The first time someone asked me about the difference between “podobać się” and “lubić” I understood the curse of a native speaker teacher. Now, this was new to me because before I started teaching Polish, I taught languages I learnt myself, which made it much easier for me to explain certain concepts to others.
Unfortunately, telling someone that things should be used in a certain way because “they feel right to you” is about as useful as parents telling their children “because I said so”. Meaning: it’s not useful at all. Fortunately, I pondered this question and now I have a better answer.

Podobać Się

The idea behind podobać się is that you find that something appeals to you in some way. Here are some examples of where we’d use podobać się:

1. Podoba mi się ten mężczyzna. – “I like this man.” (I find this man appealing/attractive).

2. Podoba mi się to, co mówisz. – “I like what you’re saying.” (I find what you’re saying appealing)

3. Podoba mi się ten dom. – “I like this house.” (I find this house appealing.)

We often have a specific feature in our head, when we use this verb. For instance, in sentence number 1 the person means the man’s looks, in sentence number two content of what’s being said and in number 3 yet again the look of the house. You could also specify what exactly you like with this verb:

4. Podoba mi się głos tego mężczyzny. – “I like this man’s voice.”

5. Podoba mi się przekaz tego, co mówisz. – “I like the message of what you’re saying.”

6. Podoba mi się kolor tego domu. – “I like the color of this house.”

Lubić

Lubić is much more strongly associated with people’s feelings about something.

1. Lubię Marka. – “I like Marek.”

If you say a sentence like this it just means that you have friendly feelings about someone.

2. Nie lubię biegać. – “I don’t like running.”

3. Lubię zwierzęta. – “I like animals.”

Only lubić can be used with verbs! When you speak about our general likes it’s a more obvious choice:

4. Lubię gotować/śpiewać/czytać. – “I like cooking/singing/ reading.”

You’d also use lubić for food preferences:

5. Lubię polskie jedzenie. – “I like Polish food.”

6. Bardzo lubię sushi. – “I really like sushi.”

Battle of Verbs: Podobać Się vs Lubić

Sometimes seeing the two verbs put together is the best way to understand the difference between them:

1. Lubię Anię, ale mi się nie podoba. – “I like Ania but I don’t fancy her.”

2. Tomek lubi zwierzęta, dlatego nie podoba mu się przemysł zwierzęcy. – “Tomek likes animals, which is why he disapproves of animal husbandry.

3. Zazwyczaj nie lubię spódnic, ale ta mi się podoba. – “I don’t usually like skirts, but I like this one.”

4. Czy ci się to podoba czy nie, ja lubię tatuaże. – “Whether you like it or not, I like tattoos.”

5. Lubię biegać, ale ta trasa zupełnie mi się nie podoba. – “I like running but this trail is not my cup of tea.”

Last but not least, if used with a noun podobać się is followed by the nominative case, while lubić by the accusative case.

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