The most basic words for love in Arabic (حُبّ), English and French (aimer) don’t look anything alike, but they do share the same set of meanings. If I say alternately ‘I love you’ or ‘je t’aime’ or ‘أُحِبّك,’ I could be speaking to a lover, a parent, a sibling, a friend, a pet or even an inanimate object. I might even just mean, “I like you.” It’s all about the context – and this is also a handy word to know in Arabic, السِياق.
If I’m speaking to a male, I’m going to say أُحِبُكَ (u7ebbuka), whereas if I’m speaking to a female, I’ll say أُحِبُكِ (u7ebbuki).
Of course, if I’m in الشام area of the Arab world, I might add a ‘بَ’ to the beginning of the word to signify that it’s in the present tense (and, in this case, tweak the internal vowels). In the Levant (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan) and in Egypt, for instance, I’d say بَحَبك (ba7ebbak/ik). If I’m just talking about love in general, I’ll use the مصدر or verbal noun and be sure to make it definite: الحُبّ.
This particular verb, however, is hardly the only one you’ll hear used to describe love. In London-based Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif’s 1999 novel,The Map of Love, one of her characters – an avid Arabic student – goes looking for love in the Arabic language. In a lyrical journal entry, she writes about what she has discovered:
” ‘Hubb’ is love, ’3ishq’ [عِشْقَ] is love that entwines two people together, ‘sha3′af’ [شَغَفَ] is love that nests in the chambers of the heart, ‘hayam’ [هامَ/هَيم] is love that wanders the earth, ‘taym’ [تامَ/تَيْم] is love in which you lose yourself, ‘walah’ [وَلَهَ] is love that carries sorrow within it, ’9abaabah’ [صَبَّ/صَبابة] is love that exudes from your pores, ‘hawa’ [هَوَى] is love that shares its name with ‘air’ and with ‘falling,’ ’3′arem’ [غَرِمَ - pass.] is love that is willing to pay the price.”
If you’re yearning to know more about these specific words – well, yallah, look them up in our dictionary!