What It Means When Someone Says 'Love You' Vs 'I Love You’

The difference between saying 'I love you' and 'love you' can be huge... or it may mean nothing at all.

Last updated on Jun 06, 2023

woman looking away from man offended he said love you instead of I love you MAYA LAB / Shutterstock

There's definitely a difference between someone saying "Love you" vs. "I love you" — but what does that difference mean, and how much does it matter?

Most men and women have been in relationships with the type of person who, instead of simply being able to say, "I love you," tosses off a quick, "Love you," in their communications.

You may be falling in love at this very moment with someone who has this frustrating habit, or you might be someone who's done it yourself and wants to figure out what, if anything, it means.


Differences Between Saying "Love You" and "I Love You"

Some people believe dropping the "I" from "I love you" is a warning sign of an underlying fear of commitment or emotional unavailiability, while others think it signifies nothing other than speaking in a casual manner.

The truth is there is no one simple answer to what it means when someone says, "Love you" rather than all three little words.

RELATED: Why Saying 'I Love You, Too' Kills Your Relationship


Since so many couples appear to struggle with this issue that may or may not be about semantics, I came up with my own top 10 list of possible explanations.

So read on, give it some thought and you get to be the judge …

What does it mean when someone says "Love You" vs. "I love you"?

1. “Love you” is slightly less formal.

Some people identify as being a casual person in general, because that’s how they see themselves. They dress comfortably. They’re looser and more relaxed than others. They aren’t stuffy and they don’t stand on custom or formality.

A person who values these character traits would be more likely to use the more relaxed and less stuffy “love you” versus it’s more formal and traditional alternative.


That lacking "I" is a manifestation of their personality and doesn't reflect negatively on you.

2. They may be a person of few words.

Some people value more terse communication styles that are to the point. It’s roughly equivalent to how someone texts versus how they speak. When texting, they would be more economic in their word choices and use more abbreviations, colloquialisms, and universally understood emojis.

Again, it’s an extension of their personal values and preferences, and doesn't diminish the love they are expressing.

3. It may be who they are.

It’s possible some people express an abbreviated “love you” because they believe it's a reflective belief and they intentionally lower the bar on expressing it. This means they may think love is the most natural thing in the world, and the more they express it, the better the world might look.


As a love coach, I see this perspective as entering a kind of badass territory in the land of love. If you find someone like this, that’s a quality human, a love warrior.

4. Saying "love you" is a little noncommittal.

Since it’s less formal, a quick “love you” in passing might be an easy way to bypass the filters and sneak it in without attracting too much attention and scrutiny. Kind of like testing the waters of commitment.

But, since we get asked about the difference between "love you" and "I love you" so much, it’s probably not quite as stealthy a method as someone testing the waters of commitment might think.

5. They may be using "love you" as a trial balloon.

A trial balloon is a quick, low-risk way of gauging responses based on people’s reactions. Sometimes, that balloon will float right on past without comment, so they know it got through. Other times, it might be questioned or outright challenged.


But no matter what happens, you'll know where you stand after the balloon floats free and then it is up to you on how to proceed with their proclamation of love.

RELATED: 11 Cute Things To Say When You Can't Say I Love You Back ... Yet

6. "Love you" gives them plausible deniability.

The second stage of the trial balloon theory is based on the premise that if their choice of verbiage is challenged due to its being unwelcome, the person experimenting with the message can always fall back on the excuse of plausible deniability, which means they can say it meant nothing, and even turn things back around on the questioner for making such a big deal out of it.

Basically, they can deny the issue entirely and drop it back on the lap of the challenger.


7. Saying "love you" instead of "I love you" could signal someone who is just trying to please you.

Again, by choosing to offer a random "love you" in passing instead of fully owning the committed statement of “I love you,” someone who embodies a pleaser's energy can sneak those two words into conversation in order to evaluate how well all three words might land.

It’s similar to a sales person who floats a "soft test close" by saying like, “If we could handle that issue for you, do you think you’d be ready to buy?” By using softeners and distancing language, it becomes easier to bypass other's defenses.

8. They may like saying "love you" and it's become their habit.

Sometimes people adapt language patterns and turns of phrases they’ve heard in passing because they like the way it sounds, or the way it makes them feel. It’s kind of that whole “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” concept.

If the phraseology is particularly catchy or has multiple uses, it can sometimes find its way into a person’s daily or frequent use.


9. It could indicate they have a slightly lower EQ (emotional intelligence quotient).

Everyone is familiar with the IQ as a measure of an individual’s intelligence, but their EQ is a measure of emotional intelligence.

In other words, people who have great difficulty using “the L word” or other similar emotion-based words, might prefer to “drop the I” and go with a more remote “love you” because it maintains distance and deniability.

And ... Given these nine previous possibilities, this last one is by far the most important to remember:


10. Nothing — because nothing has any meaning other than the meaning you give it.

When trying to decide why people do what they do, there are many factors to consider before you can accurately gauge. You have to observe a person for a period of time to normalize their behavior and habits to the individual.

That’s because individuals are a product of their environments, influences, habits, beliefs, standards, ideals and more. One person’s “normal” might be very different from another’s so if you judge too soon with too little information, you are almost certainly going to make an incorrect assessment.

And most importantly, when it comes to deciding what things mean, that is always your job and your job alone.

So be careful, because your decisions have consequences. Once you judge someone, it becomes almost impossible to influence them … or yourself.


RELATED: How To Know When The Time Is Right To Say 'I Love You' For The First Time

Dave Elliott is an International Relationship Expert whose specialty is helping smart, amazing women understand men better so they can bring out the very best in men, rather than suffering through the worst from them.