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Italian word of the day: Ti amo vs Ti voglio bene

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
Italian word of the day: Ti amo vs Ti voglio bene
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

In Italian, expressing your feelings for someone is harder than you might think.


It's often the case in Italian that you'll find several words or phrases that mean basically the same thing, and it's not always easy to know which one is appropriate. Our new mini series looks at some of the most common word pairs, and sorts out which should be used and when.

In Italian you might think the most important phrase for telling people you love them is ti amo.

In fact Italian has three other little words that are just as important: ti voglio bene

Literally they mean 'I want good things for you' or 'I wish you well' and, while that might sound a bit formal to English speakers, in Italy it's used more widely than 'I love you' (ti amo).

The simplest distinction to make is that you'd say ti voglio bene to your friends and family, whereas ti amo is generally reserved for your partner or the person you’ve just fallen for.

It's the difference between loving someone and being in love with them, or between platonic and romantic love.

And this is an important distinction on Valentine’s Day, which in Italy is seen as a day to celebrate romantic/sexual relationships more than love in general - which is why you won’t hear many Italians wish friends and family a happy Valentine’s. It would be almost like telling them ti amo.

If ti amo is the kind of 'I love you' where you hold someone by the hand, gaze into their eyes and declare your passion, ti voglio bene is more like the 'Love you lots!' you might use to sign off a text message (also abbreviated to 'tvb').

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Depending on the context, you can also translate the phrase as 'I care about you', 'you mean a lot to me' or even simply 'I really like you'.

Italians might also stress their feelings by saying “ti voglio (tanto) bene” - which is nice, unless you hear it from a romantic partner instead of ti amo - in which case it could be a way of saying ‘I love you but I’m not in love with you.’


While most English speakers wouldn't think twice about telling a good friend they love them, to Italians it can sound a little... inappropriate. So remember to think about which 'I love you' you really mean before translating it directly.

Of course that's only a general rule, and some Italians say ti amo (or to multiple people at once, vi amo) more readily than others – especially if they're being deliberately over-the-top.

Meanwhile, in some parts of southern Italy, people might use ti voglio bene to mean ti amo.

Confusing? Sure. But no one ever said love was simple.

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