There are many ways to talk about that feeling you get when you’re romantically attracted to someone. The go-to word is love, but that little word has to do a lot of work to communicate such a deep feeling that can also have many shades of meaning. Luckily for all of us, the English language has lots of idioms, or figurative expressions, to help us describe our affections more vividly. Whether you’re trying to pen the perfect message for Valentine’s Day or hoping to win over the cutie you just met, these idioms might be just what you need to reveal what’s in your heart!
head over heels
Ever been so in love that the object of your affections is all you can think about? Then you were head over heels for them. The idiom head over heels describes the action of falling down or doing a somersault. (Originally the expression was heels over head, but it, well, flipped during the 1700s.) In other words, if you are head over heels for someone, you are thoroughly in love with them.
apple of one’s eye
Someone or something that is special to you is the apple of your eye. What is so special about apples? Historically, the apple of the eye was an idiom that simply described the pupil, or black aperture in the eyeball. In ancient times, it was believed that the pupil was a hard round object, like an apple. The apple of one’s eye came to be associated with a particular object of affection or focus by the early 1800s, possibly because one’s pupil is associated with sight—and gazing fondly at someone.
love you to the moon and back
What is the farthest distance you can imagine from where you are right now? Probably somewhere in outer space, right? That is the thinking behind the hyperbolic expression love you to the moon and back: you love them as much as you can possibly imagine loving someone. While the origins of this expression are a little obscure, it may have been inspired by the moon race in the 1960s. At any rate, the meaning is clear. If you love someone to the moon and back, you really love them a lot.
If the notion of puppy love sounds adorable, that’s because it often is. A puppy is a young dog, and puppy love is something typically associated with young people, particularly teenagers (or someone acting like a teenager). Puppy love describes a “temporary infatuation of a young person for another person.” The temporary part is important here—often young people will fall in and out of love very quickly.
The word lovebirds is another animal-inspired idiom used to describe a couple. Lovebirds are small parrots, particularly Agapornis, that live as bonded pairs. So the word lovebirds can describe couples who display similar behavior, acting affectionately towards each other.
take one’s breath away
If the mere sight of someone sets the world spinning, you could say that person takes your breath away. The expression is not only used to describe love, but any strong emotion of astonishment or shock. Take one’s breath away refers to that moment when people hold their breath while experiencing strong emotions.
to have butterflies in one’s stomach
The object of your affections might inspire a sensation that can be described as having butterflies in one’s stomach. Imagine if you actually had a bunch of butterflies in your tummy—it would probably feel kind of strange and fluttery. This idiom can refer to anything that makes you nervous, whether that’s someone you have a crush on or a big speech.
have the hots (for)
Affection is not always about love—sexual attraction can be an important component of that emotion as well. That’s what the expression to have the hots (for someone) describes. Someone who is physically attractive causes a heated feeling of desire and can be described as hot. It is this figurative expression that to have the hots (for) is likely referencing. You find the other person to be hot.
Love, sadly, does not always last forever. Someone you used to date or desire, but no longer do, can be described as an old flame. The word flame suggests you once may have had the hots for that person.
carry a torch for
Another fire-related idiom to describe love is carry a torch (for). If you are carrying a torch for someone, you still have love for them even though the relationship is over and may have ended a long time ago. It’s often advised that you should not carry a torch for someone who doesn’t love you back, but it’s easier said than done. Interestingly, this idiom might be linked to the term torch song, which in the early 1900s referred to a sad love song.
tie the knot
When two people get married, one idiom to describe this rite of passage is tying the knot. The expression dates to the 1700s. This idiom has quite a literal origin. It refers to the ancient Celtic practice of handfasting, when a cord or ribbon is used to bind the hands of the two betrotheds together in a symbol of their marriage.
Another informal expression for describing marriage is to get hitched. To hitch means “to fasten oneself to something.” If two people are getting hitched, it means they are, figuratively, fastening themselves together.
whisper sweet nothings
When you are lying in bed with the person you love, they may whisper sweet nothings in your ear. The expression sweet nothings refers to the kind of nonsensical, sappy things that lovers will say to one another. Another word to describe this kind of dopey language is sweet talk.
A couple that is particularly affectionate with each other can be described as lovey-dovey. The origins of this phrase are a little obscure. It is possible that dove, as in the bird also known as a pigeon, simply rhymes well with love. Another possible explanation is that doves are particularly affectionate towards their mates and are used as a symbol for love. Whatever the origin, when two people act all lovey-dovey, they are really in love.
One concept of love is that the person you love “completes” you; you are “half a person” without them. This notion is what is illustrated in the expression better half. This is most often used to describe one’s spouse.
those three little words
A confession of love can change everything about a relationship—especially if these three words are involved: I. Love. You. The expression those three little words or those three small words refers specifically to the sentence “I love you.”
Sometimes labeling a relationship can be tricky. The phrase my person, popularized by the long-running medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, describes someone who is a close partner but may not be a spouse. It implies that two people belong together, even if the relationship is not formalized.
ride or die
Ride or die is a colloquial expression describing extreme loyalty, such as you would have between two people who love each other. The term comes from modern hip-hop in reference to the legendary outlaws Bonnie and Clyde. It can function as a noun (as in she’s my ride or die) or a verb (we would ride or die for each other).
Take the quiz!
Love might be confusing, but we hope these idioms are not! You can test your knowledge of them with our love-related idioms quiz here.