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Unlike English, there are many different ways to say “I love in” Vietnamese, depending on the intensity of the feeling, the sex of the partners, and Northern vs. Southern dialects.
Em yêu anh – I love you
The common translation of “love” is yêu (in North Vietnam) or thương (in South Vietnam). These are reserved for very serious romantic relationships, like between husbands and wives, or family members. “Yêu” wouldn’t be said among boyfriends and girlfriends, unless they were serious about getting married.
- Em yêu anh (spoken by a woman to a man, in the North), pronounced like yew.
- Anh yêu em (spoken by a man to a woman, in the North)
- Em thương anh (spoken by a woman, in the South), pronounced like too-ung.
- Anh thương em (spoken by a man, in the South)
Em mến anh – “I have feelings for you” in Vietnamese
The gentlest way to say “I like you” or “I am interested in you” is Em mến anh (female to male) and Anh mến em (male to female). An alternative is em quý anh, which has the same meaning.
Mến/quý are used very early in courtship, when someone is just curious about the other person, but not sure whether they really like them. Mến/quý imply that they could very quickly abandon the feeling, if they met someone else better.
Mến is ambiguously romantic — it could also be said among people becoming friends, so beware that the person could be putting you in the “friend zone” by saying it!
Em thích anh – “I like you” (romantically) in Vietnamese
One step-up from “Em mến anh” is Em thích anh (female to male) or Anh thích Em. It also translates to “I like you”, and is used early-on in dating when neither partner is very committed. But it clearly means a romantic feeling, opposed to friend-like ambiguous feeling.
Em phải lòng anh – “I’m falling for you” or “I have a crush on you” in Vietnamese
Em phải lòng anh is more intense than “Em thích anh” — it means that the speaker is very clearly physically attracted to the other person, they have clear romantic feelings.
It implies a degree of commitment and monogamous intentions, like “You’ve taken over my mind!” or “I can’t think of anyone else other than you”. In other words, the speaker really really really like the other person, and can’t think about dating anyone else.
However, phải is still less intense than yêu, which would be a more formal declaration of one’s long-term romantic intentions.
Em cần anh – “I need you” in Vietnamese
A more passionate way to say “I love you” in Vietnamese is Em cần anh, which means “I need you” or “I can’t live without you”. This expression is really intense: you love someone so much you can’t live without them.
The verb cần is used for other non-sexual wants and needs as well, like “I need money” (tôi cần tiền).
Em muốn anh – “I want you” (sexually) in Vietnamese
A sexually-charged way to say “I want you” in Vietnamese is Em muốn anh. It is quite explicitly indicates that the speaker has strong sexual feelings for the other person.
The verb muốn is used for other non-sexual wants and needs as well, like “I want water” (tôi muốn nước)
RELATED: How to flirt in Vietnamese.
Familial “I love you” in Vietnamese
Among family members, the verb yêu is used in North Vietnam or thương in South Vietnam.
For example, a mother will say mẹ yêu con to her baby or child.
Gays in Vietnam – Gender Neutral “I love you”?
The Vietnamese culture is very sensitive to differences in sex and age, and the pronouns (em, anh, chi, chú, and more) are very important in communication. There is no “gender neutral” way to say “I love you” in Vietnamese: it must be the feminine Em yêu anh or masculine Anh yêu em.
So, how do homosexual partners say “I love you” in Vietnamese?
Conventionally, the partners will deside on who is the so-called “top-person” (the male-like partner) and who is the “bottom-person” (the female-like person), and will use pronouns accordingly. Therefore, both gay-couples and lesbian-couples will say Em yêu anh or Anh yêu em, based on their decided-roles as either the manly-man/manly-woman or the girly-man/girly-woman.