«I love you!» in European Languages

Did you know that the phrase “I love you!” is more commonly used in English than “Good morning!”? (Here’s some proof!). This phrase can be used for lovers or even in platonic or family settings.


The origin of the word ‘love’ can be dated back to the Proto-Indo-European word leubh, meaning «care» or «desire». It later evolved into Latin with the word lubet, which went on further to become libet. Libet is also the father of the word libido, which is somewhat connected to love but should be more accurately related to lust. The word then spread to the Germanic language. It then steadily evolved into four forms, each taking the place of the antecedent: lubo, liube, liebe, and then lob, all of which had the modern meaning. These words eventually phased into Old English as lufu, and this word got mangled around until it became love. Many phrases were derived from love, as it was such a powerful and important word in everyday life, including lovebird, lovesick, loveseat, and making love (which originally meant the innocent act of courtship until it became a euphemism and became inappropriate). Today, etymology enthusiasts can be a little surprised that love changed little throughout the history of the words they love. But then again, love loves to love love.


Of course, every language has its own way of expressing love, and the similarities between some of the languages are quite surprising. The colouring scheme of the map is based on etymological relations between the translations of the verb “love”. Relations between other parts of the phrase are not shown on the map.


Spanish and Italian amo are usually reserved for one’s lover. In the context of friendship or family, quiero and voglio, respectively, would be used instead. Many speakers derive a similar distinction between Ukrainian кохаю (between lovers) and люблю (between any two people), but this may also depend on the dialect and the influence of Polish and Russian languages.

There are a few un­usual re­la­tions to no­tice. Most no­tably, Russ­ian ljublju, Ger­man liebe, Eng­lish love, and sim­i­lar ex­pres­sions in many other lan­guages all come from the same Proto-Indo-Eu­ro­pean root leubh (and hence share the same colour on the map).

Ital­ian voglio and sim­i­lar verbs in other Italic lan­guages quite sur­pris­ingly share a com­mon ori­gin with Croa­t­ian volim; they both come from Proto-Indo-Eu­ro­peanelh (which is also the source of the Eng­lish word “will”).

Czech miluji and myliu, and mīlu in Baltic lan­guages are likely de­rived from the same Proto-Balto-Slavic root meilos, al­though the lan­guages are ge­o­graph­i­cally sep­a­rated by Pol­ish, which is more closely re­lated to both but where a dif­fer­ent ex­pres­sion is pre­dom­i­nant (but there is a Pol­ish cog­nate miłować, which is mostly used in re­li­gious and for­mal con­texts rather than every­day speech in mod­ern Pol­ish).

Which version of «I love you» will you use this Valentine’s day? I know I will be practising the pronunciation of jag älsker dig like a maniac before the day dawns.


All credit for the map and some of the information provided here goes to Jakub Marian, who has even more interesting language maps available on his website.

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