I was exploring the phrases for "to fall in love" in some other languages. And I came out with the result, only English describes the state of starting to feel love for someone as "falling". I wonder why this idiom is that way? Only logical explanation came to me is, falling in love is something unwished for, undesirable or unplanned.

I'd appreciate If you can share your own thoughts about the idiom, or help me to deepen my research.

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    Your basic tenet is incorrect: English is not the only language that uses ‘fall’ in this expression. French has tomber amoureux/se and Spanish has caer enamorado/a alongside enamorarse (I’m not sure if the other Romance languages follow suit and have similar phrasings). But yes, I would agree that the meaning of ‘fall’ here is that falling in love is something that is, if not necessarily undesirable, at least unplanned and involuntary. Similarly, French also has tomber enceinte for ‘falling pregnant’, as it were. Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 14:06
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    In Thai language, we have a similar expression, which can be literally translated as fall-hole-love. The word hole is used in a sense of a trap, so it might be translated into English as to fall into a love trap, which is quite close to to fall in love too. Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 14:15
  • @DamkerngT., does that refer just to falling in love with someone in general, or more specifically to something like being beguiled by someone (who has an ulterior motive) and falling into their ‘love trap’, like the stereotypical rich octogenarian falling in love with the oh-so-sweet 24-year-old pneumatic blonde who perhaps loves him more for his money than his mind. Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 14:21
  • @JanusBahsJacquet, the expression has no negative meaning whatsoever. It emphasizes the involuntary act, being unprepared, like someone falls into a trap without any warning. PS. Thanks for letting me know a new word "pneumatic", which is, fortunately, unrelated to Thai's usage. Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 14:24
  • Most of us cannot deliberately control or even directly sense our oxytocin levels, so love comes on as a bit of a surprise, rather like falling down a flight of steps: psychologytoday.com/blog/love-and-gratitude/201310/… Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 14:43

4 Answers 4


To fall is something involuntary, outside of our control, not necessarily unwished, but hardly something you can plan.

The expression "fall in love" as in being overwhelmed by love has been with us for a long time, and occurs eg in Edmund Spenser's epic poem The Faerie Queen, published in the 1590s.

Both Scudamor and Arthegal
Doe fight with Britomart
He sees her face; doth fall in love,
and soone for her depart

- subtitle to Book IV, Cant VI
(modernized spelling)

and also

But it in shape and beautie did excell
All other Idoles, which the heathen adore
Farre passing that, which by surpassing skill
Phidias did make in Paphos Isle of yore,
With which that wretched Greeke, that life forlore
Did fall in loue: yet this much fairer shined,
But couered with a slender veile afore;
And both her feete and legs together twyned
Were with a snake, whose head & tail were fast cõbyned.
Book IV, Cant X
(modernized spelling)


English language shed most of its prefixes, affixes, conjugations, declensions and stuff a long time ago and has to get by using word combinations and phrasal verbs. It seems to use "fall" to mark the incompleteness of volition. I believe other languages use other means to the same end.

Compare with Russian: "влюбиться" and "полюбить", that is vljubit'sja (to fall in love) and poljubit' (to come to love smn/smnth). Same root, but different prefixes and suffixes - used with a purpose.

In the first case, the language resorts to the prefix "v" (into, inside); next comes the root "ljub" (compare with German "liebe"), ending with suffixes and an ending, dissecting which is a headache. Of note is the reflexive particle "sja" (to myself; kith and kin of the English "self", same letter "s"). Adding this originally meant "doing to oneself the action that the verb is conveying", but depending on the presence of other elements came to mean a lot of things, like "to a full extent" (the whole of myself). This v + sja (the thrust and completeness-to-oneself) combination provides the emphatic and involuntary feel similar to "fall in love", to such a degree that a bevy of makeshift analogies were penned, like Vtreskat'SJA, Vturit'SJA, Vtjuhat'SJA, with over verbs, mostly nonce-words, spatchcocked between v and sja, with the same overall result – “to fall in love”.

"Poljubit'" (to come to love someone or something), on the other hand, uses the prefix "po": here it means "to initiate something". One may initiate something voluntarily or otherwise, but without "sja" it just falls short of conveying the "fall in love" sentiment. So, when one seeks to explain to a third person why he "came to love" that girl, citing her virtues, he will oftener opt for "pojubit'", and when one wants to say something like "Don’t know why, but I just fell in love with her”, he will tend to use “vljubit’sja”.

Moreover, when one is using “vljubit’sja”, one has to use the preposition “v” (towards, in the direction, inside). Just like with “falling in love”. Only you place it before the person with whom you fell in love with: “Ja vljubil’sja v Annu” (I fell in love towards, inside Anna). Compare: “Ja vrezalsja v stenu” (I drove into a wall). Same v+sja, same v, same fatalistic feel, hopefully not the same final result, though.

To top it all, one may say “Vlubit’sja po ushi”, that is “To fall in love up to one’s ears”. The same falling-drowning-involuntary feel, because one also may be po ushi .. in debt, say.


This is a vertically-oriented version of the Love Is Out Of Control metaphor theme.
To quote from the article:

When one talks about
- being enchanted by,
- falling in love with,
- being crazy about somebody,

one is using metaphor themes; respectively,
- Love Is Magic,
- Love Is Out Of Control,
- Love Is Madness (a subtype of Love Is Out Of Control),
to talk about humanity’s favorite mystery.

Less heady forms of love, such as long-term relationships, use themes like Love Is A Journey
(at a crossroads, a dead-end relationship, not going anywhere, on the rocks,
and Freud’s famous railroad/tunnel symbols).


In another perspective, the way love is derived from, it has more to do with affection, desire, caring, libido. In Spanish amor from Latin, and Latin amor from Proto-Indo-European *amma the first baby words for mother, and then from Latin amare a caressing mother.

To fall in love is different than “enamorarse” because to love is immature compared to the meaning of amor that has more to do with unconditional nurturing, caressing of mutual joy. If love doesn’t grow into amor it will be fleeting, a lovely passer-by!

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    I’m don’t see how this is an answer to the question asked. It does seem like more of a comment, if that.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 17:04
  • If we are going to use or rather hit at the eros/agape (or amor/caritas) distinction au Lewis' The Four Loves, we should note that for the Greeks, erotic passion was a Bad Thing. Destructive obsession, madness. The idea that erotic obsession was a Good Thing came in with the 12th-century troubadours, possibly borrowing, via Spain, from the 9th-century Iraqis. They thought it "ennobled" you, even or especially if you couldn't have the lady. If you ask me, that ennoblement plus three euros will get you a cup of coffee, but then, nobody does.
    – David Pugh
    Commented Apr 26, 2015 at 9:06

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