When was the last time a person you love actually called you by your real name?
In many families and relationships, if you hear your first name…you are probably in some kind of trouble!
Instead of using names, people often use terms of endearment, which are affectionate (loving) nicknames.
Some people use terms of endearment for people whose names they don’t know. Some people only use them with their husband or wife. And some other people only use these nicknames in their families.
Whichever kind of person you are, you are learning English—so you should learn about terms of endearment used in the United States of America!
It is important to remember that there are times when it is okay to use nicknames, and times when it is not okay!
When to Use Terms of Endearment
There are certain times and situations when it is okay to use these. Overall, it is more often okay for a woman (especially an older woman) to use a term of endearment than a man, but there are many different situations where anyone can use them!
Some times when affectionate nicknames are okay include:
- When you are in a romantic relationship with the person.
- With your family.
- With your close friends.
- With other people who use nicknames (it means they might be comfortable with them).
- In informal situations (like in a party if you do not know someone’s name).
- With kids.
Some times when it is not okay to use terms of endearment are:
- When you do not know if someone would be okay with it.
- If you are a man speaking to a girl or woman (it can be seen as rude or inappropriate).
- With someone you do not know.
- In professional settings like work or school.
Keep in mind that these are not real, strict “rules.” Every situation is different. Sometimes using a nickname can be seen as condescending—it might seem like you are saying that you are more important, mature or smarter than the other person. If you are not sure how someone will react to being called a nickname, just do not do it!
Why Do Americans Use Terms of Endearment?
Terms of endearment are incredibly common all over the world, especially in romantic relationships. According to one study, people who use these private nicknames are happier in their relationships than people who do not.
Using nicknames makes us more intimate, or closer to each other. When we use these nicknames for people we love, or even just people we want to be friendly with, it makes us closer to them!
To see terms of endearment and other real-life American English language being used, FluentU is an incredible tool. FluentU takes real-world English videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
Each video comes with interactive subtitles to help you learn authentic English while you watch. You can click on any word in the subtitles for an instant definition! There are also flashcards and fun quizzes for each video to make sure you remember everything you learned.
Want to hear real-life examples of the terms of endearment covered below? Just type the word into the FluentU search bar and you’ll see videos that have the word—like this music video that uses the word babe. To watch that video and the full FluentU video library with all the learning features, sign up for a free FluentU trial.
25+ American Terms of Endearment for Friends, Lovers, Spouses and Strangers
Many languages have a special ending that you can add to a word or name to make it cuter and smaller (like -chka or -chek in Russian, and -ito or -ita in Spanish, for example). English does not use many special endings like this.
Instead, we use terms of endearment that are small things, like babies or baby animals.
- Baby: The word baby is usually used only in relationships, and not with someone who you do not know. Some people might think it is not nice to be called something so small and helpless!
- Babe: When it is not used as an affectionate name, babe is a very casual (and sometimes rude) way of saying “beautiful woman.” As a term of affection, though, it can mean a man or a woman, and is usually only used when you are in a relationship with someone.
- Bunny: Bunnies are sweet and cute. It is no wonder bunny is a common nickname for women! Like babe and baby, bunny is one of those special words that are used in a relationship. For an extra sweet nickname, try honey-bunny.
It is amazing how many sweet treats can be used as affectionate nicknames, like in this classic old song by The Archies. From sweet pea to sweetie pie, pretty much any kind of pastry or sweet edible works (and if it does not work, you just thought of a sweet new nickname!). Here are some of the most common:
- Honey: What’s sweeter than honey? Sometimes shortened to hon or hun, the word honey works in almost any situation. Asking for a favor from a friend is sweeter when you say “can you pass me my phone, honey?”
- Sweetheart: Someone who has a kind heart can be called a sweetheart, which is another term that can be said to almost anyone. It is okay to use this one with strangers. The receptionist at the doctor’s office might call you a sweetheart if she doesn’t know your name – but it’s also common between couples or friends.
- Sugar: Sugar is a nickname that’s actually more commonly used with people you don’t know than with those who are close to you. Sugar is a nice way to call someone – like Marry Poppins says in another classic song, just a spoonful of sugar can help you get anything done!
Couples love using sweet nicknames! Some other popular terms of endearment in relationships are muffin, cupcake, baby cake, sugar plum, and many others. Didn’t we say almost any dessert works?
Some terms of endearment are flattering to the person – they make the person feel good about themselves. You can focus on a beautiful feature (a physical part of a person, like eyes or hair), or just call them beautiful.
- Blue eyes: When someone has beautiful eyes, you can use the color of their eyes as a term of affection. You can call them blue eyes or brown eyes, or any other eye color. (In fact, eyes are such an important trait that there are classic songs about both blue eyes and brown eyes!)
- Beautiful: Calling someone you don’t know beautiful is a way of flirting with them. You can say “hey there, beautiful” to greet them. When you call your love beautiful, it is very flattering! Beautiful can only be used for women—you might call a man handsome instead (“hey there, handsome!”).
- Gorgeous: Gorgeous means “very beautiful,” and it is used in the same way as beautiful. The biggest difference is that you can call a man gorgeous too!
- Hottie: Saying someone is hot means you find them attractive, and a hottie is an attractive person. Be careful when you are using this term with women you are not close with, because in that case it is a rude way of flirting! When you are in a relationship with someone, though, hottie is a sweet nickname for both girls and guys.
Some terms of endearment show that you think highly of a person. These are positive, good things and they are usually said by couples, not friends or strangers.
- Prince / princess: Imagine a prince or a princess. You are probably thinking of a beautiful person with nice clothes, right? That’s why prince and princess are affectionate names sometimes used by couples. Remember, though, that calling a girl a princess can also mean that she is whiny or spoiled (always expects to get what she wants). So be careful who you call a princess!
- Angel: An angel is someone who is extremely kind and sweet. Calling someone angel is saying that they are so amazing, they are out of this world!
- Love: Love is a very strong feeling, and calling someone by this term shows that they mean a lot to you.
- Lover boy/lover girl: A lover, on the other hand, is not just someone you love—they are someone you are intimate with. Love is a sweet nickname but lover boy or lover girl is a more private and playful nickname.
There are some slang terms of endearment, which are usually used by younger people.
- Boo: One common slang term is boo, which means boyfriend or girlfriend. This comes from the French word beau, meaning an admirer (someone who is interested in you romantically). You wil often hear this term in popular music.
- Bae: This also means boyfriend or girlfriend, and it is a shortened version of babe. It is really popular on the Internet right now.
- Main Squeeze: When talking to others about a boyfriend or girlfriend, they can be called your main squeeze. This is a very informal slang term that comes from the idea that this person is the one you love to hug (squeeze) the most. This phrase can also be used to mean “most important person.”
Some terms of endearment are considered old-fashioned (not in style anymore). Many are still used, but mostly by older people (imagine a kind old lady saying them).
- Dear: Someone dear to you is important to you. Your grandma might ask you to be a dear and help her with something, but you are not likely to hear a friend say the same.
- Darling: You may have heard this one said in movies, like in this clip from “The Incredibles,” or spoken by women who pronounce it “dahlin’.” Outside of movies, the term darling is still sometimes used by older people, usually by women to people they care about, or by men to their wives.
- Doll: Dolls are beautiful and perfect. If you tell someone they are a doll you are saying that they are a wonderful person!
- Poppet: One pet name you almost never hear anymore is poppet, which is only used with small children. You might still hear an older person say it about his or her grandchildren or other young kids.
Sometimes nicknames are one-of-a-kind: unique to the people who use them.
- Food: A lot of made-up nicknames are related to food (like lamb chop or muffin). They may also be inside jokes (jokes that only the people involved would understand).
- Location: If you know where someone is from, you can use that as their nickname. For example, you might greet a friend from New York by saying, “Hey, New York! What’s up?”
- Nonsense: Some nicknames are just nonsense. For example, everyone calls my father-in-law pancho and no one knows why!
- Silly names: Nicknames do not even have to be positive to be loving, like calling your loved one Stinky. It can be funnier if the name means something negative, but make sure the other person actually likes their nickname!
You now know how to use American terms of endearment.
It is up to you to decide whether you will call your best friend stinky or your boyfriend angel…or the other way around!
And One More Thing…
What’s the key to learning conversational English?
Using the right content and tools.
After all, a regular textbook isn’t going to teach you the casual English you need to know.
You need to learn from real English like it’s spoken on TV.
Well, there is a site designed to help you with just that: FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos like music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks, and turns them into English learning experiences. You’ll learn English as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a lot of fun videos from the U.S. and other English-speaking regions. The videos include popular talk shows, music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
FluentU makes it really easy to watch English videos. Don’t understand a word? Just tap on it to see an image, definition and useful examples.
For example, tap on the word “brought” and you see this:
And FluentU is not just for watching videos. FluentU is a complete system for learning English. Learn all the vocabulary in any video with useful questions. Multiple examples are always available for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU remembers your vocabulary. Using those words, FluentU recommends new examples and videos. Your experience is truly personalized.
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