Let’s talk about terms of endearment.
No, not the 1983 movie starring Jack Nicholson that you probably haven't seen (me neither). I'm referring to the affectionate words that people use to address their friends and loved ones, like “sweetheart”, “baby”, or “honey”, “mate”, “dude”, or “buddy”.
English has many terms of endearment. Other languages are full of them too.
In this article I'll list some of the more common and interesting terms of endearment from different languages and dialects around the world — these include terms of endearment for lovers, and for friends.
I'll start by having a closer look at the English-speaking world.
After that, we’ll look at terms of endearment from other countries around the world, including translations into English.
English Terms of Endearment
This is a common way to address a romantic partner (male or female). It would be weird if you said it to someone you're not in a relationship with.
Sometimes this is shortened to “babe”. However, “babe” is also a slang term for an attractive woman.
A very affectionate term for a loved one or romantic partner. “Sweetie” is also common.
Another term of endearment that plays on the theme of sweetness. As we'll see, this is a common theme in terms of endearment around the world.
“Dude” is an American word that's becoming more and more common in English speaking countries all around the world. You can use it to address your male friends. Some people also use it to address women, although this is less common.
Incidentally, I once had the following exchange with a German friend:
Me: “Dude” is more of an American word than a British one.
Her: But what about that Beatles song “Hey Dude“?
American Terms of Endearment
“Buddy” is an all-purpose American term of endearment, usually for a male friend.
Yet another sweet term of endearment, “honey” often abbreviated to “hun”.
“Son” is common in the American south, especially when said to a younger male.
“Bae” is an abbreviation for “babe”, popularised by hip-hop and R&B lyrics. It's sometimes understood to mean “before anyone else”.
Fun fact: “bae” is also a Danish word for “poop”.
British Terms of Endearment
This is sometimes written “luv”. You don't have to be in love with someone to use this word – it's a more general term of affection, usually said to a member of the opposite sex.
In some parts of the UK people might also call you “my love” or “my lover” – even if they're not literally your lover. Needless to say, this sounds strange to American ears.
Some find find it weird or even offensive to be called “pet”, but in the northeast of England this is a common term of affection, especially among the older generation.
“Duck” or “my duck” is a term of endearment used in some regions of England, and especially said by older people. It’s thought to be a mutation of the word “duke”, rather than referring to the quacking bird.
Australian Terms of Endearment
I could have included this one under “British terms of Endearment”, because it's very common in the UK as well. But for some reason the word “mate” is stereotypically associated with Australians, as in the classic Australian greeting “g'day mate”.
A possum is a smallish marsupial mammal that's native to Australia. The word “possum” is also, strange though it may seem, a term of endearment that's native to Australia.
Not to be confused with “copper” (police officer), “cobber” is a generic Australian term of endearment that's similar in meaning to “mate”.
Old-Fashioned Terms of Endearment
Terms of endearment are apparently as old as language itself. For some reason, humans have never had a big thing for calling each other by their real names.
With that in mind, let's take a quick look at some (English) terms of endearment that aren't so common anymore.
That's right: “bully” used to mean something quite different to what it means today.
According to Oxford Dictionaries, in the sixteenth century “bully” was a compliment. To call someone a “bully” was somewhat like calling them “darling”.
Nowadays, a “bully” is someone who intimidates or exploits the weak and vulnerable. That's a pretty major shift in meaning!
Yet another food-related term of endearment.I've never heard anyone be called “cinnamon” in real life, but it may have been common in the 14th century.
That's when Chaucer published The Canterbury Tales, which includes the following snippet of dialogue:
“What do ye, honeycomb, sweet Alisoun?
My faire bird, my sweet cinamome”
Nowadays “chuck” is a verb meaning “throw”, an abbreviation for “woodchuck”, or a male first name that originated as a nickname for “Charles”.
However, in times gone by, “chuck” was also a familiar term for a romantic partner, child, or anyone close to you. It's one of many examples of a term of endearment that has fallen out of use. Although, as this article is hopefully showing you, new terms of endearment are invented as fast as they're forgotten.
(Linguistic trivia: among U.S. Marines in the Vietnam War, “chuck” was a non-derogatory slang term for a white marine. The equivalent term for an African-American marine was a “splib”.)
Spanish Terms of Endearment
18. Tío/Tía – “Uncle/Aunt”
Time to move on to another language. In Spain (but not in Latin America), it's extremely common to address your friends as “tío” or “tía”.
These words mean “uncle” and “aunt” respectively, but they're not exclusively for relatives. It's like calling someone “dude” or “mate” in English.
When I speak my native English, I sorely miss a few features that are common in other European languages. One such feature is the “diminutive” suffix.
You know how “kitty” is a cute and affectionate way of saying “cat”? In Spanish, you can make the same change to practically any noun by adding –ito (for masculine nouns) or -ita (for feminine nouns) to the end.
It's hard to give an exact translation for these suffixes. Most literally, they mean “small” – so casa means “house” while and casita means “a small house”. But they also imply familiarity and affection, and add some implied extra charm to the thing you're describing.
So a playful way to address your esposa (wife) would be esposita. Better yet, you can add the same suffixes to someone's name – so Jorge becomes Jorgito. It's cute, endearing, and common.
19. Cariño – “Darling”
Cariño is very a common word that you'd use for a romantic partner. It translates roughly as “dear” or “darling”.
You can use cariño to address a man or a woman.
20. Bebé – “Baby”
Remember we covered the English word “baby” earlier? In Spanish, bebé is used in the same way. As in English, it literally means “infant” – but you can use it to address a loved one.
21. Cielo – “Sky”
Cielo literally means “sky”, but you can call someone cielo – or mi cielo (“my sky”) to express your affection.
To make it cuter, you can say mi cielito – an example of the diminutives that we already discussed.
22. Dulzura – “Sweetheart”
Perhaps it should be unsurprising that terms of endearment in different languages tend to play on the same few themes. Dulzura is the Spanish word for “sweetness”, and if you call someone dulzura it's like calling them “sweetheart” in English.
As far as I'm aware, there's no language in which lovers call each other “savoury”.
23. Amor – “Love”
Amor means “love”, and like in English, you can call a Spanish speaker mi amor – “my love”.
24. Corazón – “Heart”
Here's a lyric from the Manu Chao song me gustas tú (“I like you”):
¿Qué hora son, mi corazón? – “What time is it, my heart?”
Chao isn't singing to his cardiac muscles: mi corazón, “my heart”, is another way to address a loved one.
Mexican Terms of Endearment
25. Vato – “Guy”
Vato is a Mexican slang term for “guy”, similar to tío in European Spanish.
26. Mijo/mija – “My Son/My Daughter”
Mijo and mija are contractions of mi hijo/mi hija (“my son/daughter”) They're both endearing terms for a loved one that you'll hear all throughout Central and South America.
They're sometimes written as m'hijo and m'hija. Coincidentally, the noun mijo also means “millet” (a type of cereal.)
French Terms of Endearment
27. Mon cœur – “My heart”
Remember mi corazón in Spanish? Mon cœur in French means the same thing: “my heart”. You can say it to someone you're in a loving relationship with (male or female).
It's also common for French parents to say mon cœur to their children.
28. Mon amour – “My love”
Unsurprisingly, the word amour (“love”) also appears as a term of endearment. Use mon amour (“my love”) in the same way you'd used mon cœur.
29. Mon bébé – “My baby”
Another term of endearment that can be translated directly from English (and Spanish). Mon bébé means “my baby”.
Remember that bébé, amour and cœur are all masculine nouns. That means you must always say mon amour/cœur, even if you're talking to a woman.
The feminine form of mon is ma, but this word must have the same gender as the noun being described, not the person being referred to.
30. -et / -ette
We've also seen the Spanish diminutive suffixes -ito and -ita. French has the same concept – they call it le diminutif – except this time around the suffixes are -et (masculine) and -ette (feminine).
Note that the “t” in the masculine version is silent, but the “tt” in the feminine suffix is pronounced. For an example of le diminutif in action, see the next point:
31. Mon chou – “My cabbage”
Another food-related word. But for once, this doesn't refer to a sugary treat. Mon chou literally means… “my cabbage”. Yes, French people really say this to each other.
So, about that diminutif. You can say mon chou to a guy or a girl, but if you want to make it cuter, change it to ma choupette. (This version can only be said to a girl.)
Other variations include mon choupinou (said to men) and ma choupinette (said to women). You can also say mon petit chou (“my little cabbage”) to a man or young boy.
32. Mon trésor – “My treasure”
In France, you don't have to be a pirate to care about treasure. Mon trésor means “my treasure”, and can be said to a man or a woman. Think of it as like calling someone “precious”.
33. Ma moitié – “My half”
In English, you can refer to your spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend as your “other half” or “better half”. In French, you can simply say ma moitié – “my half”.
34. Mon chéri / ma chérie – “My dear”
Can you think of a French speaker whom you cherish? If so, maybe you should call them mon chéri (if they're male) or ma chérie (if they're female). It roughly translates as “darling” or “dear”.
Note that, despite the difference in spelling, chéri and chérie are pronounced identically.
Italian Terms of Endearment
35. Dolcezza – “Sweetness”
I hope you have a sweet tooth, because we're far from done with the sugar-related terms of endearment. In Italy you can address your lover as dolcezza – “sweetness” – just like the Spanish word dulzura.
36. Innamorato – “Lover”
Innamorato roughly means “sweetheart” or “lover”, although it's rather formal.
37. -ino / -ina
It's time to introduce the Italian diminutive suffixes. Like -ito and -ita in Spanish, diminutives in Italian can be formed with -ino (masculine) and -ina (feminine.)
Like in other languages, you can add these suffixes to someone's name – or you can use them to make a regular “sweet” word sound more endearing, as in some of the following examples:
38. Fragolina – “Little strawberry”
“Honey”, “sugar”, “sweetheart”, and now another sugary word: in Italy the word fragolina (“little strawberry”) is used as a term of endearment. It's the diminutive form of fragola.
39. Stella/stellina – “Star”
Stella is more than just a brand of beer – it's the Italian word for “star”, and a term of endearment you can call your Italian lover.
40-42. Tesoro/Cuore Mio/Amore Mio – “Treasure/My Heart/My Love”
We’ve seen these before in other languages:
- Tesoro – “treasure”
- Cuore mio – “my heart”
- Amore mio – “my love”
Use them like you would in the languages already mentioned above.
43. Microbino mio – “My little microbe”
Now this is one we definitely haven't seen before! In Italian you can affectionately call someone microbino mio – “my little microbe”.
Strange though it may seem, this is a real term of endearment in Italian.
German Terms of Endearment
44. Schatz – “Treasure”
By far the most common term of endearment in German is Schatz, which literally means… “treasure”, yet again.
Remember that nouns in German are always capitalised, so Schatz is written with a capital “S” even when it's not at the beginning of a sentence.
45. -chen / -lein
Once again, German has diminutive suffixes that can be added to any noun or someone's name.
In Spanish, you had to pick the right diminutive ending to match the noun's gender. German doesn't quite work like that.
Recall that German has three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Regardless of a noun's gender, you can add -chen or -lein to the end.
There's no real difference in meaning, but -chen is more common. This now changes the word's gender to neuter, if it wasn't already.
You usually need to stick an umlaut onto the new word too – so der Hund (the dog) becomes das Hündchen (the little dog, the doggy.) Note that we now use das instead of der because the gender has changed from masculine to neuter.
Alles klar? Once again, you can use the diminutive form of someone's name to sound more endearing. For example, someone called “Fritz” could be referred to as “Fritzchen”.
(Incidentally, you know the character “Little Johnny” who appears in many jokes in English? In German the same type of jokes are told about a boy called Klein Fritzchen – “Little Fritzie”.)
46. Liebling – “Favourite”
The most literal translation of Liebling is “favourite”, but if you address someone as Liebling, it can also mean something like “darling” or “dear”.
The clue is in the first syllable – Liebe means “love”.
48. Süsser/Süsse – “Sweet”
Here we go again. Süss in German is an adjective meaning “sweet”. Would you be surprised if I told you it can also be used as a term of endearment?
The catch is that to use süss in this way, you have to turn it into a noun. Say Süsse to a woman and Süsser to a man.
48. Maus – “Mouse”
The German word Maus is pronounced very similarly to its English translation: “mouse”. But it doesn't just refer to rodents and/or computer apparel – Maus is a common term of endearment that a man might say to his wife or girlfriend.
You can also say Maus to a small child – although in this case it's more common to use the diminutive, Mäuschen.
49. Perle – “Pearl”
You may have noticed that most of these terms of endearment fall into the same few categories. Behind “sugary food” and “cute animals”, the third most popular trope is “valuable objects”.
In the latter category, we've already seen Schatz. A similar German term of endearment is Perle, meaning “pearl”. Call someone your “pearl” or your “treasure” – it's definitely a compliment.
While Schatz is common all over Germany, Perle is a particular favourite in the Ruhr Valley.
50. Hase – “Bunny”
Back to the cute animals. Hase means “bunny”, and in Germany you don't have to be a Playboy to call your sweetheart by this name.
Hase is more commonly used for women than for men. The diminutive, Häschen, also works well.
51-54. Extra Long (Compound) Terms of Endearment in German
Of course, we can't talk about German without looking at some compound nouns.
German is famous for its long words, formed by mashing nouns and adjectives together where in English we'd separate them with a space.
Here are a few such compound nouns that you might hear used to address a loved one:
- Knuddelbärchen – “cuddle bear”
- Mausebär – “mouse bear”
- Mausezähnchen – “little mouse tooth”
- Honigkuchenpferd – “honey-cake horse”
Yes, all of these words really exist – that's German for you.
Russian Terms of Endearment
55. Милая моя / милый мой – “Sweetie”
Another sugary term of endearment. Милая моя and милый мой mean “sweetie”; say the former to a woman and the latter to a man.
You can also say любимая моя (f.) and любимый мой (m.) to mean “sweetheart.”
56. солнышко моё – “My little sun”
If your lover burns brightly in the sky above you, call them солнышко моё – “my little sun”.
Other gender-neutral terms of endearment in Russian include радость моя (“my joy”), ангел мой (“my angel”), жизнь моя (“my life”) and душа моя (“my soul”).
57. котёнок – “Kitten”
This word means “kitten”, and can be used as a term of endearment to a man or a woman. You could also call them котик, which is the diminutive form of “cat”.
Irish Terms of Endearment
58. Mo Chuisle – “My Pulse”
You may recognise this term of endearment from the movie Million Dollar Baby. It means “my pulse”, and it's a shortened form of a chuisle mo chroí (“pulse of my heart”).”
You can also call someone mo chroí (“my heart”)
59. A Leanbh – “My Child”
This one literally means “my child.” In Irish songs, it often gets transcribed as “alanna”.
60. Mo Stoirín – “My Little Darling”
This means “my little darling”. “Stór” is the Irish word for “darling”, and changing it to “stoirín” makes it diminutive, and thus more affectionate.
Mo mhuirnín is also similar in meaning to mo stoirín, and can be used to mean “my darling” or “my sweetheart”
Another version is mo mhuirnín dílis, which means something like “my own true love” or “my faithful darling”.
This one isn't from Irish, but from Irish English, AKA Hiberno English, the dialect of English that's spoken in Ireland.
We've already looked at diminutives in many other languages. As we seen, they can be a cute and fun way to modify words. Sadly, English doesn't have diminutives – at least not in most of its dialects.
In Ireland, however, there is a kind of diminutive – the word “wee”. You can stick “wee” in front a noun – e.g. “the wee baby” or “the wee girl” – and it functions roughly like e.g. the “-ito/-ita” suffix that we've already seen in Spanish.
“Wee” is also commonly used this way in Scotland.
Korean Terms of Endearment
62. 애인 (ae-in) – “Sweetheart”
애인 is a common gender-neutral term of endearment in Korean that roughly translates as “sweetheart”.
63. 여보 (yeo-bo) – “Darling”
If you're married, you can say 여보 to your husband or wife. It means “darling” or “honey”.
Some other terms of endearment you could use for a female lover (whether or not you're married) are 공주님 (gong-ju-nim, “princess”) or 우 리강아지 (u-ri gang-a-ji, “my puppy”)
A word you could use for your boyfriend or husband is 왕자님 (wang-ja-nim), which means “prince”.
64. 오빠 (o-ppa)
Traditionally, 오빠 is a polite word that a woman might say to her older male friends or to an older brother. Increasingly, however, it's used as a romantic term of endearment from a woman to her husband or boyfriend.
Japanese Terms of Endearment
Are terms of endearment really used in Japan? Not in the sense you might be used to from the rest of this article.
If you look up words like “darling” or “sweetheart” in an English-Japanese dictionary, you'll find entries like ダーリン (darling) and スイートハート (sweetheart).
But these aren't real translations – they're just the original English words transliterated into Katakana. You'd get funny looks if you used them in Japan in the same way they're used in English.
So how can you express affection or at least familiarity in Japanese? One way is to use the right “honorific”. These are suffixes like “-san” or “-kun” that get added to the end of someone's name.
In English you might address someone as “Mr. Smith”; in Japanese you would call him “Smith-san”.
“-San” is used in formal and polite situations, so it's hardly a term of endearment. Two common informal honorifics, on the other hand, are “-chan” (used more often for females) and “-kun” (used more often for males). You can use these with your friends and relatives.
If you really want to express affection, however, a more common approach in Japanese is to give someone a nickname, as explained here:
Say the name of this other person is Natsuko Yamamoto. When I first meet her, I might call her Yamamoto-san. The use of the last name and the suffix would show that I maintain a proper distance (and respect) for her. If I'm a school friend with her, I would start calling her Yama-chan (more informal suffix) or Natsuko-san (first name is for more closer relationship.) If I'm a really good friend with her, this might further change to, say, Nacchi.
And for the kind of relationship where one could say “my love”, I'd come up with another name altogether. Often it still has some sound of original name left, like maybe Naah or Kocco, but it could also be completely unrelated phonetically and come from some shared experience only she and I would know. One usually keep this class of names secret from other people, and to do so, they are not used in front of other people.
As you can see, Japanese does things differently from the other languages on this list!
Portuguese Terms of Endearment
Once again, Portuguese has a system of diminutives. Where Spanish uses -ito and -ita, Portuguese uses -inho and -inha for masculine and feminine nouns (or names) respectively.
So if someone is called Amanda, you could affectionately address them as “Amandinha”. Or “Felipe” could become “Felipinho”.
If the word ends in a stressed vowel, put a “z” before the suffix – so for example “João” would become “Joãozinho”.
67. Amigão – “Big Friend”
So far we've seen many diminutives in many different languages. A cool feature of Portuguese is that it also has the opposite of diminutives, called augmentatives.
Where the diminutive version of a noun implies smallness, the augmentative version implies bigness. So for example, while livro means “book”, livrão means “big book”.
The augmentative suffix for masculine nouns or names is “-ão”. Feminine words use “-ona”.
And like diminutives, augmentatives can be used to make a word sound more affectionate.
So while amigo means friend, and you can certainly address someone as amigo, you could also call them amigão. It means “big friend”, but don't think about too hard – the person doesn't have to literally be big. It's just a friendly, endearing way to call someone your amigo.
Finally, some words that are commonly used in Brazil, strange though they may seem to a native English speaker.
If you're a pale-skinned gringo like me, travel to Brazil and you might hear people calling you Alemão (“German”) or Polaco (“Pole”). No-one is making an assumption about your nationality – these are just common, friendly ways in Brazil to address someone with light skin.
(Note that the “-ão” in “Alemão” isn't an augmentative; it's just part of the normal, unaltered word. The augmentative version would be “Alemãozão”)
In a similar vein, a friendly way to address a black male in Brazil is “negão”, which roughly translates as “big black guy”.
Despite the English word which it sounds like, negão is generally considered to be inoffensive (although of course you might offend someone if you said it in an obviously hostile tone.) You can hear the characters address each other as negão, for example, in the classic Brazilian movie Cidade de Deus (City of God).
What terms of endearment do you like to use in the languages that you speak? Are there any that I've missed? What are the most interesting or amusing terms of endearment you've heard? Let us know in the comments.
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.