Friday, August 12, 2016

Love - Suki, Ai, Koi 好き, 愛, 恋

To say "I love you" in Japanese it's easy: just say aishiteru 愛してる... or was it aishiteiru 愛している? I mean, "love" in Japanese is ai 愛, right? Or was it koi 恋? Wait. What's the difference between ai and koi? What about the word suki 好き? You can say you like someone in Japanese with that word too, right? What's the meaning of all this?

Alright. Love is a complicated matter and love in Japanese is, well, also complicated, but not that much. First things first.

The word ai 愛 does in fact, and quite literally, mean "love" in Japanese. And the phrase anata wo aishiteru 貴方を愛してる is how you say "I love you." in Japanese. I mean, it's one of the ways to say "I love you" in Japanese.

ai 愛 - the kanji for love in Japanese written on a heart

Aishiteru and Aishiteiru

I just said ai 愛 means "love," so what about aishiteru 愛してる? It means "to love." As a verb.

The word ai is a noun, a "thing." To say you "do a thing" in Japanese you need the suru verb. So whatever it is, whatever-suru means you do it. And shiteru is merely a conjugation of the suru verb meaning you're currently "doing" it and not just "do" it.

Now, the difference between shiteru and shiteiru. Are they different conjugations? Not really. The shiteru, a "word without the i," or i nuki kotoba い抜き言葉, is just a casual way of saying shiteiru している with the i. (source: “している” “してる” の違い)

So aishiteiru is the proper, formal way to say "I love you", while aishiteru is the more casual way, which is why you'll see aishiteru more often than aishiteiru. Some of the actual conjugations of ai suru, by the way, are these:
  • ai shiteiru 愛している
    aishiteiru 愛している
    ai shiteru 愛してる
    aishiteru 愛してる
    To be in love. (currently)
    To be loving.
  • ai suru 愛する
    aisuru 愛する
    To love. (now or in the future)
  • ai shita 愛した
    aishita 愛した
    To have loved. (in the past)

As you can see above, the space between ai and suru is meaningless, just a romaji thing, and doesn't actually exist in the Japanese text. Specially because Japanese doesn't use spaces between words like we do in English.

Ai and Koi

Now let's talk about the word koi 恋. When we speak about love, be it in Japanese, English or even Portuguese, my native tongue, we don't always use the same single word, but that doesn't mean ai and koi are exactly the same.

koi 恋 - the kanji for love in Japanese written on a heart

The main difference between ai and koi is that ai 愛 is about "feelings of love" while koi 恋 is about "romantic love." That didn't help? Well, ai is about pure feelings while koi is about passion or romantic partners. That didn't help either?

To have a better idea, some vocabulary with the kanji for 愛 and 恋, which carry their respective meanings:
  • koibumi 恋文
    Love letter.
  • koiuta 恋歌
    Love song.
  • koigataki 恋敵
    Rival in love.

As you can see, these koi words are all about falling in love and getting yourself a girlfriend or boyfriend.
  • aijou 愛情
  • aishou 愛称
  • aiken 愛犬
    Beloved dog.
  • aisha 愛車
    Beloved car.

Unless you're the kind of person that marries with your car or dog, I guess you might have noticed the difference by now. By the way, the aishou might look weird given it means "nickname", but it's really about those nicknames you give to your close friends and not just any nickname at all.

Another thing is that aijou can also mean "feelings of love," though not specifically romantic. You can have "feelings of love" for your children, your siblings, your parents, etc. Usually, the word kimochi 気持ち is used to talk about feelings when drama is involved.
  • koibito 恋人
    Lover. (girlfriend, boyfriend, etc.)
  • aijin 愛人
    Lover. The person I love. (husband, wife, etc.)

You'll find the word koibito used more by high-schoolers and teenagers. Love at first sight. Shounen and shoujo manga. On the other side, aijin would be used more in a sense of deeper feelings for each other. The word aijin may also refer to the "lovers" of someone as in an affair, or a "lover" as in a client in certain kinds of businesses. By the way, koibito doushi 恋人同士 is how you say two people are "both lovers" (though not necessarily of each other)
  • ren'ai 恋愛
  • ren'ai taishou 恋愛対象
    Love target.
  • ren'ai kekkon 恋愛結婚
    Love marriage.
  • ren'ai kankei 恋愛関係
    Love relationship.
  • ren'ai shousetsu 恋愛小説
    Love story. Romance story.

Above the word ren'ai 恋愛, made by putting both koi and ai together in a same word. Indeed it is what you get when pure feelings of love and passion are mixed together in a single word.
  • koi suru 恋する
    koi wo suru 恋をする
    To be in love.
  • ai to deau 愛と出逢う
    To find love
  • chuunibyou demo koi ga shitai! 中二病でも恋がしたい!
    I want to love (koi ga shitai)
    despite (demo)
    [having] middle school 2nd year syndrome (chuugaku ninen byou)

In some cases, however, the two words can have a meaning too closer to each other, as ai can also be used to talk about ren'ai.

Character Hinagiku Katsura 桂ヒナギク from the anime Hayate no Gotoku!! ハヤテのごとく!! punching a carp, or koi fish, because of a pun with the word love in Japanese

(don't mistake koi 恋, which is "love", with the homonym koi 鯉, which means "carp" or "koi fish" in Japanese. As seen in the joke above from the anime Hayate no Gotoku!! ハヤテのごとく!!)

Suki and Dai Suki

Now, the last word this article is about, suki 好き, and also dai suki 大好き, though suki an dai suki are practically the same.

In a word, suki means "like". It's a conjugation of the verb "to like," suku 好く, to its noun form. While the suku verb is rarely used, the noun suki shows up often, specially to say something is liked.
  • keeki suki desu ケーキ好きです
    I like cake. (literally "cake is liked")
  • suki na tabemono wa nandesuka? 好きな食べ物は何ですか?
    What's your favorite food? (suki used as an adjective)
  • suki na hito wa dare desuka? 好きな人は誰ですか?
    Who do you like? (literally "who is the liked person")

As you can see, do not attempt to understand Japanese by translating it literally. It doesn't work and you'll understand even less than you did before trying it.

Since you can use suki to say you like things in general, you can also use suki to say you like people. Just like in English, when you say "I like you." Note that "I like you" isn't the same as "I am like you," it's the same English word with different meaning. The suki word only means liking things, not being like things.
  • anata no koto suki desu 貴方のこと好きです
    kimi no koto suki desu 君のこと好きです
    anata no koto suki あなたのことすき
    kimi no koto suki きみのことすき
    I like you.

In the phrases above, both anata and kimi are words that mean "you" in Japanese. The word for "I", first person, is often omitted in Japanese, and even the copula desu isn't necessary and is commonly abbreviated.
  • watashi wa anata to onaji 私は貴方と同じ
    I'm like you.
    I'm the same as you.

For completeness sake, above is how you say you're like someone.

The difference between suki and dai suki is that that the dai suki 大好き has this dai in front of it (obviously) and that means "large" or "greater" in Japanese. So, basically, dai suki is a bigger version of suki, meaning you like something very much.
  • anata no koto daisuki desu 貴方のこと大好きです
    I like you a lot.
  • anata no koto sukoshi suki 貴方のこと少し好き
    I like you a little.


Did you think it was over? Nope! Bonus word!

The word horeru 惚れる in Japanese means "to fall in love with". This word is a lot more versatile than the words above, because it's a verb, which means it can be conjugated to say plenty of things.
  • kanojo ni horeta 彼女に惚れた
    I fell in love with her.
  • horete ii? 惚れていい?
    Is it okay to fall in love with you?
  • horeteshimattanda! 惚れてしまったんだ!
    Fuck! I fell in love! (as it was a bad thing to do)
  • suki na hito ni horeta riyuu 好きな人に惚れた理由
    The reason you fell you love with the person you like.

As you can see, horeru is a verb in Japanese with a meaning that can only be translated as a phrase in English. It works just like the verb moteru モテる, which means "to be popular", and its inflections become difficult to translate literally.

If you want to know more about this word, try watching the anime Katanagatari 刀語, you'll notice that the word horeru is brought up in anime by Shichika 七花 and Togame とがめ more often than the word "cheerio."


Leave your komento コメント in this posuto ポスト of this burogu ブログ with your questions about Japanese, doubts or whatever!

All comments are moderated and won't show up until approved. Spam, links to illegal websites, and inappropriate content won't be published.

  1. I really like your blog. Simple but explain so much.
    You add romaji, hiragana, katakana and kanji even add anime as the reference. Keep post other articles, sensei!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. So helpful. Using Hayate as reference. Please use Anime, だってわかりやすいなあ。

  4. Usually "suki" is categorized as an adjective, not a noun. Though it's hard to draw a line between nouns and na-adjectives in japanese grammar ^_^