Love as a Natural Force

Metaphors, metonyms, and related concepts make our understanding and experience of love richer and deeper. Various metaphorical expressions of love are quite typical across many languages and cultures (Kövecses, 1988, 2003).

For instance, the “love” metaphoric lexicon expresses the emotional experience of love in several metaphors that represent natural forces. These metaphors can emphasize the intensity of passion and lack of control in love.

Metaphors of Love as a Natural Force

The metaphor of “love as a natural force” presents many examples of this kind. Here are some examples: “for us, it was a whirlwind romantic relationship,” “I was carried away by love,” “she swept me off my feet,” and “I let myself go.” (Kövecses, 1988; Kovecses, 2003).

Similarly, the “love as physical force” metaphor represents love as a physical force like gravity, magnetism, or electricity. Once again, these metaphors emphasize that love is something over which an individual has no choice, no control, or no responsibility. For example, “they gravitated to each other immediately,” “I was knocked off my feet,” “his life revolved around her,” “they lost their momentum,” and “he was magnetically drawn to her.” The metaphors also highlight the love forces as magical, superior, and beyond an individual’s control: “He was enchanted,” “Waves of passion came over him,” and “She was completely ruled by love.”

The Natural Force of Romantic Attraction

Sexual desires and attractions are also often represented in the metaphors of electrical, explosive, or magnetic physical forces (Karandashev, 2019), e.g., “we were drawn to each other,” “we had chemistry between us,” “he had a lot of animal magnetism,” or “our relationship was devastating.”

Love magnetism

Love and lust can be internal natural forces. For example, the “love as nutrition” and “lust as hunger metaphors represent love and sexual desire like hunger for food or appetite. The beloved or sexually appealing person and love/sex itself are compared with necessary sustenance, nutrients, and food, e.g., “she was starved for affection,” “he hungered for love,” “he was sex-starved,” “she looked luscious,” “Hi, sugar!

Among the typical “love as physical force” metaphors are “love as fire (see another post) and “love as water.” Love is frequently described as a flood, storm, river, or wind. All these allegories usually characterize the high or low intensity of love and the ability or inability of a person to control their love experience—”He was burning with love.”

This metaphoric imagination can stem from the boosting effects of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. Physiological experiences of tightness in the chest, short and shallow breaths, sweating, an increasing heart rate, and feelings of euphoria or anxiety can precipitate various natural sensations and images.

Questions for thought:

Do you know any other metaphors for love as a natural force?

Do other languages and cultures have similar or different metaphors for love as a natural force?

You may also be interested in the articles:

Where do you feel your love?

Love-as-fire across European and North American cultures

Body metaphors of emotions across cultures

Love Words Across Languages and Cultures

Why do people use so many love words? What is the meaning behind all these love words? Love is so diverse in its variety of meanings and connotations, such as attraction and attachment, passion and compassion, intimacy and commitment, that a variety of words and expressions have emerged across times, societies, languages, and cultural contexts.

How People in Different Cultures Say “Love” and “I love you

Some of the most widely known love words are French amour, Spanish amor, Italian amore, English love, German Liebe, and Russian любовь (lyubov’). The least known are probably Sanskrit sringara (śṛṅgāra), Indonesian asmara, Chinese ài (爱), Japanese koi (恋) or ai (愛), Arabic hubb (‘حب’), Persian and Arabic ishq (ešq or eshgh), as well as several other languages of Muslim countries with some variations in the spelling. Each language has a variety of love words for different kinds of love (see Karandashev, 2017, 2019).

With increasing intercultural communication (see for review, Karandashev, 2017), people sometimes wonder how to say “I love you” in a language other than their own. The verbal and nonverbal expressions of love are diverse: the German Ich liebe Dich German, the Dutch Ik hou van jou, the Swedish Jag alskar dig, the Norwegian Jeg elsker deg, the Finnish Mina rakastan sinua, the French Je t’aime, the Spanish Te quiero/Te amo, the Italian Ti amo, the Farsi Dooset daram/ Ashegetam, the Turkish Seni Seviyorum, the Georgian Mikvarhar, the Ukrainian Ya tebe kohayu, the Russian Ya tebya liubliu, the Czech Miluji te, the Yiddish Ikh hob dikh, the Cantonese Chinese Ngo oi nei (vary in Mandarin and other Chinese languages), the Hindi Hum tumhe pyar karte hae, the Tamil Naan unnai kathalikiraen, the Tagalog Mahal kita, the Creole Mi aime jou, the Swahili (Bantu language) Nakupenda or Begg naa la.

Gender Specificity of Love Words

The grammatical gender of nouns can play a role in the forms of related words. There are no grammatical genders in such languages as English, Finnish, Estonian, Georgian, Armenian, Hungarian, Persian, Bengali, and Tamil. Nouns do not have a feminine or masculine gender, unless they refer to biological sex (e.g., girl, boy, man, woman, Mr., Ms.). Different from this, gendered languages, such as Arabic, Spanish, French, German, Russian, and Hindi, have the grammatical gender of a noun (e.g., masculine, feminine, neuter).

In Spanish, for instance, many masculine nouns (with some exceptions) end in the letter “o”—Latino, el niño (son), el tío (uncle), el dormitorio (bedroom), and feminine nouns end in the letter “a”—Latina, la hija (the daughter), la profesora (the teacher), la mesa (table). Not only people and animals, but also things, feelings, places, and ideas have a gender in a grammatical sense. Gendering words is conventional and can vary across languages. For example, the Spanish word la mesa (table) is feminine, whereas the German der Tisch (table) is masculine. These “gendered” nouns determine the forms of other related words. The forms of determiners, pronouns, adjectives, and verbs depend on the grammatical gender of the nouns they refer to.

Consequently, the ways people say “I love you” vary when they are addressed to a man or a woman. For example, in Arabic, one says “Ana uħibbuk” to a man and “Ana baħibbik” to a woman. In Hebrew, one says Ani ohev et otha to a man and Ani ohev otah to a woman. In Thai, Chan rak khun is addressed to a man, while Phom rak khun is addressed to a woman.

You may also be interested in the articles:

Where do you feel your love?

Love as a natural force

Body metaphors of emotions across cultures

Love-as-fire across European and North American cultures

Body Metaphors of Emotions Across Cultures

Subjective experiences of love are widely embodied in various sensations and organs. Therefore, it is not surprising that bodily metaphors and metonymies are common for verbal expressions of emotion and love (see, for example, Kovecses, 1988, 2003). For example, an increase in body heat and in heart rate may be indicative of love, as in “I felt hot all over when I saw her,” or “He’s a heart-throb.” Sweaty palms and blushing may also stand for love, as in “She blushed when she saw him,” or “His palms became sweaty when he looked at her.”

The Heart Emotional Metaphors Across Cultures

A few types of heart metaphors referring to the expressions of emotions and love are present in Germanic languages (e.g., German and English) and Romance languages (e.g., Italian, Spanish, and French). The heart is a container of sincere feelings and emotions, as it is presented in German, French, Italian, and Spanish in such expressions as “speaking from the heart,” or “speaking from the bottom of one’s heart” (Pérez, 2008).

The Italian “parlare col cuore in mano,”  the same way as the Spanish “hablar con el corazon en la mano,”  has the figurative denotation “speak with the heart in your hand,” meaning “speak frankly,” “clearly show one’s emotions.” In English, the expressions “near my heart,” “give my heart,” “lose my heart,” and “gain a beloved’s heart” are common metaphors of love and affection.

The Turkish words for heart (“kalp” and “yürek”) are also used as metaphors for many emotions, such as fire, force, burden, agitation, and others (Baş, 2017). 

In the Gĩkũy – the spoken language of the Kikuyu people of Kenya (East Africa), the heart metaphor wendo ni ngoro (“love is heart”) figuratively localizes love and other emotions (Gathigia, Ndung’u, & Orwenjo, 2015). Several lexical expressions convey this meaning, such as wendo utumaga uhure ngoro (“love makes the heart beat fast”), wendo ni thakame (“love is blood”), and wendo wa thakame nduthiraga ngoroini (the love of the blood does not end in the heart”).

Cultural Variation in the Embodiment of Emotions

In many cultures, emotions are also localized in other body parts. In some Turkish metaphoric expressions, emotions are in the liver: “My liver, my soul” (Pérez, 2008). The Malay indigenous people also believe that emotions are situated in the liver (Howell, 1981). The Tahitian people believe emotions derive from their intestines (Levy, 1973). In the cultural expressions of emotions and love in several African cultures, such as Nigeria, the Akan people of Ghana, and Cote d’Ivoire, the belly is the seat of emotions. It is worthwhile to note, however, that many culturally specific words may have multiple meanings that cannot be simply interpreted from a dichotomous view. For instance, the African word yam (stomach) is polysemic, and its expressions describe the intricate metaphoric and metonymic relations of the stomach, womb, heart, chest, and brain, representing multiple positive and negative feelings (Agyekum, 2015).

You may also be interested in these articles:

Where do you feel your love?

Love as a natural force

Body metaphors of emotions across cultures

Love-as-fire across European and North American cultures


Agyekum, K. (2015). Akan metaphoric expressions based on yam ‘stomach’. Cognitive Linguistic Studies, 2(1), 94–115.

Baş, M. (2017). The metaphoric conceptualization of emotion through heart idioms in Turkish. Cognitive Semiotics, 10(2), 121–139.

Gathigia, M. G., Ndung’u, R. W., & Orwenjo, D. O. (2015). When romantic love in Gĩkũyũ becomes a human body part: A cognitive approach. Cognitive Linguistic Studies, 2(1), 79–93.

Howell, S. (1981). Rules not words. In P. Heelas & A. Lock (Eds.), Indigenous psychologies: The anthropology of the self (pp. 133–143). San Diego: Academic Press.

Kövecses, Z. (1988). The language of love: The semantics of passion in conversational English. Bucknell University Press.

Kövecses, Z. (2003). Metaphor and emotion: Language, culture, and body in human feeling. Cambridge University Press.

Levy, R. I. (1973). Tahitians. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Pérez, R. G. (2008). A cross-cultural analysis of heart metaphors. Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses, 2, 25–56.

Where Do You Feel Your Love?

It is commonly assumed that love is evidently inside their body, soul, and mind. The questions remain, however: “Where do you feel and sense your love in your body?”

Love is Not Only Butterflies in the Stomach

Many people may think about butterflies in the stomach or heart.

When we are falling in love, we frequently experience such a swoony sensation in our stomach as “butterflies.” A metaphor of “a belly full of glittering monarchs and swallowtails” when our beloved one appears is quite illustrative. This feeling is both a physical and psychological phenomenon that signals our sexual passion and lust. Getting excited or anxious activates the gut and causes the fluttering feeling in our stomach because our brain activates the vagus nerve connected to our gut.

(see more in Why falling in love gives you butterflies, by Nicole Spector, Feb. 14, 2018, at

Love, like any emotion, can be a fleeting subjective experience with a certain pattern (or patterns) of feelings, body sensations, and physiological processes. Among those are: a warm rush or feeling hot, a racing heart, fast breathing, blushing, a flushed face, sweating, and butterflies in the stomach.

Body organs, especially vital ones like the heart and head, are frequently used in a variety of metaphorical and metonymic expressions of love. According to their cultural beliefs, people tend to attribute emotional and cognitive processes to certain organs of the body.

Do You Love with Your Heart or with Your Head?

The heart in love

The head and heart, as vital body organs, are often used in metaphorical expressions referring to mental life. In many Western cultures, the head is the place where reason and rational thought are located, while the heart is the place where feelings and emotions are located (see, for example, Karandashev, 2019).

The heart as the locus of emotional experience is commonly opposed to the head as the locus for rational thinking. This is called a dualistic view of mental life.

The “heart is a container of emotions” (Kövecses, 2003) is one of the most common metaphors for love. Sincere love is often attached to the heart, as in the saying “follow your heart.”

Many languages include a heart metaphor for love and associated emotions. The Spanish expression “hablar con el corazon en la mano,” as well as the Italian “parlare col cuore in mano,” means “speak with the heart in your hand” – that implies “speak frankly.”

These expressions are rooted in an old cultural metaphor that shows sincere feelings figuratively means “taking the heart out of one’s breast and showing it on one’s hand, where it is easily seen.” This saying is remotely associated with the old English expression “to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve,” which, in turn, stems from the chivalry tradition of the Middle Ages (Pérez, 2008). The expression is still used today with the idea of plainly expressing one’s emotions. In a similar vein, the heart commonly represents love.

A Dualistic View of Love

Psycholinguistic studies of metaphorical and metonymic expressions in the emotional lexicons of English, Japanese, and Thai have found two different ways of thinking about the mind that are based on culture: “dualistic” and “monistic” (Berendt & Tanita, 2011; Karandashev, 2019). 

As I noted above, in many Western cultures, the heart is the seat of feelings, emotions, and attitudes, while the head is the seat of cognitions and thoughts. When we are guided by our heart, we are guided by our emotions. When we are guided by our “head”, we are guided by our rational thought. This conceptualization admits a dualistic view of mental life functioning in either rational or emotional modes, guided by either the “head” (mind) or the “heart” (emotions). This dichotomy in Western cultures sets up a psychological dilemma: either “follow your mind” or “follow your heart.” In several Western models of emotion, love comes from the heart. The expression “listen to your heart” conveys self-expressive, individualistic cultural values. Practical reasons, however, still have their values. Therefore, many young men and women had a difficult choice in their lives: to “follow their heart” or “follow their rational thought,” as it is depicted in many novels in the history of literature.

A Monistic View of Love

Different from this dualistic perspective, some Eastern cultures perceive mental life from a monistic perspective. They do not oppose but rather integrate the rational and emotional modes of life. For example, the Japanese and Thai cultural views represent internal personal experience as a mixture of its different modes. Rational and emotional functions are not divided. These traditional cultural views are reflected in the conceptual metaphors of the Thai jai (heart) expressions and the Japanese hara (abdomen/belly) expressions. The Japanese metaphors, however, embody mental life in several sources: kokoro, mune, and hara (see more below).

You may also be interested in the articles:

Where do you feel your love?

Love as a natural force

Body metaphors of emotions across cultures

Love-as-fire across European and North American cultures


Berendt, E. A., & Tanita, K. (2011). The “heart” of things: A conceptual metaphoric analysis of heart and related body parts in Thai, Japanese and English. Intercultural Communication Studies, 20, 65-78.

Karandashev, V. (2019). Cross-cultural perspectives on the experience and expression of love. Springer.

Kovecses, Z. (2003). Metaphor and emotion: Language, culture, and body in human feeling. Cambridge University Press.

Pérez, R. G. (2008). A cross-cultural analysis of heart metaphors. Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses, 2, 25–56.