How Russians Talk about Love
Updated: Feb 20
For Valentine's month this year, we're looking at how speakers of three different languages talk about love and next up is Russian!
Russians are deeply passionate when it comes to expressing love and don't often shy away from the task. Many of the widely-used expressions covered below come from beloved Russian classics, from Pasternak to Pushkin. Read on to discover just deeply you can express yourself in this language of love.
Key Words & Phrases
Нравиться, as in ты мне нравишься
Любовь, as in я тебя люблю
Душа моя, as in ты моя душа
Дорогая, as in дорогая катерина...
Though used similarly as to like, нравиться (nravitsya) has one interesting difference - it's not an active, but a passive verb, which gives the verb a nuance of happening outside of one's control. A more literal translation of this verb would be this thing/person is pleasing to me, and it expresses like the same way many languages express temperature, e.g., it is cold to me instead of I'm cold.
Нравится is also similar to to like in that it can be used to show preference for things and people and to show attraction to a person. Just like with English, this can make it difficult to completely understand the phrase's true meaning (think how in English we sometimes have to ask, "yeah, but do you like like him?").
Russians tend to use the verb to love more freely than Norwegians, but less often than Americans. In other words, Russians are likely to say this to multiple partners throughout their lives, but still reserve it for people they are serious about.
Любить [lyubit] can be used for romantic or platonic love, e.g. for your girlfriend or your mom, or even a book you really loved reading.
Since Russian word order is not very strict, you can emphasize different words within the phrase, I love you: я тебя люблю, я люблю тебя, and тебя я люблю [я: ya, тебя: tebya, люблю: lyublyu].
Literature is very important within Russian culture, so Russians are extremely well-read. Regardless of class, education, or profession, if you run into a Russian on the street and ask them to quote a line of poetry for you, you won't be disappointed. So it makes perfect sense that literary quotes are even used to express love. Here are just a few of my favorites:
В душе моей угасла не совсем ~Pushkin [V dushe moei ugasla ne sovsem] (In my soul, the feeling remains)
Любовь, как огонь, без пищи гаснет ~Lermontov [Lyubov, kak ogon, bez pishchi gasnet] (Love, like fire, dies out without fuel)
Пока тебя помнят вгибы локтей моих, пока еще ты на руках и губах моих, я побуду с тобой ~Pasternak [Poka tebya pomnyat vgiby loktei moikh, poka eshche ty na rukakh i gubakh moikh, ya pobudu s toboi] (As long as the crooks of my arms remember you, as long as you’re still on my hands and lips, I’ll be with you)
Душа моя [dusha moya] (my soul), любимая/любимый [lyubimaya/lyubimy] (beloved), зайка/зайчик [zaika/zaichik] (bunny), милая/милый [milaya/milyi] (sweetheart), хорошая/хороший [khoroshaya/khoroshy] (good one), and дорогая/дорогой [dorogaya/doruhgoi] (dear), which is what my Russian family calls me when we get to catch up :)