How to Say ‘I Love You’ in Three Languages (Without Messing It Up)

How to Say ‘I Love You’ in Three Languages (Without Messing It Up)

How to Say ‘I Love You’ in Three Languages (Without Messing It Up)

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Hands up if you have any friends with a different native language from you.

Hands up if you’ve ever tried to show them affection in their language, accidentally used the wrong verb and ended up causing an awkward mess.

Yep, thought so. I mean, who hasn’t been there, right? Off the top of my head, I can think of at least four men I have accidentally confessed attraction, arousal or full-blown love for, simply because I was still finding my way around their foreign tongues (‘tongues’ as in ‘languages’, of course! What did you think I meant?!)

In English, telling someone how you feel about them can be an ambiguous affair: do you just like them or do you like them like them? So how about trying out a different language this Valentine’s Day? This chart will help you say how you feel without inadvertently confessing infatuation for your colleagues, hitting on your family members or dunking your fiancé in the friendzone.

How to say I Love You in French, Spanish and Italian

Je t’aime bien (lit. ‘I like you a lot’) = ‘I like you’
Je t’aime
 (lit. ‘I like you’) = ‘I love you’
Je te veux (lit. ‘I want you’) = ‘I want you’

In general, the French word aimer translates literally as ‘to like’, not ‘to love’ (for example, ‘I like beer’ is J’aime la bière, while if you LOVE beer you’d say J’ADORE la bière). However, when referring to people, using adore sounds a bit like saying ‘I adore you’ in English: means the same, but it’s a more unusual way to express it than a simple je t’aime. Reminding your partner that you ‘like’ them might sound like damning with faint praise, but in French, that’s the standard verb used for loved ones (family included, by the way). By the same token, this expression can only express love, not friendship: beware of telling your buddies that you aime them, or awkwardness is bound to ensue. That is to say, you can still use the same verb, but you have to say Je t’aime BIEN (‘I like you A LOT’), as a paradoxical way of ‘toning down’ the meaning. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but that’s language for you!

Te quiero mucho (lit. ‘I want you a lot’) = ‘I like you’
Te quiero (lit. ‘I want you’) = ‘I love you’
Te deseo (lit. ‘I desire you’) = ‘I want you’

You can see the same thing happening with Spanish: Te quiero mucho (literally ‘I like you a lot’) is actually a less powerful declaration than Te quiero. But there’s an added confusion here, which is that the verb querer literally means ‘to want’ (quiero una cerveza = I want a beer). However, saying te quiero is nothing like saying ‘I want you’ in English. While ‘I want you’ expresses lust, and has nothing to do with affection, respect, or liking the person’s personality, te quiero expresses a deep fondness and love, and not necessarily sexual desire (for example, you can say it to your parents, brothers and sisters, as well as your partner). If you do want to express your lust for someone, you would have to say you desire them: te deseo.

Ti voglio bene (lit. ‘I want you a lot’) = ‘I like you’
Ti amo (lit. ‘I love you’) = ‘I’m in love with you’
Ti voglio (lit. ‘I want you’) = ‘I want you’

Volere is the Italian equivalent of the Spanish querer, or ‘to want’ (voglio una birra). In this case, the literal translation of ti voglio does express the same lust as ‘I want you’; unless, again, you add bene (‘a lot’) as a sort of back-to-front diminutive. As for ti amo, it’s mostly a direct translation; however, unlike I love you and te quiero in Spanish, ti amo can’t be used for family members, so the practical meaning is really closer to ‘I’m in love with you’.

Phew! Not so simple, is it? If you answered ‘No’ to the question at the top of this post, by now you should have an idea of how tricky it is to get through a semester abroad without falling into at least one of the many traps and pitfalls we call ‘languages’. And if you answered ‘Yes’, hopefully this made you feel a little less embarrassed about all the sweet (or perhaps not-so-sweet) nothings you accidentally whispered to strange middle-aged Costa Rican men on long-haul buses… Or maybe that’s just me.

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