One of the first things we want to learn when discovering a new language is how to say I love you, whether for romantic reasons or intellectual curiosity. Whatever the language or culture, Love is an important matter. You might know many translations of I love you, but expressing love is more complicated than translating a few words. Culture and language subtleties have their role to play.
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I love you can have a different meaning depending on the culture, the tone you use, the people involved, the relationship between them. In some cultures, saying I love you has a more substantial meaning than in others. Americans are known to say I love you quite widely to their lovers, family, and friends. On the contrary, in Japan or China, people tend to use the equivalent of I like you to express their affection and keep the stronger I love you for lovers only. In China, saying Wǒ ài nǐ is such a strong sentiment that it's kept for very intimate moments and not commonly used, even among families.
In English, I love you is used to express many different feelings that go from hobbies interest to adoration. In other languages, there can be multiple ways to say I love you, according to the context.
In Spain, for example, there are two ways of saying I love you. Te amo, from the verb Amar is often used for romantic and deep love. From the verb Querer, Te Quiero is widely used for romantic love, friendship, family, or hobbies.
In some countries, you might not even use the words I love you to express Love. Sweet names play that same role. For example, in Japan, lovers can call each other Dārin ダーリン (darling) or Suītohāto スイートハート (sweetheart) instead of saying I love you. Here is an illustrated guide to terms of endearment in different languages.
You could also say I love you… by saying nothing at all. Body language is a real thing in many cultures. You can express feelings for someone just by the way you look at them or touch them. Sometimes, the stronger feelings are left unsaid, but it doesn't mean they are not expressed. In some cultures, showing your Love by actions has more value than words. The 5 Love Languages online quiz, based on a book by Gary Chapman, shows us that there are 5 ways for people to express their love for someone: quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, physical touch, or acts of service.
Wǒ ài nǐ is only used for long-term relationships and deep love. It’s not commonly used and has a strong meaning. Some other ways to express love in mandarin are Wǒ xǐhuan nǐ – 我喜欢你 (I like you/I fancy you) or wǒ huì yīzhí péizhe nǐ – 我会一直陪着你 (I will always stay with you), the latter being used by parents to their children.
520 is a slang Chinese word to express love digitally. In mandarin, 520 – wǔ èr líng sounds like Wǒ ài nǐ. The date May 20th (5.20) came to be associated with this word and is now a romantic day.
In Spanish, Te amo is used for lovers, while Te quiero is preferred for family and friends. Te amo comes from the verb Amar, which is a poetic word from the Latin word Amāre.
Who doesn’t know the very romantic Je t’aime?
French people use Je t’aime for romantic love or for deep relationships like family or strong friendships. Most people don’t say Je t’aime that often, as it’s seen as a sign of vulnerability. French people will prefer to say Je t’aime bien, which could be translated as I like you when starting dating or for new friendships, and Je t’adore for friends you like very much, or siblings.
You can say J’adore (I love) when talking about things you love, like food or movies, but never say Je t’adore or Je t’aime bien to a lover, unless you want to end things. This means that you are not in love. If you want to make sure you express strong romantic feelings, say Je suis amoureux(se) de toi (I’m in love with you).
You can drop the eu and say Te amo. In Portugal, Amo-te can be used as well, while in Brazil, people would almost never use it, unless in formal writing.
If you wish to reply I love you too to your Portuguese lover, you can use Te amo tambem, or Eu tambem. Use Te amo muitíssimo (I love you very much) to sound more intense.
Spanish and Portuguese have common roots, as well as Italian. Amor means Love in Portuguese and Spanish, that’s why you can say Te amo in both languages.
There are many ways to say I love you in Japanese. Love can be translated into two words, and these are 愛 (ai) or 恋 (koi). The first one refers to romantic love when the latter describes the feeling of being in love.
Japanese are known to suppress emotional feelings, and therefore it’s not common for them to be direct by saying I love you. Japanese culture is much more subtle and indirect than Western Culture.
Ai shiteru (I love you deeply) is very rarely said aloud, and definitely not on a regular basis. This is the strongest version of the English I love you. Suki da – 好きだ (I like you) or daisuki da – 大好きだ (I really like you) are more commonly used.
Pyaar is one of the many words to translate Love in the Hindi language, and the most popular.
The Russian language is rich to express love and romantic feelings. You have grades in the expression of love, and must use them at the right moment in the relationship. If you say I love you - ya lyublyu tebya too soon, you might not be taken seriously.
Ya vlyublen (for a male speaker) and Ya vlyublena (for a female speaker) are literally translated as: I am in love [with you]. But this is not as strong as Love, it expresses the feeling of being enamored of someone.
You can also simply say tomake to a girlfriend/boyfriend, friend or family member. For a long-term relationship, you can say toke, as it’s more informal.
In Arabic, expressions of love are widely used, with anyone, sometimes strangers. It’s all about the tone. In modern standard Arabic, the most common way to say I love you is أحبك – Uhibbuk(if you’re addressing a male) or أحبكِ– uhibbuki (addressing a woman).
Ich liebe dich literally translates to I love you in German, but this sentence is reserved for romantic feelings, and usually for someone you are very intimate with.
For friends and family you could say the less intense phrase 좋아해 - joahae (I like you), or 많이 좋아해 - mani joahae (I like you a lot).
Koreans have a hierarchy system for talking to each other. They will talk differently to one another depending on the age difference. The titles 오빠 – oppa or “누나 – nuna must be used when referring to someone older than you. They are a sign of respect and are also used in romantic sentences. For example, if you are a woman and want to say I love you to your older boyfriend, you can say oppa saranghaeyo - 오빠 사랑해요. If you are a man and expressing your love to your older girlfriend, you’ll say nuna saranghaeyo – 누나 사랑해요.
Ti amo is one of the most famous romantic sentences in the world. You can find it in many songs and movies.
However, there are different types of love you might want to express in Italian, and Ti amo only refers to a love that implies romantic or sexual feelings. It comes from the verb Amore, and you wouldn’t use it with someone else than your partner unless you’re being sarcastic.
For the kind of love you feel for relatives, close friends, or anyone important in your life, you would say Ti voglio bene.
Ancient Greek has defined six different concepts for Love. Agápe is brotherly love, charity, God's love, love for God, or the kind of love you feel for your spouse. Éros means sexual passion when Philia refers to friendship or family love.
Saying I love you in Swahili is very simple, as it requires only one word, nakupenda. You can also say ninakupenda.
This sentence is the best to show your affection for your loved one, but it’s also used by parents to their children.
Unlike English, there are many ways to say the word love in the Urdu language, that translate the different stages of love. If you are falling for someone, you could say to them main tumhara dewana hoon, which means I've got a crush on you.
If you are a man, you can say ผมรักคุณ (pŏm rák kun). If you are a woman, you say ฉันรักคุณ (chăn rák kun).
Some languages are richer than others when talking about feelings. In Tamil, there are more than 50 words that mean Love!
The most common word used for the love between man and woman is kātal (காதல்), but it is also used for the feeling of human to God.
The word uruku (உருகு) describes the feeling of melting inside due to love, while endearing love and friendship love is called vēḷ (வேள்).
There are 8 ways to say I Love You in Hebrew. It all depends on the gender of the speaker and the listener, and the number of people involved.
For romantic love: Ani ohev otah’ is used for a male talking to a female and Ani ohevet ot’h’a for a female talking to a male.
In Turkish, Aşk is used to express romantic, erotic-type feelings (that would feel for your lover), and Sevgi, where the seni seviyorum (I love you) comes from, is love you feel for a friend or a family member.
In Sign language, I love you is a combination of the letters I, L, and Y. To sign it, put up your thumb, index, and pinkie fingers while putting your ring and middle fingers down. Here is a video to learn how to sign I love you.
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Linguist @ Lingidy