Learning how to say “I love you” in another language is not always as simple as translating the phrase and practicing its pronunciation. Like much of language learning, culture plays an immense part in knowing how to put what you’ve learned into practice. Now add in the very complex matter of love, and we’ve got a lot to navigate!
Is "love" a universal language?
In English, we use the verb love to express our fondness for practically anything. I can say that I “love” my new boots just as I can say that I “love” my mother. Though the language used here is the same, English speakers can infer that the love I have for my newly purchased footwear probably pales in comparison to the love I have for the woman who raised me. We might only have one verb for “love” in English, but we can also express intensity by playing with grammar (I’m loving my new boots!) or reducing the phrase (Love ya!). As is often the case with language, what works in English doesn’t necessarily, well, translate to other cultures.
In Spanish, there are two main ways someone might declare their love. There is “te amo,” which uses the verb “amar” which means “to love,” and there is “te quiero,” which uses the verb “querer,” which technically translates to “to want.” While “te quiero” can be used more widely, with significant others, friends, and family, “te amo” is a deeper, more intense, often romantic love, and this phrase might be saved for one’s spouse or significant other. If you’re sending out Valentine’s texts this year, instead of writing ILYSM (“I love you so much”), you might want to try tqm, which stands for “te quiero mucho.”
Now, let’s consider three kinds of love! In Japanese, a speaker might use 好き (suki) the way we use “love” in English– to describe a favorite meal, a significant other, or maybe a favorite musician. But 恋 (koi) is more strictly used for romantic relationships, and is commonly used to describe a crush or more selfish kind of love that may one day develop into 愛(ai). This more mature love, 愛(ai), is used to describe love for others, like the love one has for a significant other, friends or family.
Japanese speakers might prefer to use 好きだ (suki da) “I like you” over the more weighty 愛してる(ai shiteru). Similarly in Mandarin, some might be hesitant to declare 我爱你 (wǒ ài nǐ), or “I love you,” and find themselves more comfortable expressing love in a more reserved way with 我喜欢你 (wǒ xǐhuan nǐ), which also means “I like you.” But younger generations may feel more comfortable saying 我爱你 (wǒ ài nǐ) these days. This is a great example of how language usage changes over time!
In China, instead of presenting a loved one with a thick red envelope stuffed with cash, a tradition known as 紅包 (hóngbāo), people are now sending digitized versions of red envelopes to their loved ones. The amount of money given is often a significant number, such as 520, which has a pronunciation similar to “I love you,” in Mandarin.
Other ways to show love
But you don’t always need to say “I love you” to express your love. In Russia, parents might not say “I love you” as often as American parents might, but they show their love and affection by adding diminutives to the ending of their children’s names. So Анна (Anna) might be called Аня (Anya) by her friends, but Аннечка (Annechka) by her mother, this endearing "chka" being commonly used for small children. Spouses in Korea might not use each other’s first names but prefer the term 여보 (yeobo) which means something similar to “honey” or “darling.” And sometimes even an emoji can do. A simple ❤️ in a text can say “thinking of you!” And that is often just the thing we need.
How to say “I love you” in other languages
There are so many ways to say “I love you” this Valentine’s Day. Take a look at some common translations below!
|Language||"I love you"|
|Bengali||আমি তোমাকে ভালবাসি|
|Finnish||Minä rakastan sinua|
|German||Ich liebe dich|
|Irish||Is tú mo ghrá|
|Portuguese||Eu te amo|
|Russian||Я люблю тебя|
|Urdu||میں تم سے پیار کرتا ہوں|
|Yiddish||איך האָב דיך ליב|
Of course, there are many more ways to say “I love you.” How do you show, or tell, people that you love them?