Perhaps a sultry Italian bombshell (or bombshells) has exploded your heart.
Or maybe you just love fighting losing battles.
Whatever your reasons, you’ve been struck by Cupid’s arrow and you’re ready to whisper sweet nothings in someone’s ear… in Italian.
I’m obligated to warn you that lovelorn foreigners in the boot tend to find it tricky-to-impossible to woo Italians; even Italians themselves have trouble impressing one another (more on that in a moment).
But as a learning activity, singing your potential Italian sweetheart’s praises is a fun way to explore both the language and culture of Italy.
So sure, why not express your soon-to-be-frustrated desires in Italian?
Understanding Italian Romance: Even Italians Struggle with It
First, a few words on Italian romance. As with any commentary on any aspect of any culture, it’s important to remember that not everyone from a certain place is always a certain way, etc., etc…
But understanding cultural differences does help us frame the perspectives and behaviors that a group tends to share, and can help foreigners better function within that group.
With that out of the way, there are some things you need to know about Italian romance before you head off to woo yourself a significant other.
L’uomo è cacciatore (The man is the hunter) is a phrase you’ll often hear. Italian men are expected to pursue and to make a spectacle of their interest over a long period of time (months, even!) during which time women are expected to be “good” and rebuff the advances.
Yes, it’s a sexist, self-defeating system, but Italians (both men and women) have often argued to me that it’s just so romantic.
Given how complicated all this is, Italians themselves often have trouble starting up a relationship with each other (or just bonking), and there’s a bit of a cliché of couples forming or romance finally being sparked when Italians hit the beaches or are otherwise on vacation, far from the watchful eyes of their home environments.
Homosexual love can be even more complicated; it’s respected to a certain extent, but there’s still a strong expectation that it should be furtive—that one should hide this sort of love. Attitudes are slowly improving, particularly in larger cities and in the north. Polyamory isn’t widely known or accepted.
Romantic Italian Phrases for Your Bruising Battle for Love in the Boot
The following words and phrases will help you navigate love, relationships, sex and/or a lack thereof when speaking with Italians.
Italians love to chat and love it when foreigners speak (or even mangle) their language. And they’re not exactly reserved about expressing their desires.
Even if you’re saying something cheesy, do it with bravado, in good fun and with a twinkle in your eye—and your imperfect accent and bewildered foreigner status may just work in your favor.
And if you want to get a better sense of how Italians communicate with one another, watch the authentic videos on FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
If you’re looking for a method to familiarize yourself with Italian as well as deepen your knowledge of the culture, FluentU is the best way to go!
Romantically Complimenting Italians
Recall that many Italian adjectives are modified according to gender; here I denote this with o/a endings where necessary. For example:
Sei bellissimo/a. — You’re very beautiful.
This means if you’re addressing a man, use sei bellissimo, but if you’re addressing a woman it’s sei bellissima.
Here we go with more ways to compliment a lovely Italian:
Sei cosi seducente. — You’re quite seductive.
Sei sexy. — You’re sexy.
Sei la mia vita. — You’re my life.
Sei la persona più importante con cui vorrei condividere il resto della mia vita. — You’re the most important person with whom I would like to share the rest of my life.
Sei il tesoro più prezioso che ho trovato e che vorrei custodire per sempre. — You’re the most precious treasure that I’ve found and that I would like to take care of forever.
Io e te tre metri sopra il cielo. — Literally: “You and I three meters above the heavens.”
This is a line from a cheesy film. The film and the book it was based on (by Federico Moccia) are titled “Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo,” and the film was released in English as “Three Steps Over Heaven.”
Couples have scrawled the line along with their names in graffiti all over Italy.
Ti amo. — I love you.
This can be said to family members, friends and also of course to lovers. The base verb is amare (to love).
You can increase your enthusiasm by saying “Ti amo tanto” (I love you so much) and it doesn’t sound as suspiciously qualifying as its corollary often does in English.
Ti voglio bene — Literally “I want you well”; but it means “I love you” or “I’m fond of you.”
You can increase it to ti voglio tanto bene. There are also text abbreviation versions that are commonly used for signing off on a chat over WhatsApp (more common than SMS in Italy): tvb or tvtb.
Beware, however, that qualifying this phrase with a “but” generally marks the end of all romantic possibility: Ti voglio bene, ma… — I love you very much, but…
Ti lovvo. — I love you (a popular anglicism).
Ti adoro. — I adore you./I love you.
This is from the verb adorare and is considered a very sweet and feminine thing to say; it’s also used between female friends.
Mi ecciti. — You’re turning me on.
The base verb is eccitare, and it can be confusing, particularly for Americans who love to talk about how excited they always are. The verb and adjective (eccitato/a) often have a sexual meaning.
If you don’t want to refer to your agitated genitals (and elicit giggles), use felice (happy) instead.
Sono pazzo di te. — I’m crazy for you.
Io e te per sempre. — You and me forever.
Mi manchi. — “I miss you.”
As in English, this can be a way of expressing your affections when at a distance.
It’s very important to note that subjects and objects are used with this verb in a way that’s opposite to English. That is, mi manchi actually literally translates as something like “you cause me to feel a lacking.”
And if you say ti manco, you’re arrogantly proclaiming “you miss me.”
Here are three terms of affection (equivalent to saying “darling”) for family, close friends or lovers: amore, tesoro and (used especially in the south) gioia. Literally, they translate as “love,” “treasure” and “joy,” respectively.
Talking (or Gossiping) About Love and Sex in Italy
If there’s one thing that’s even more popular than proclaiming one’s romantic intentions, it’s commenting on the romantic attempts of others. Here’s the vocabulary you’ll need to do that:
È bravo/a con le romanticherie. — He/she is good at saying sweet nothings.
Sdolcinatezze — Another word for romanticherie, these are possibly a bit more exaggerated sweet nothings.
Fare l’amore — To make love
Fare sesso — To have sex
Innamorarsi di — To fall in love with
Colpo di fulmine — Lovestruck; love at first sight (literally, “strike of lightning”)
Amore proibito — Forbidden love
Innamorato cotto — Completely, crazy in love; a crush
Lei è cotta di lui. — She has a crush on him.
Follemente innamorato/a — Crazily in love
Perdutamente innamorato — Lost in love
Relazione sentimentale/relazione amorosa — A romantic relationship
È la mia ragazza. — She’s my girlfriend.
Literally, you’re saying “she’s my girl,” but the mia transforms the word ragazza into an indication of romantic status (girlfriend).
If your love-muffin is male, say È il mio ragazzo. (He’s my boyfriend.)
È il mio compagno/È la mia compagna. — He’s my partner./She’s my partner.
This is a more mature way to indicate relationship status.
Mio fidanzato/mia fidanzata — My fiancé/fiancée or my boyfriend/girlfriend
This word doesn’t necessarily indicate a pending marriage is in the works, but it does mean a serious, stable relationship.
Marito/moglie — Husband/wife
That’s all I’ve got for you for now, tesori (darlings)!
I should probably admit that in my decade-plus experience with il flirt (flirting) in Italian, non sono mai riuscito ad andare oltre le poesie (I’ve never succeeded in going beyond poetry).
But it’s been a heck of a lot of fun. I hope you’ll enjoy it as well.
Mose Hayward blogs about Italian and other world traditions for drinking, dancing and romance at TipsyPilgrim.com.