Love comes with many different feelings—passion, infatuation, affection—and according to some, words just aren’t enough to convey its complexity. That hasn’t stopped people from trying, though. Different cultures from all over the world have different perceptions of love, and just as many ways to describe it, as the examples below show.
1. Koi no yokan (恋の予感) // Japanese
This Japanese phrase is actually a prediction—it describes what a person feels when they meet someone and know they’re destined to fall in love. According to native speakers, however, you shouldn’t confuse it with love at first sight, which the Japanese language also has a word for: hitomebore.
2. Coup de foudre // French
Although the literal translation for this French phrase is “bolt of lightning,” it also means love at first sight. The French website Linternaute defines it as a sudden love—so sudden that a person can't resist it. The expression has been used with this meaning in French since the end of the 18th century.
3. Yuanfen (缘分) // Chinese
Yuánfèn is the belief that two people are brought together by chance and by destiny (though not necessarily romantically). The word is used in many expressions and in pop culture; for example, you might hear a couple in a Chinese movie say “our yuánfèn has run out” when they’re about to break up. The word yuánfèn is also used in phrases describing situations when people who are thousands of miles away from each other meet, and it’s used when the opposite occurs: When people who are next to each other do not meet, it means that they don’t have yuánfèn.
4. Viraha (विरह) // Hindi
According to the book English and Hindi Religious Poetry, this Hindi phrase “is usually translated as ‘the pain of separation,’ but ‘love-longing’ gives a clearer idea of its connotation for it implies both the pain of separation and the anticipation of joy realized in the consummation of love.”
5. A Chuisle Mo Chroí // Irish Gaelic
This Irish expression is a term of endearment that means “my heart’s beloved” but literally translates to “the pulse of my heart” (cuisle/chiusle means “pulse,” and croí/chroí means “heart”). Film lovers may remember the word chuisle from Million Dollar Baby, when Frankie gave Maggie a green robe with “Mo Cuishle” on the back. Later, when she becomes famous, people use the phrase when cheering for her.
6. and 7. Cavoli Riscaldati and Minestra Riscaldata // Italian
Cavoli riscaldati literally means “reheated cabbage,” but when it comes to love, it’s used to describe the attempt of restarting a failed relationship. It comes from an Italian proverb that says that “neither reheated cabbage nor revived love is ever good.” That's not the only Italian phrase referencing the doubtful benefits of reheating food: minestra riscaldata, meaning "reheated soup," is more common, and can be applied to anything you're trying again, from a business partnership to a romantic one.
8. Saudade // Portuguese
This phrase for a bittersweet and melancholic state of yearning for someone or something that is absent dates back to the early 1900s. In a 1912 book, scholar Aubrey Bell described it as “a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present.” Saudade can be felt for a person, a place, or a time in the past.
Defining the word saudade in another language is very difficult for Portuguese speakers: In a study published in 2014, participants were asked to list all the features of saudade that came to mind and it resulted in a list of 182 different features, including the words missing and sadness.
9. Kara sevda // Turkish
Literally translated as “black love,” kara sevda is a kind of love that makes the person melancholic and hopeless as if they were sick. The concept of kara sevda in Turkish culture is often used in Ottoman and Anatolian poetry [PDF].
10. Cwtch // Welsh
Cambridge Dictionary defines cwtch as “a loving cuddle … especially one that makes someone feel very happy and safe.” It’s used by both Welsh-speaking and English-speaking Welsh people and they say that cwtches are only for very special people in your life.
11. Ya’aburnee (يقبرني) // Arabic
This phrase might be familiar from Halsey’s 2021 song with the same name. Its literal translation is “you bury me,” and it’s meant to convey that a person wants to die before whomever they’re speaking to, because living without them would be impossible.