In every language, people have invented cute terms of affection for those they care about, and there’s a great variety of them in English. Some of them are poetic, some are a little silly, but they are always an important part of life and love. While it is really beautiful that there is such a wide variety of ways we can address the ones we love, you also have to be careful to choose your words carefully to make sure the term you use is appropriate.
While the safest thing to do if you are unsure whether particular terms of affection are suitable or wanted is to ask the person in question, here is a quick guide to the common terms of endearment and affection.
- Most popular terms of endearment
- Terms of endearment for a romantic partner
- Terms of endearment for friends
- Gender and terms of endearment
- Specific pet names
Most popular terms of endearment
This list of terms of endearment that are most often used for partners, family members and occasionally those you have close relationships with.
- Love (This is considered platonic in a British or Irish context, Americans may perceive this as romantic)
- Honey (or the more casual hun)
Terms of endearment for a romantic partner
These are a list of terms of endearment that are commonly used between boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives and any other romantic partner.
Terms of endearment for friends
It is less common in most places to use a cutesy name with your friends compared to relatives and romantic partners. That being said there are still a good few appropriate terms of endearment for friends you are close with. Many of these are more common in American English, compared to British English speakers, who generally call their friends by their name or nickname, or perhaps “mate”.
- Sport (rather uncommon nowadays)
Gender and terms of endearment
Many terms of endearment are very gendered, so when choosing one for someone you care about you ought to do your best to make sure it is not at odds with their gender identity. This can be particularly when finding the right one for men, who may not wish to be called something too cute or feminine. While most men are fine with being called “babe” by their partner or “darling” by their mother, something like “bunny” or “angel” may not gel with their perception of their own masculinity, so something like “handsome” might be a better bet. Nevertheless, everyone deserves that little boost of happiness that comes with these affectionate terms. So finding words of endearment for him is tricky but nonetheless important. The best way to find out what terms of endearment your partner, friend or loved one would like to be called is to ask them. Simply saying “is it alright if I call you this?” Most will truly appreciate being asked, because that in itself shows that you really care and that they feel comfortable and appreciated.
On the other hand, men should exercise some caution when using terms of endearment towards women when not speaking to a partner, family member or very close platonic friend. These have often been used in a patriarchal manner that can be perceived as condescending or inappropriately flirty, so it would be best to ask permission when unsure whether something is appropriate. It may have been considered acceptable to call your female coworkers “sweetheart” or “honey” even twenty years ago, today this kind of talk could get you sent to the HR department.
Specific pet names
A pet name (also called a hypocorism) is a cute nickname that you come up with for someone you love, generally a partner or child. This could be a diminutive form of their name, for instance, someone named Robert might be called “Bob” or “Bobby”, Elizabeth can become “Beth”, “Liz” or “Izzy”, and Charlotte could become “Lotti” or “Charlie”. It might also be a sweet name derived from an aspect of their personality, appearance or a memorable incident involving them, like “Smiley” or “Rascal”. But sometimes these names are pure nonsense that sound cute: “Snookums”, “Bobo” or “Bubby”. While these are definitely adorable, if your loved one isn’t an infant, you might not want to call them these kinds of names in front of their peers.
Share the love
Now that you know a good few little ways to say “I love you” or “I care”, be sure to observe how these are used by native speakers. You should also keep an eye out for regional differences, for instance, many English grandmothers will call you “poppet” but the term is scarcely to be heard in the USA, whereas the exact opposite is true of “sugar”, which is to be widely heard across much of the USA, particularly on the East Coast.
Leona has her roots in the South of Ireland, where she grew up on her family farm. She went on to study World Politics at Leiden University College, The Hague and then completed her MPhil in International History at Trinity College Dublin. Leona has now settled in Berlin, having fallen in love with the city. In her spare time she is working on perfecting her German in anticipation of her doctoral studies, during which she plans to study modern German social history. Her hobbies include bouldering, dancing and reading a healthy mix of history books and corny fantasy fiction. You can find more info about her on LinkedIn.