愛 【あい】 (n,n-suf) (See 愛する) love; affection;

恋 【こい】 (n) love; tender passion;

My understanding on affection, love and tender passion is like the following:

affection < love < tender passion

If I may line up all three in a spectrum in term of the strength of the emotion involved, I imagine 愛 covers the lower end of the spectrum while 恋 covers the higher end. The adjectives that are derived from these two nouns seem to conform to it:

愛しい 【いとしい】 (adj-i) lovely; dear; beloved; darling;

恋しい 【こいしい】 (adj-i) yearned for; longed for; missed;

However, when the two kanji characters are combined with 人 to refer to the person that is the target of each type of love:

愛人 【あいじん】 (n) lover; mistress;

恋人 【こいびと】 (n) lover; sweetheart;

Apparently the two 'loves' swap places, with my assumption being:

sweetheart < lover < mistress

What's going on? Am I not getting the nuances for both nouns for 'love' right?

N.B. I don't mind getting philosophical answers here so please go all out if you must ;)

3 Answers 3


The difference between 愛 and 恋 is worth diving a bit deeper into. My view is as follows:

  • 愛: sacrificial, unconditional, love for the other person's sake (often parallels the Greek agape, but can extend into philos as sawa mentions)
  • 恋: selfish, conditional, love for one's own sake (often parallels the Greek eros)

While both can be used for romantic love, you cannot simply swap out one for the other. The contrast between the two shows up clearly in the したい forms of 愛する and 恋をする:

愛したい I want to love [someone in a deep, unconditional way]

恋がしたい I want to [fall in] love [with someone and experience the "high" of being in love]

With 愛, the focus is on the other person: you are loving that person for his/her sake, and even if he/she doesn't return your love, that won't change your feelings. With 恋, the focus is on you: it's all about experiencing that feeling of being in love, and it rarely continues if the feeling turns stale or if the object of your love fails to return your love.

The same difference appears in the ~たい passives:

○ 愛されたい I want to be loved [by someone in a deep, unconditional way]

△ 恋をされたい I want someone to fall in love with me

While the first is perfectly OK and common, the second, while not wrong, can sound strange, as it essentially means you want to be the object of someone's shallow (compared to 愛) love. Granted, the feeling of knowing that someone loves you, whether that love is 愛 or 恋, can be pleasant, but when given a choice, most people would rather be the target of 愛 as opposed to 恋.

  • 3
    Reference to the Greek distinction of love is helpful. Mentioning the syntactic difference is a good point. To say it in other words, 愛する is a transitive verb, whereas 恋する is intransitive. When you express the object of love with 恋する, you use instead of . 恋をされたい indeed sounds (completely) bad to me, but if that is ever possible, it is probably possible not as direct/ordinary passive (like 叩かれた), but as indirect/adversative passive (like 雨に降られた).
    – user458
    Commented Jul 27, 2011 at 18:40
  • @sawa: I thought about the difference in particles too, and was going to edit my answer to include that, but I'll upvote your comment instead. Commented Jul 27, 2011 at 20:10
  • @Derek Would you also expand your explanation to elaborate on 愛人 vs 恋人? Because they seem to be opposite of what 愛 and 恋 are.
    – Lukman
    Commented Jul 28, 2011 at 2:06
  • @Lukman: With respect to 愛人/恋人, I was not clear on the difference, but after checking the dictionary and doing a quick search for 愛人 on ALC, I find nothing to contradict sawa's answer. 恋人 can be used for, say, a close boyfriend or girlfriend, but 愛人 implies illicitness. Often 愛人 is best translated as "mistress": a lover you have outside of your "official relationship" or with whom you are having an affair. (The first page of the ALC search also quotes a Hiragana Times article which explains the same Chinese/Japanese difference sawa mentioned.) Commented Jul 28, 2011 at 3:09
  • What I think is interesting is that “愛する人” is typically taken to mean “Someone [I] love.” with the noun standing for the object, but “恋する人” is typically taken as “someone in love”, with the noun standing for the subject. Lending credence to the iea that “愛する” focuses more on the object.
    – Zorf
    Commented Dec 28, 2023 at 2:32

It is the other way. On the scale, is stronger than . Besides that, can be used generally, including the kind of love that Christianity talks about, or the love in between a family. is only for relations/feelings toward a person of the targetted sexual orientation.

As for the meaning of 愛人 and 恋人, you have to be careful. Whereas 恋人 purely means lover, 愛人 means a lover that is not official, such as one in an adulterous relationship, or someone for just having sexual relationship. This is one of the words that need caution when also learning Chinese. In Chinese, 愛人 means spouse.

  • 2
    +1 showing what it means in chinese... Commented Jul 28, 2011 at 0:44
  • 4
    +1 for the famous Chinese/Japanese "false friend" that is 愛人 :-)
    – Dave
    Commented Jul 28, 2011 at 6:24

A nice way to distinguish 愛 and 恋 is to look at the kanjis.



That should solve many ambiguities.

  • 1
    Hahaha. Good point.
    – user458
    Commented Jul 28, 2011 at 4:32

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