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In Italian, there are two phrases you say to the people for which you feel something: ti voglio bene and ti amo. The first is less strong, and it is not something that you would say to your lover; you could say it to a friend, your parents, your sons, or a sibling, but saying ti voglio bene to a lover would not be something well seen. (That would mean getting an answer like "You don't love me anymore?")

When translating those sentences with Google Translate, I get "I love you" in both the cases. So, what does "I love you" mean?

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"I love you" is usually thought of as an exchange between lovers, although parents also say it to children, and vice versa. A grandmother might use it when saying goodbye to her grandchildren. It's something you might say to anyone who you might also kiss, whether that kiss is on the lips or on the cheek.

When talking between friends, "I like you" might be a more common approximation of ti voglio bene. In many parts of the U.S., if you want to be humorous, you might say "I love you, man," in a choked up voice, something that's gained a lot of traction ever since Budweiser aired this commercial several years ago.

The word love in English carries a multitude of emotions, so it really depends on context. It's probably one of the most flexible and adaptable words in English. In addition to the affectionate and erotic feelings of love we have for a lover, we might also love algebra as a school subject; we can also love chocolate ice cream, fall weather, or our favorite sports team.

  • J.R., as far as I can tell, "love" and "adore" are, in Italian, somewhat interchangeable in some contexts. In fact one can say "I adore algebra" or "I adore you". Is it the same in the English language? Or, there is "adore" more proper in religious contexts? – user114 Aug 18 '13 at 11:51
  • [...] and I was wondering if in a declaration of strong romantic feeling, is it proper to say "I do love you!" I.e., is the verb "love" emphasizable with a do before it? – user114 Aug 18 '13 at 12:05
  • [...] in the last case, how does a person perceive that "do"? – user114 Aug 18 '13 at 12:06
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    (1) It would be very rare to hear anyone say "I adore algebra." Love in that context describes a mental fondness for, or an appreciation of, above other school subjects. (2) "I do love you" is fine; it would usually be said in reply to "You don't love me anymore." – J.R. Aug 18 '13 at 12:24
  • @user114 "Adore" is a fairly rarely used word in English. It means "love a lot". Someone might say "I adore algebra" if they wanted to emphasize that they find it VERY interesting, that is, for emphasis or contrast. Like, "I love geometry, but I adore algebra." While it can be used in a religious context, like "Oh Lord above, I adore you", it's not particularly a religious word and I am not aware of any special religious meaning. – Jay Jun 3 '16 at 13:54
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Ti voglio bene corresponds to I like you a lot. And ti amo corresponds to I love you.

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Mostly ditto JR, but let me add one additional point:

Americans, at least, rarely say "I love you" to anyone but a husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, child, parent, grandchild, grandparent, etc.

I suppose it depends on the family, but I think we are more likely to say "I love you" to a romantic partner than to a family member.

We are somewhat more likely to use the word in the third person. Like I would be very unlikely to say "I love you" to my brother, but I have certainly said, "I love my brother."

The more mild phrase is "like". I would be very unlikely to tell a co-worker or other casual friend "I love you" -- not unless I was trying to turn the friendship into romance. But I might say "I like you".

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