It’s “Je t’aime” in French.
It’s “Ti amo” in Italian.
It’s “Avy jorrāelan” in High Valyrian and “qamuSHa’” in Klingon.
But, how do you express this most powerful emotion and most consequential statement in Korean?
That’s what we’re going to talk about in this post: how to say “I love you” in Korean!
Plus, we’ll teach you some bonus romantic expressions you can use for your loved ones.
Bitten by the Love Bug? 3 Ways to Say I Love You in Korean (Plus 10 Romantic Expressions)
The word for “love” in Korean is 사랑 (sa-rang).
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of things, we need to remember that we have Korean speech levels that reflect differences in age, rank or social status. We talk one way when we’re with friends or buddies and another way when we’re with grandma. (It’s pretty much like this all over the world, but it’s more pronounced in cultures like Korean.)
This even affects the way we say “I love you.” The root, “sa-rang,” tacks on different endings depending on the level of formality conveyed by the situation. There’s a formal “I love you” (sarang-hamnida), a polite one (sarang-haeyo) and an informal one (sarang-hae).
And now, let’s take a closer look at each Korean phrase for “I love you.”
1. 사랑해 (sarang-hae)
When to Use It
Of the three ways to say “I love you,” this is the most informal. You use it with girlfriends/boyfriends or people you’re close to. “Sarang-hae” assumes familiarity and closeness and is appropriate for people you have a standing relationship with.
So maybe you want to greet your sweetheart “good morning,” and with it, you want to sneak in a simple “I love you.” Or, perhaps you want to remind a lover of your affections before you end a call. This phrase is perfect for either situation. A wife sending off her hubby for a few rounds of golf could also throw in a hearty “sarang-hae” along with a peck on the cheek.
Here are a couple of example sentences that use this phrase:
자기, 사랑해. (Jagi, sarang-hae.) — Honey, I love you.
우리 싸우지 말자, 당신. 사랑해. (Oori ssauji malja, dangshin. Sarang-hae.) — Let’s not fight, honey. I love you.
You can hear this phrase being pronounced in the following video by Piki Pictures.
Did you know that in Korea, on Valentine’s Day, February 14, it’s the women who give their men chocolates? Yup, while their Western counterparts get treated to an expensive dinner and gifts, Korean women buy their men chocolate on Valentine’s Day.
2. 사랑해요 (sarang-haeyo)
When to Use It
Okay, with this one, we’re starting to get a little more polite.
Say you want to confess your feelings for someone. She’s not your girlfriend (she does know you exist), but you sure wish she was. If you’re about to declare your undying love and devotion for the lady who frequents your romantic dreams, you’d use “sarang-haeyo” (and hope to God that she says it back)!
If you’d rather not confess your love so intensely—real life is slightly less dramatic than in the movies after all!—you can simply say 좋아해요 (Jowa haeyo), which means “I like you,” instead.
“Sarang-haeyo” is more polite than “sarang-hae.” Long-time couples can opt to use “sarang-haeyo” if they want to be extra polite with each other, but most just use the casual “sarang-hae.”
“Sarang-haeyo” can also be used when you want to say “I love you” to your mom or dad. So, while English uses the same exact “I love you” for a lover or parent, Korean distinguishes between the two.
Just as some couples use “sarang-heyo” to be a little bit more polite with each other, you could use “sarang-hae” with your mom to highlight not only your familiarity but also your closeness.
Here are a few example conversations that use this phrase:
Teenager to mom: 엄마, 사랑해요. (Umma sarang-haeyo.) — Mom, I love you.
Mom: 너 어디 아프냐? (Neo eodi apoonya?) — Are you sick?
Boy: 사랑해요… 나랑사귈래요? (Sarang-haeyo… Na rang sa guil lae yo?) — I love you… Will you go out with me?
Girl: 친구로 남고 싶어요. (Chingoo ro namgo shipuyo.) — I want to stay friends.
If the girl in the conversation returns the love, she might say 저도 사랑해요 (Judo sarang haeyo), which means “I love you, too.”
If not, then she might be so straightforward as to say 안 사랑해요 (An saranghaeyo), which means “I don’t love you.”
안 (an) is a negating term, and hearing it said before words like “sarang-haeyo” usually means it’s going to be a long week.
Take a minute to listen to the phrase’s pronunciation in the following video by LG U+.
If women having to buy their men chocolates on Valentine’s Day sounds unfair, don’t worry! Just one month later, on March 14, Korea celebrates “White Day.” This is when the tables are turned, and the men who received chocolates a month before are socially obligated to give their partners gifts like cookies, marshmallows, lingerie and jewelry.
And the rule is that the value of the chocolates a guy received on Valentine’s Day must be returned three-fold.
Talk about investing in love! Smart women will buy their men the most expensive chocolates in town.
3. 사랑합니다 (sarang-hamnida)
When to Use It
This is the most formal way to say “I love you.”
Now, you might wonder when we can use the formal form. There are actually a couple of ways. For example, you can use it when you’re talking to a group of people, like a full auditorium, or when you’re giving a presentation or speech. You might want to throw an “I love you” intended for no one in particular but for the audience as a whole, as a way of saying thank you to your listeners for being such good sports.
Kpop acts, especially when they travel abroad, might close a concert and bid the audience goodbye by saying “Sarang-hamnida!” to all of their screaming fans.
“Sarang-hamnida” is quite formal and can be used with someone you don’t know really well or someone who’s older than you. If the recipient is higher in perceived social status (even if he or she might be your age), you use “Sarang-hamnida.”
For example, you might hear one of the members of the popular band BTS yell the following to their fans in the Philippines:
사랑합니다, 마닐라! (Sarang-hamnida Manila!) — I love you, Manila!
Because “Sarang-hamnida” is quite formal, it’s not often heard or used in everyday conversations. The term does appear in poems and songs, however.
One example of this is in Tim Hwang’s 2003 hit ballad “Saranghamnida.”
Speaking of confessing your love, did you know that Korea celebrates “Black Day?” This happens on April 14, one month after “White Day” (March 14) and two months after Valentine’s Day (February 14).
“Black Day” is reserved for singles, those who didn’t get to participate in the festivities in the last two months. Singles go, with their other single friends, to a Chinese-Korean restaurant where they order Jajangmyeon, a savory noodle dish covered in black sauce.
As of late, instead of wallowing in their singleness, people use “Black Day” to celebrate the perks of freedom and the opportunity to focus on their careers and other worthy pursuits.
10 Additional Romantic Expressions in Korean
“I love you” may not always be the perfect thing to say. Sometimes, you’re just looking to say, “You’re beautiful!” Here are some of the other ways that you can tell a native speaker you fancy him or her.
1. 좋아해요. (Jowa haeyo.)
Meaning: “I like you.” (formal)
2. 당신은 나에게 무척 소중해요. (Dangsineun naege mucheok sojunghaeyo.)
Meaning: “You mean so much to me.” (formal)
When “sarang-haeyo” gets old, you can pretty much say the same thing with this phrase.
3. 정말 아름다우세요. (Jeongmal areumdauseyo.)
Meaning: “You’re so beautiful.” (formal)
It’s simple, it’s sweet. Just don’t say this to every native speaker you meet.
4. 정말 잘생기셨어요. (Jeongmal jalsaenggisyeoseoyo.)
Meaning: “You’re so handsome.” (formal)
5. 나는 너에게 반했어. (Naneun neoege banhaeseo.)
Meaning: “I’ve got a crush on you.” (informal)
6. 나는 너를 친구 이상으로 생각해. (Naneun neoreul chingu isangeuro saengakhae.)
Meaning: “I think of you as more than a friend.” (informal)
Use this phrase if you want to let him or her know that they’re not in the “friend zone” but also not yet on “lover’s lane.”
7. 사귈래? (“Sagwillae?”)
Meaning: “Will you be my boyfriend/girlfriend?” (informal)
8. 같이 있고 싶어. (Gachi itgo sipeo.)
Meaning: “I want to be with you.” (informal)
If you’re in Korea, make sure your visa doesn’t expire soon!
9.난 네꺼야. (Nan Ne-kkeoya.)
Meaning: “I’m yours.” (informal)
You can say this to your food, but saying this to a lady will melt her heart away.
10. 저와 결혼해 주세요. (Juwa gyulhon haejooseyo.)
Meaning: “Will you marry me?” (formal)
Congratulations: You’re now married with twins on the way. Kidding!
But you now know the three different ways to say “I love you” in Korean. You also know a whole bunch of other romantic expressions you can use to show your emotions. All that remains is for me to wish you good luck in all of your relationships. May you be as happy as a clam!