Love is all around us. We share this love with our family, our friends and our significant others. In English, we normally express this affection with the standard “I love you.” We use these same three words with a sister, a husband or a close friend, regardless of the type of relationship. Conversely, in Italian, we have linguistic expressions that enable us to be more selective. This lexical flexibility serves a purpose if we consider that the caring we feel differs from one person to another. A mother’s love for her child is surely not the same as the one of a wife for her husband. Similarly, the caring we sense for a friend is not equal to the romantic amour we have for a fiancé. In Italian, we differentiate between types of love with ti voglio bene and ti amo, each of them having underlying variations: ti voglio tanto bene (I care for you a lot), ti voglio un mondo di bene (I love you lots), ti amo alla follia, (I am madly in love with you), ti amo da morire (I love you to death), just to name a few. Whether we say ti voglio bene or ti amo depends on to whom we are communicating that love or affection.
In Italian, we use ti voglio bene primarily with family members. Fathers say it to their children, grandmothers to their grandchildren and so on. This expression, which literally means “I want well for you,” sends several messages: “I care for you,” “I am fond of you” and even “I love you.” If we want to convey a little extra love to an Italian nonna on her birthday, we would write ti voglio tanto bene at the bottom of that special card. We also use this same expression to show affection to our friends. For instance, just the other day after chatting with a dear acquaintance of mine, we saluted each other with the acronym T.V.B (ti voglio bene). The latter phrase can also be pronounced at the beginning of a blossoming relationship. This is the time when a person is unsure if the first signs of emotion are stirred up by a temporary infatuation, a strong attraction or if it is a match made in heaven that will mature later.
Ti amo is a message of love with a much stronger romantic and intimate allusion. In Italian, we commonly reserve these two words for a lover or spouse. When an Italian man says ti amo to a woman he is substantially saying “I am in love with you.” These three charming words would be Romeo’s preferred revelation of love under the balcony of his beloved Juliet. When an Italian heart speaks such a message, it idealizes that intense endearment that exists between two individuals who feel involved on an emotional and physical level.
Sometimes an Italian person choosing to say ti voglio bene or ti amo is merely a subjective choice. This means that it is also possible to hear an Italian mother saying ti amo to her dear daughter and the other way around. Likewise, it is imaginable that an Italian friend declares the same to her childhood pal with whom she has shared an intimate bond. However, when ti amo is expressed in a motherly or friendly fashion, it has nothing to do with romance, rather it is usually dictated by an overwhelming feeling of fondness that exists between two people. Similarly, a person who is head over heels with his honey might prefer to say ti voglio bene in place of the romantic ti amo, conveying an equal or even a higher amount of love. For instance, a husband’s passionate Neapolitan te voglio bene assai voiced to his wife, who has been forever l’amore della sua vita (the love of his life), might be loaded with more passion than a teenager puppy love of a young fellow who declares ti amo alla follia to his girlfriend after only a few months of dating.
Ultimately, friendship, family and romance all call for showing and receiving love which our charming Italian language allows us to express with creativity. In my opinion, ti amo is a beautiful expression of love that is better kept in the world of romance. Hearing it from someone who is not our “honey” sounds a little out of tune, and in a way, dilutes some of the exquisite passion and romance that it transmits. Regardless, we can let our Italian heart speak in whichever loving fashion feels best. In the end, having a special sweetheart with whom we exchange expressive Italian words of love enriches our life and warms our soul.