Exploring the spectrum of love within the Arabic language.

One of the most universal sentiments in the world is love – it’s written about in books, sung in music, and experienced between those we hold close. Love is expressed differently in different cultures and languages, and the Arabic language is no exception. Aside from being a language of warmth, Arabic also carries and describes a wide range of emotions, with over ten words denoting fleeting or profound feelings of love and care.

While we usually tackle funny idioms or conversational filler words in our Lost in Translation series, today, we wanted to share something slightly different. It might seem easy to translate; however, the English descriptions still don’t do it justice. While our list doesn’t cover the entire spectrum, here are our favourite five.

١. Hawa (هوى)

It all starts with this word that describes the initial attraction or infatuation to someone. Hawa is often associated with the euphoric moments of “falling” for someone; it’s when you experience all the butterflies and excitement. This word is rarely used in colloquial Arabic, though.

٢. Ishq (عشق)

Ishq is the stage in which feelings deepen into something intense and passionate, characterised by a strong desire and longing for someone. Lovers are usually consumed by their fiery feelings at this stage. Though not used daily in colloquial Arabic, it remains more common than hawa, as this word is also found in plenty of music and film/show titles.

٣. Mawadda (مودة)

Mawadda signifies affectionate love filled with tenderness and care. It’s a kind of love you have for your family, friends, and your partner. Often, it refers to a loving relationship filled with nurturing acts of love. Sometimes, Mawadda refers to the caring love you have for someone even when they aren’t “close to you.”

٤. Hubb (حب)

Among the phases of love in Arabic, the most comprehensive term is Hubb, which combines attraction, passion, affection, intimacy, and compassion to represent all-encompassing love. While soulmates – platonic or romantic – in long-term relationships carry this type of love, the word is often thrown around without much thought.

٥. Gharam (غرام)

Gharam signifies romantic and passionate love and is often associated with love at its peak. Although Ishq also conveys similar feelings, Gharam describes a less passionate and more tempered love in which you love this person continuously.

From the initial feelings of Hawa to the deepest Hubb, the Arabic language truly speaks to the heart.

Rand Al-Hadethi is an art, culture, and fashion writer who approaches all her creative endeavours with a penchant for storytelling. She explores the intersection of fashion, culture, and society and sheds light on talent and cultural movements across the Middle East and the world. Rand also publishes a bi-monthly themed substack newsletter called WebWeaver™. To reach Rand, email her at rand@khamsa5.com or follow her on social media @rundoozz.
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