In my native languages (Ukrainian and Polish), there are three grades of affection with something or someone.

  • подобатись [pɔ-'dɔ-bɑ-tɪsʲ] /po-do-ba-tys/ is merely similar to German gefallen or English like, used in "I like this song" or "I liked today's game";
  • любити [lʲu-'bɪ-tɪ] /lju-by-ty/ is a stronger affection to something more abstract: "I love rock music" (compare to "this song" above) or "I love ice hockey" (compare to "game");
  • кохати [kɔ-'ɦɑ-tɪ] /ko-ha-ty/ is exceptionally used to express a sympathy to a person, like in "I love you";

It is even more complicated about affection with people. I may [verb1] some random friends, I may [verb2] my close friends (not necessarily to be lovers), and for my mate I use only [verb3].

I'm trying to be clear when I'm expressing in English of these three levels, especially the second one.
For instance, I feel embarrassed to say, "I love you", to someone who is not my mate, but "I like you" sounds not sufficient to me.
OTOH, "I love chocolate" sounds odd to me as well.

What is the rule of thumb for using like and love in the context above?


4 Answers 4


Try using using more adjectives or descriptive phrases to tell people how you feel about them or the things that you like.

As for the verbs, picking through the thesaurus on m-w.com, I've come up with only a few other common verbs:

Admire works when you admire someone for some exceptional feat or for famous people, but use admiration or admirer for the romantic kind.

Romatic: love (when it's serious), like (when it's early on), to fall for (intense passion), to have a crush on (obsession), to be interested in (curious, but not actively involved), to want (carnally and directly, as in "I want you")

Dated, archaic or regionally/socially specific: fancy, relish, revel in, savor, cherish--These are all a bit too...fancy... for my taste.

Food and philosophies You could say "that philosophy does not sit well with me" for a concept that you don't like (the philosophy in this case) or maybe "jalapeños don't agree with me" if you don't like hot peppers because they upset your stomach.

Try to find a few adjectives that work well for you with food: tasty, delicious, really good, fantastic, excellent.

Sports With sports, try using adjectives to describe how you felt when it comes to specific experiences:

I had a lot of fun today
That was the best game ever!
It was a pretty exciting tournament.

Friends, family and lovers I usually avoid saying "I love you" to friends unless it is a pretty emotional moment, but that's often gender-specific or even gender role specific. "I love you guys" can help to keep the statement sounding masculine for me, but "you guys" doesn't get used everywhere as an informal plural of you and the ladies might get offended depending on where you are, so you could substitute some adjectives as interjections or employ them with other cordial expressions to complement people and to convey how pleased you are with the ones that you care about:

Nice. That's awesome. You guys are great/the best! This is really amazing. Oh, you shouldn't have (as a thank you when someone goes out of the way to do something for you). You're a stand-up guy.

Like and love can be tricky when used with people because they often mean the same thing. Saying that you like someone could just be a coy way of expressing a romantic interest, but saying that you don't like someone wouldn't carry the same implications--For that "don't love" should do the trick so that you don't run the risk of implying that really you mean hate (or more commonly, "not in love with"). With things in the equation instead of people, saying something like "I don't love chocolate" could be more humorous than meaningful.

With family, I'd avoid using love with the in-laws and might scale back a little on some of the more informal ways of expressing that I hold them in high regard, depending on the situation. Otherwise, tell your family that you love them.


I don't know about a rule of thumb, but I think the object of the affection helps determine what verb to use. For example:

  • For events or activities (such as games or music), you can use "enjoy" or "really enjoy".

  • For most any food, "love" is OK because we know you are talking about food.

  • After the object, you can also add words like "a lot" as in "I like you a lot" that kicks it up a notch. Or "a little" or "somewhat" to kick it down a notch.

I think that with people there are many levels of formality that also need to be considered. Like, or love may not be the best choices, as they are too generally used. Probably a more specific synonym would be more expressive of your true feelings.

  • 2
    I would interpret "I like you a lot" as something you say to someone you're romantically interested in and "I like you a little" as something you say to someone you actively dislike. (The latter sounds like an insult to me.)
    – user230
    Feb 15, 2013 at 0:06
  • "A lot," "a little" and "somewhat" work much better with things than with people and even better as single word responses or with pronouns that stand in for the things: Habaneros? I like them a little, but I really like jalapeños. With people, try reserving "somewhat" for talking about people behind their backs.
    – Adam
    Feb 15, 2013 at 16:53

You can love any thing. It's rather demeaning to a very powerful word imho, but that's the way it's used.

  • I love my computer (motorbike, sleep, neighbourhood)
  • I love the weather (latest fashion, internet)
  • I love chocolate (snowboarding, rock'n'roll, Star Wars)

In this sense, it is stronger than like, but not necessarily by much. You could use 'like' and variations (I really like, I like <thing> a lot) in all of the above instances without much difficulty.

You can love people when the stronger meaning of the emotion is being used. Unconditional and all encompassing are a couple of adjectives you can throw in to clarify this meaning. Family and intimate relations are the most obvious examples of the people that one generally loves.

  • I love you
  • I love Heathcliff (Catherine)
  • I love my children (parents, brothers and sisters)

You don't generally use like in these instances*. This can get confusing when dealing with people either as things or in an abstract sense (sports teams, music groups, girls in short skirts, guys with cute butts). You can love all of those in the strongly like 'thing' sense.

Love can be used with things (non-people) to convey a fuller emotion:

  • I love my country
  • I love democracy
  • I love freedom (as in speech:-)

Though this is not the same as love of family or romatic love, it is a lot stronger than the common usage of love for things. Hence my problem with that usage as it means this use doesn't always carry the weight it should.

*: Except perhaps to distinguish between different nuances of the two emotions when both are at play, e.g., "I love you as my son, but I also like you as a person" where love is the unconditional parent-child relationship type, and like is in the sense of 'to admire' or 'being impressed by' or "I love my brother, but don't expect me to like him".


There is a word "fancy" which can be used to address things you like such as ice hockey. You could up the scale by saying that you fancy something a lot.

I fancy ice hockey a lot!

Also, if you possibly could be specific, there's no reason to not be.

Chocolate is yummy.

The above sentence automatically explains your liking towards chocolate. I guess "love" is fine, but if you are a writer, you can use the word affection. Of course that word can never be a substitution for I love you, but it is a close one. It also explains that you are talking about a person most of the time.

I am affectionate towards Mother.

Otherwise, you could use the words "like" and "love" (affection) as they already are.

  • 2
    Fancy sounds strange in American English.
    – user230
    Feb 14, 2013 at 22:02
  • Yummy can be a fun word, but I expect it more from children than adults.
    – Adam
    Feb 15, 2013 at 16:55
  • I don't think 'fancy' is a good fit here. In BrE, 'I fancy ice hockey a lot' would be just about an appropriate answer to 'Do you want to go skiing, or to watch the ice hockey?' But it would sound strange if it were used to mean 'I like ice hockey'. Again, in BrE, it can be used to mean sexual attraction as in 'I like her a lot, but I don't fancy her' - though this perhaps sounds a bit dated now.
    – peterG
    Jan 12, 2015 at 1:22

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