe” kommt mir extrem unkosenamig vor. Ich kann mir das nur als Scherz vorstellen. Und vielleicht eher für die eigenen Kinder als für den Partner. Für Kinder gibt es viel mehr Möglichkeiten und da ist auch viel mehr “erlaubt”. Ich würde meine Freundin zum Beispiel eher nicht “Dickerchen” nennen, es sei denn, ich suche Streit :).
      “Töffel” hab’ ich noch nie gehört, aber da gibt es sicher regional tausend milliarden Varianten. Oder “Töffel” ist so eine Idee von so Helikopter-Eltern, die ihr Kind im frühkindlichen Stadium schonmal auf die Toeffl-Prüfung einstellen wollen :D


  7. Glad I found this blog! I am trying to learn German, and looking for great resources. Ich liebe die Idee von einem Wort des Tages!


  8. How common is “Favorit” in place of Lieblingsthing? Could I use Favorit if I wanted to get around having to repeat myself? For example, if I want to say, “Of the six band members, Paul is my favorite.”
    “Von den 6 Bandmitglieder, ist Paul mein Lieblingsbandmitglied.” (seems redundant)
    “Von den 6 Bandmitglieder, ist Paul mein Favorit.” (seems less redundant)
    Or would it be better just to rephrase: “Paul ist mein Lieblingsbandmitglied, aus den 6.”
    Please advise and, if you don’t mind, please correct my very guessy grammar. Thanks in advance!

    Of the six band members, Paul is my favorite.


    • Good question. “Favorit” doesn’t exactly have the same vibe. At least for me, it sounds like there’s some sort of competition going on. And that doesn’t always work well with emotional statements.

      – Der Song ist meine Favorit.

      This sounds like the song is in some competition and you think it’ll win. It doesn’t sound much like liking. At least not nearly as much as “Lieblingssong”
      You’re right about the redundancy though. It can be weird. One (possibly colloquial) option would be to skip the first instance

      – Von den 6 ist Paul mein Lieblingsbandmitglied.

      Turning it around (as you suggested) is better German, for sure.

      – Paul ist mein Lieblingsbandmitglied von den 6.


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