Consider the word “love” and the many contexts for which we use it: You can love your mom for always protecting you and being on your side. You can love your best friend for laughing with you and being the first to answer your texts. You can also love your romantic partner in a far more intense, intimate, and passionate way than your other relationships.
Though all of these forms of love are driven by affection and attachment, they’re all distinct. And while we may be catching up just now, the ancient Greeks seemed to understand the concept well—in fact Greek words for love abound. There are seven words in the language that describe love in all its nuanced forms, rather than just applying one word to several contexts.
Below, learn about all seven Greek words for love. With any luck, you’ll be able to experience each form in your lifetime—if you haven’t already.
Eros is passion, lust, pleasure. It’s an appreciation for one’s physical being or beauty, and is driven by attraction and sexual longing. It describes desire and obsession and is most similar to what we think of as romantic, passionate love between life partners. At least in the earlier stages of courtship, when everything is crazy-hot and you can’t get enough of each other, that is.
Philia is characterized by intimacy, knowing, and soul-to-soul bonds. It’s encouraging, kind, and authentic; the stuff from which great friendship is made, regardless of whether it’s with a platonic best friend or a romantic partner. This love is also based in goodwill, or wanting what’s best for the other person. Philia is a connection akin to that of soul mates; it’s one part destiny, another part choice.
Ludus is infatuation, toying, flirtation. It describes the situation of having a crush and acting on it. It’s rooted in having fun, whatever that means specifically to you. Ludus is definitely the love you’d experience with a fling—casual, sexual, exciting, and with zero implications of obligation. Of all the Greek words for love, this one more than others comes without any eros or philia attachment.
Storge is the protective, kinship-based love you likely experience with family members. You might love your sister, even if you don’t like her, for instance, and you might love your dad, despite the mistakes he made in raising you. Storge is driven by familiarity and need and is sometimes thought of as a one-way love. For instance, consider a mother loving her baby before the baby is aware enough to love her back. Storge can also describe a sense of patriotism toward a country or allegiance to the same team.
Self-love is hardly a new concept, as evidenced by the ancient Greeks having a word to describe it: philautia. It encompasses two concepts: The first is that healthy, feelin’-myself, care-based love that reinforces self-esteem, like buying yourself a new book as a gift for completing a big work project or putting on a face mask to relax and take care of your skin. The other concept is one of selfishness that can be pleasure- and fame-seeking and highly concerned with status. (It can even be the foundation of narcissism.)
Pragma is love built on commitment, understanding and long-term best interests, like building a family. Over time, eros can turn into pragma as a couple grows to honor, respect, and cherish each other, accepting of differences and learning to compromise. It is everlasting love rooted in romantic feelings and companion.
Agápe is love for others that’s inclusive of a love for God, nature, strangers, or the less fortunate. It’s generally an empathetic love toward humanity itself and is sometimes connected to altruism since it involves caring for and loving others without expecting anything in return. This sort of pay-it-forward love—people helping others selflessly—is the foundation of great societies and communities.
So, the next time you talk about loving someone—as a friend, as a lover, as a human—consider keeping in mind the Greek words for love so you can articulate more precisely the unique shades of the single emotion.