They're relationships where the same person who is your best friend one year because you both like the same DJ is your worst enemy a year.
I was a bit hesitant to take on “How to Say ‘I love you’ in Japanese.”
I think I’ve seen about 38,000 posts on how to say “I love you” in foreign languages.
The thing that always bothers me about them is that they ignore the subtle differences in language that are necessary for expressing feelings.
What’s the difference between “I love you” and “I’m in love with you?”
Is there more “love” expressed in the phrase “You’re everything to me” or “You’re the best thing that ever happened to me” or “You’re the love of my life?”
There’s no simple way to say “I love you” in any one language. So rather than try to say “I love you” equals [Japanese phrase], in this post I’d like to look at some of the subtle differences between the many phrases in Japanese that express love.
In particular, we’ll look at…
Before we get into the detailed stuff, which is really only for serious students of Japanese, here’s the simple, boring answer that overlooks all of the subtleties and beauties of human communication:
I love you = 愛してる (ai shiteru)
If that’s all you know, though, you’re probably using it wrong. If you want to get the real, dicey explanation of how to say “I love you” in Japanese, then please read on…
Technically speaking, 好きだよ (suki da yo) and 大好きだよ (dai suki da yo) mean “I (really) like you.”
So you might be thinking that they don’t belong in this article.
However, there are cases when these (大好き [dai suki] especially) most certainly do mean “I love you.”
(Note: The yo at the end is used for emphasis [sort of] and is optional. The da is also optional, but leaving off da can sound a bit feminine in Japanese… except for the example I’m about to give using pizza, which has a gender-neutral ring to it… for some reason.)
Obviously if we say something like ピザ好き (piza daisuki) (literally, “pizza / (have a) liking (for) ) then we’d probably translate it to “I like pizza.”
But if someone is saying 好きだよ (suki da yo) to a lover, then, depending on the relationship and the situation the phrase is being expressed in, then there are (maybe) cases when this could get translated to “I love you.”
At least, that’s certainly the case for 大好きだよ (dai suki da yo).
Putting a 大 (dai) “big” in front of 好き (suki) “liking” means “big liking,” and as such it could mean “really like” or it could mean “love.”
Personally, I like to divide 大好きだ (dai suki da) into three categories, which we can distinguish by using nuances of the English word “love:”
The Three Love Levels of 大好き（だ）
1) Much Feels: “I love pizza.”
2) Very Much Feels: “I love spending time with you.”
3) Super Feels: “I love you.”
Allow me to explain…
If we’re at a pizza place, and I still haven’t thrown up from overeating, then I’m probably going to say:
I love pizza!
I think that we can all agree that this word “love” is not really the same as the word “love” in the phrase “I love you.” It’s not quite so heavy.
Don’t get me wrong–Pizza Love is one of the most beautiful of human passions. Yet, it’s a little different than Person Love.
So we can label it #1 – Much Feels.
Let’s level up the seriousness a bit, though:
“I love spending time with you.”
Let’s imagine that Derp and Derpina are on their second date.
Derp is thinking “I love this girl. I am overwhelmed with feels.”
But even Derp knows that the second date is probably way too early to be dropping L-Bombs, and he doesn’t want to freak out Derpina.
So he settles for the slightly less intense “I love spending time with you.”
Story About (Mis)Understanding 大好き as “I love you”
I have a friend that, for the purposes of this article, we can call Ted.
Well, Ted went on a couple of dates with this girl named Thousand Cranes.
(Yeah, Japanese girls are sometimes named rad stuff like Thousand Cranes… which would actually be Chidzuru. But let’s be honest, Thousand Cranes sounds f-ing awesome.)
Anyways, Ted went on a date with Thousand Cranes. The two of them got thoroughly boozed and spent the whole night laughing.
It was an awesome date.
So they had a second date–watching a movie together at Ted’s house.
Well, just before they were going to sleep, Thousand Cranes said:
(teddo dai suki!)
I love you
(Literally: “I really like Ted”)
(Note for Japanese language nerds: This sounds feminine, because there is no だ).
Now, Ted is pretty good at Japanese. Probably not good enough to translate professionally or anything, but homie can make friends and go on dates in Japanese with girls named Thousand Cranes. Probably about the same level as Tom Cruise at the end of The Last Samurai.
Well, Ted was kinda freaked out, because he thought that Thousand Cranes was dropping L-Bombs on their second date.
But I’m not totally convinced that 大好き (dai suki) qualifies for “L-Bomb” status.
Rather, I think it’d be closer to saying something like “I love spending time with you,” or even just “I really like you.”
And that’s why I’d like to label it #2 – Very Much Feels.
It’s what Derp and Derpina say to each other on a second or third date. Maybe it’s a bit stronger than “I really like you,” but a bit less serious than “I love you.”
Last but not least, let’s look at when 大好き (dai suki)does qualify for L-Bomb status.
Here’s a picture of me and my fiance Rei:
As is recommended for couples promising their lives to one another, we have Super Feels, and L-Bombs are flying.
Last year, we had a pretty awesome experience together: Rei had to go to the hospital… on my birthday… in Bangkok, Thailand.
I’m not sure that I’m allowed to be saying the mishap that befell Rei (if your Japanese is boss-status, you can read about it on her blog). But let’s just say that there was a solid 1-hour block of time when she was hooked up to an IV getting antibiotics.
うそ！ (uso) literally means “lie!” But we can translate it to something like “Psych!” or “Just kidding!”
This was at Bumungrad Hospital, which is super fancy (and expensive T_T), so there was a Starbucks in the first floor lobby.
Sometimes life gives you choices:
1) You can be a cry-baby Negative Nancy because (a) the love of your life is in pain, hospitalized and (b) you’re spending your birthday in a Bangkok hospital watching medicine drip into her veins.
2) You can take advantage of the chance to have a one-of-a-kind hospital coffee date.
So I did the sensible thing–I went down to the first floor lobby, bought us delicious coffee and a wide assortment of cakes, sweets, and sugary awesomeness.
I then smuggled these goods into Rei’s hospital room, and we the most awesome time ever.
I was looking at her–sitting there eating her chocolate cake, sipping on her soy latte; her pale, papery, sky blue hospital gown; that smile–and I told her 大好きだよ (dai suki da yo), and it meant “I love you” as much as the English phrase could ever mean “I love you.”
This 大好きだよ (dai suki da yo) is Label #3 – Super Feels.
This is kind of like saying “I like you” and “I love you” at the same time.
You know how sometimes in English, we’ll say, for example:
“I love [my mom], but I don’t really like her.”
(If you’re reading this, Mom, we’re not talking about me, of course. I think you’re rad.)
Well, 大好きだ (dai suki) can never be this the “love” in this English sentence, because you always like (and maybe also love) something that you 大好き (dai suki).
If you wanted to say that you love your mom, but you don’t really like her (which you’re not likely to hear too often, anyways), then you’d need the following Japanese: 愛してる (ai shiteru).
愛してるよ (ai shiteru yo) is the standard phrase for “I love you” in Japanese.
That’s probably why this phrase is pretty much all you see if you look up “I love you in Japanese” in Google images:
The phrase 愛してる (ai shiteru) is serious business.
I wouldn’t say it unless you are very seriously involved with someone. Like, thinking-maybe-this-is-forever level of serious.
The full version of this is actually 愛している (ai shiteiru), but the い (i) in the auxiliary verb almost always gets dropped so that it’s just 愛してる (ai shiteru), “I love you.”
So while writing this article, I consulted with Rei, hoping to confirm that 愛してるよ (ai shiteru yo) is only used for romantic love. Her initial reaction was to say that yes, only lovers use this phrase.
But then I asked, “What if, for example, your parent was about to undertake a major surgery. In English, this situation would definitely qualify for an “I love you,” right?
Apparently even in that case, though, 大好き (daisuki) or 大好きだよ (dai suki da yo) would be more common.
Being the Punk B that I am, I then told her that I’ve heard her referring to her mom in the third person, saying 愛してる (ai shiteru). So what about that? She denied ever having said it, though. So there goes that.
Tentatively, let’s say that “Yes, 愛してる (ai shiteru) is only for lovers.” However, if you need to clarify that you don’t like someone you love (e.g. your mom), then maybe it’d be okay. I’m not totally sure…
Moving forward, what’s the difference between 愛してる (ai shiteru) and 愛してます (ai shitemasu)?
Put simply, this is just a more formal version of the phrase 愛してるよ (ai shiteru yo).
Appropriately, perhaps, it’s also what Google translate busts out:
The concept of formality is super tricky in any language.
When I first asked Rei what the difference was between 愛してる (ai shiteru) and 愛してます (ai shitemasu), she said that it was just difference of formality.
But why in the world would I be using formal language with someone I am on intimate terms with? Such intimate terms, in fact, that I’m using a super-charged L-Bomb.
“If I said 愛してますよ (ai shitemasu yo) to you, what would you think?” I asked.
“I’d think you were messing with me,” she said.
So it’s a super intimate term, but it’s also formal, so much so that it sounds like you’re messing around if you say it to your super-intimate romantic partner.
So when do we use this?!
The conclusion that we eventually arrived upon is that, for the most part, you’re only going to hear 愛してますよ (ai shitemasu yo) when someone is proposing.
There are exceptions to this, of course.
In addition the nuance of messing with someone that Rei referred to, you might also hear it in some melodramatic J-Dramas, perhaps when someone is 告白してる (kokuhaku shiteru), “confessing their love” to someone that they’re not yet (or perhaps ever) on intimate terms with.
Talk about limited usage. But then, that’s the nature of highly expressive Japanese. For one thing, that explains the following popular notion…
It’s worth mentioning that you’re not likely to hear the phrases 愛してる (ai shiteru) or 愛してます (ai shitemasu) if you’re in Japan… well, unless you’re watching dramas or something.
There’s a pretty interesting article about this in Japan Today: 9 reasons why Japanese men hesitate to say ‘I love you’.
People seem to have a lot of opinions about this, and the men surveyed for that article seem to have a lot of reasons/excuses for not saying 愛してる (ai shiteru) or 愛してます (ai shitemasu), too:
To me, though, it doesn’t really come as much of a surprise that Japanese men aren’t saying super-serious, emotion-packed phrases like 愛してる (ai shiteru), because (like I point out in this article), Japanese people are pretty much always hesitant to explicitly express feelings and opinions verbally.
I saw some sites also mentioning phrases that use the kanji 恋. People were quoting phrases like 恋しちゃった (koi shichatta) or 恋に落ちちゃった (koi ni ochichatta).
These can certainly be used for talking about your feelings for someone, but they’re not what we would classify as 愛情表現 (aijou hyougen), “expressions of love.”
That is, (1) they’re not things that we say to the actual person that we love, and (2) they’re more so on the level of “falling for someone” or “liking someone.”
Long story short, they don’t mean “I love you.”
You could tell your friend something like this, though…
(Warning: This Japanese sounds very feminine.)
onaji kurasu no otokonoko ni koi shichatta mitai
I think I might like this boy in my class.
koi ni ochichatta mitai
I think I’ve fallen for someone.
e? dare ni?
That’s all I’ve got!
Good luck, lovers!
Also, good luck with your Japanese studies.
There are so many awesome things in the world that can make my day:
1) Commenting on this article telling me your thoughts about it. The good, the bad, the lacking. What you want more of. Whatever.
2) Sharing this site with your friends and fellow students. I have spent thousands of hours developing free Japanese learning materials. Helping spread the word about them would mean the world to me. It helps others. It helps me. And you look a sweet, awesome person.
3) Signing up for posts like this. I don’t send out emails very often, but when I do, I try to keep them packed with tons of useful Japanese lessons and language hacks:Free NihongoShark Newsletter.
We also have this free course on how to learn Japanese:
And we send out free daily lessons, too:
4) Getting serious with your studies by checking out the Hacking Japanese Supercourse, my pride and joy:
5) Keeping in touch with yours truly.
Good luck with your studies!
Just in case my explanations were terribly confusing (and, let’s be honest, overly lengthy), here are some other articles that I found about this topic.
Yo! I'm Niko, the founder of NihongoShark. I'm also a Japanese translator, writer, and all-around language nerd.
I created this site to help as many people master Japanese (any language, really) as possible.
Uh, what else? Well... I live in
Tokyo, Bangkok, Sapporo, Saigon, San Diego, Tokyo, Chiang Mai, Portland, Oregon! So if anyone wants to meet up for a refreshing nama beer, I'm probably down for that. Or a coffee. Learning Japanese is tricky-tikki-tavi. But we're in this together. ファイト！
Good luck with your studies!
p.s. If you like my articles, you may very well love my daily lessons.
Because I Liked You. Because I liked you better. Than suits a man to say,. It irked you, and I promised. To throw the thought away. To put the world between us.
Like other hopeless romantics, I have been continually disappointed with the Rom-Coms selection from Netflix. That was until I watched, Set It Up. The part of the movie that stuck with me the most was a scene at an engagement party. The bride-to-be gives a speech to her guest about a lesson her grandmother taught her. Long story short, she says to her fiance, I like you because, and I love you despite.
I noticed my mom and I were both teared up after listening. It made me think about how I want my marriage to be someday. Just days after watching this movie, I came across a letter I wrote to my future husband when I was 13 years old. I decided to take this concept from Set It Up and intertwine it with the letter I found from middle-school me.
Dear Future Husband,
I don't know you yet, but I know I love you like I've never loved anyone before. Sometimes I stay up at night and wonder how we'll meet, how our first date will go, and what color your hair will be. You'll have to be tall because this girl has legs meant for heels. I bet you love dogs and you buy me lots of ice cream. I wonder if you'll know my favorite. If you are here today as my future husband, chances are you know cookie dough is my favorite, and I'll bet you're a pretty fantastic human being.
You probably know I have a few faults...or many, many faults. Sometimes I get frustrated and it makes me cranky. I hate admitting I'm wrong and I laugh way too hard at jokes that aren't really that funny, sometimes at inappropriate times. You probably never know why I'm crying; I tend to cry for many different reasons. I talk really fast when I get excited, but sometimes I don't talk at all when I'm mad. I'm terrible at math, science isn't my thing either. I'm impossible to communicate with when I'm focused on a project, and I need complete silence when I write papers. Although it's important you know my faults, it's even more important that you've decided to love me regardless.
I don't know you yet, but I'm assuming you'll have some faults too.
I probably can't stand the way you say the word, "crayon" and you probably complain when I walk away instead of fixing a problem. I'm assuming sometimes you forget to tell me how good I'm looking on date nights, and you probably forget to close the door after you've opened it. Occasionally you forget to open the door for me and kiss me on the cheek-- something I hope you consider doing if you haven't already because my grandparents would expect nothing less. I bet you watch too many sports and sneeze way too loud. I guarantee I hate when you talk while yawning, and sometimes you cheat during card games. I bet you drive way too fast and don't stop at the stop sign for the entire 3-seconds. I'll bet you snore when you sleep and forget to put gas in the car.
But even with all these faults, there is a reason I like you.
I like the way you say my name each morning and follow up with a kiss on my forehead. The way you look in a suit and tie probably makes my knees week, and I bet you make me feel safe when I'm wrapped up in your arms. I like you because you hold my hand in public, but don't show too much affection because PDA is DISGUSTING. I like the way you connect with my brother and can hold a conversation on the back porch with my dad. If we are standing here together, you've probably stolen my mom's heart and I'll bet she can sense the love you have for me with every breath you take. I like that you understand we will be raising Australian Shepards together, cause what other dogs could we possibly have??
You probably honor every wish my grandma ever had for me and reflect the kind of love I see in my aunt Liz and uncle Duane's marriage. You might not like Obama as much as me, but you tolerate my presidential-crush. When you kiss me, I like how sparks fly, just like my grandma once described to me. I like the way you love me passionately and are the most unique individual I've ever met. I like that you go to ballets, even if you fall asleep, and I like how you dance with me in the kitchen. I like the goals you set for yourself and how considerate you are of those around you. I like that every problem we face, we face together, my hand holding onto yours. I like you because you chose to love me, even if I can be hard to love.
I know I will search high and low for you because the love we will have for one another is unlike any love I have ever know. I promise to love you for the things I like about you and to love you despite the faults you have. You are my prince charming, my soulmate, and my best friend. You're everything I've ever wished for.
I might not have met you yet, but I already know I love you.
I can't wait to meet you,
Your future wife,
Because I Liked You
Because I liked you better
Than suits a man to say,
It irked you, and I promised
To throw the thought away.
To put the world between us
We parted, stiff and dry;
'Good-bye,' said you, 'forget me.'
'I will, no fear', said I.
If here, where clover whitens
The dead man's knoll, you pass,
And no tall flower to meet you
Starts in the trefoiled grass,
Halt by the headstone naming
The heart no longer stirred,
And say the lad that loved you
Was one that kept his word.
To love and to be loved is one of the greatest feelings a person can experience. Love is free of all cost and knows no boundaries. Prepare yourself to be in love.
Hey, Baby Girl, I was just sitting here thinking about how much I love you. I love you so much that if I tried to really write how much I love you, I would be constantly writing for the rest of my life.
You bring out so much in me that I'm just beginning to see. It's like when we are together, the rest of the world disappears, and nothing else matters but us. I hope I feel this way forever. I want to spend the rest of my life loving you with everything I have to give. Sometimes I feel like I don't deserve someone as loving as you are. Do you know how long I have waited to have someone like you in my life?
It wasn't luck that brought us together. You are a blessing to me and I wouldn't trade the way I feel about you for anything in this world. You are the reason why I smile. You are the first thing on my mind when I wake up every morning, and you are the last thing I think about every night before I close my eyes, but our time together doesn't end there because you are the only thing I dream about. I really do want to spend the rest of my life with you if you will allow me to. Nothing is too much to give you. I feel that if you're not happy, then the world needs to stop until you are!
Baby, I just want to thank you for loving me like you do, and I am forever in your debt, just for you being good to me. You know, it is strange how I had to go through so many bad situations before you came into my life. I guess it really is true when they say good things come to those who wait because I've waited for someone like you all my life, and you really are the best thing that has ever happened to me.
I just want you to know that I love you so much, and I want to be with you till death do us part! I love you, Baby Girl!
I Will Keep Waiting For You
I sometimes wonder what you're doing, or whether you are thinking of me, like I'm thinking of you. I have been thinking of you for 20 years, since the day I was born, really.
You have been elusive to me in so many ways but, because none of my objects of infatuation turned out to be you, I feel as if life sometimes may have fooled me, yet I know you are out there. I mean, how could I have seen your face and still overlooked you? Or how could I have heard your voice utter words and not have found anyone that sounded like you? Are you in the stars every time I look up? Of course you are. You are the clouds in the skies, the songs the bird sing every morning. You are everywhere, really. I know you are real. I just constantly wonder why I have not found you yet.
Why haven't I been able to say all that I want, show you all that I am, and give you all I have now? Why is time making us wait so long? We don't know, because this is a factor beyond our control. I will always love you, Darling, and when we finally find each other, it will be God's greatest reward.
So, wherever you are, know that I love you and you will be the one that lurked passionately in my dreams. Know that I am always longing for you and your presence. Know that you will always be everything to me. Even though I have not yet met you yet, I love you, my spirit lover.
Too many days go by without my saying how incredibly fortunate I feel to be with you--but it's true. When we're together, my life takes on new meaning and new freshness. Each morning, each night, and each moment beside you contains all the beauty and vibrancy I could ever hope for.
Thank you for filling my days with love, and for making my toes squirm and my heart flutter. Thank you for always listening to me, for sharing your thoughts with me, for supporting me, and for giving me the chance to support you. Thank you for enriching every aspect of my life, and for continually inspiring me to do better and to be a better person.
I love you more than words can say.
When I try to describe your beauty, your smile, your kind heart, I find that my words only begin to scratch the surface of my love for you. You are too amazing, too much of a wonder for language to describe. When we are together, and with each gesture you make, and each word that you utter, I realize, more and more, how special and caring you are, and how lucky I am to be with you. When we are not together, the very thought of you brings me more fully to life.
Thank you for being there for me. Thank you for loving me and letting me love you. You are a blessing to me!
How can I express my feelings when those feelings take my breath away? How can I measure my love for you when that love compares to nothing else, and when that love exceeds all categories and all expectations? No words can express these realities. No words can express my love for you because you are indescribable, and my love for you is immeasurable.
Simply looking into your eyes sends me through a whirlwind of intense emotions. Just one brief smile from you fills my life with radiance and joy. Until the day I met you, I had never before felt so full of hope and passion. I want you to know, I am forever grateful to be with you. You have given me a heart full of love and days full of laughter, and I will give myself to you always.
Girls Like You Lyrics: Spent 24 hours, I need more hours with you / You spent the weekend 'Cause girls like you run 'round with guys like me.