Why is it that

"I like you" is Ты нравишься мне and not Я нравию тебя


"I love you" is Я люблю тебя

I'm learning from The New Penguin Russian Course and I've been practicing with Russians on VK and one of them explained to me that "нравию" is not actually a word. But according to the book tacking on "ся" makes the verb reflexive.

Eg. in the book it says

Одевать - to dress

Одеваться - to dress oneself

So, what's the difference between Я нравию тебя vs Ты нравишься мне

Personally, I think Ты нравишься мне means "You like me" but I don't think that's right either.

Also, the people I've been speaking with on VK don't speak great english so I may have misunderstood what they were trying to explain.

  • 5
    "Ты нравишься мне." does not literally mean "I like you." It means "You please me."
    – David42
    Oct 12, 2016 at 2:33
  • 1
    The difference is one is a made up and does not exist.
    – shabunc
    Oct 12, 2016 at 6:25
  • 3
    @DavidC no it's not, it's definitely not
    – shabunc
    Oct 12, 2016 at 6:26
  • 2
    @shabunc Why not? НРАВИТЬСЯ 1. Производить на кого-л. хорошее, приятное впечатление, вызывать расположение к себе. Вам нравится новый сотрудник? Мне нравилось выражение её лица. Город начал ей н. 2. Вызывать интерес, влечение у лиц другого пола.
    – jwalker
    Oct 12, 2016 at 10:18
  • 1
    @jwalker "нравиться" does not mean "to please somebody"
    – shabunc
    Oct 12, 2016 at 11:18

3 Answers 3


These are the words that are only used in the reflexive (нравиться) or non-reflexive (standard) form (любить). It just so happens in the modern language.

More generally, Russian is a very 'passive' language; it uses passive sentences far more than other languages. The verb can be reflexive or not, it depends on its meaning; but it doesn't imply that the translation should be passive too. Compare such common phrases as:

Меня зовут xxx = I am / My name is xxx (though literally 'I am called xxx')

У меня есть xxx = I have xxx (literally 'There is xxx with me')


  • Good answer. One small point though. "Меня зовут xxx." Is literally "[They] call me xxx." In contrast "I am called xxx." would literally be "Я назван xxx."
    – David42
    Oct 12, 2016 at 14:37

Unlike the pair of verb "одевать - одеваться", "нравиться" is only used in its reflexive form. "Я нравлюсь;" "Ты нравишься" and so on. As the other person mentioned "нравию" is not a valid word.

One can use both phrases:

"Я тебе нравлюсь" - You like me

This is more often used in a question. Same phrase, but with a change of intonation.

"Ты мне нравишься" - I like you

This is more often used as a statement.

  • While everything you say is true, I do not think it addresses the OP's confusion. He is asking why if "I love you." is "Я люблю тебя." isn't "I like you." "Я нравлю тебя."
    – David42
    Oct 12, 2016 at 16:03
  • 1
    @DavidC, because there is no verb "нравить" in Russian language at all, only "нравиться". If there were a word "нравлю", then yes, one would be able to say "Я нравлю тебя". I don't know why this word doesn't exist, but it's a fact... The answer says basically the same, doesn't it?
    – Lara
    Oct 12, 2016 at 18:31
  • 1
    And what would "Я нравлю тебя" mean? Not "I like you" as the OP supposes. Since "Ты нравишься" means "You are pleasing", it follows that "Я нравлю тебя" would mean "I cause you to be pleasing". The OP needs to understand that there is a very good reason the form нравить does not exist: because it would mean something weird. He would see this if he properly understood the semantics of нравиться.
    – David42
    Oct 12, 2016 at 19:33

One can translate ты нравишься мне as

You are looking good to my taste

or even

You are making yourself looking good to me (to my taste).

Now I hope it is clear where the reflective particle and Dative case come from.

Note that нрав means "taste", so нравиться is to be "tasting" good.

  • 2
    "Нрав" is not "taste". "Нрав" means "character, temper".
    – Abakan
    Oct 12, 2016 at 11:34
  • 2
    @Abakan Anixx is using "taste" in the sense of "individual preference, inclination". Isn't this what нрав means in the expression "по нраву"? In any case the goal here is to explain the structure of the expression "ты нравишься мне", not to explore all the nuances of нрав.
    – David42
    Oct 12, 2016 at 15:04
  • 1
    This is a good answer because it identifies the point of confusion and addresses it in a simple and direct way without digressions into fine points of grammar. My only reservations are about the expression "looking good" which at least in American English implies that one is well-dressed or not showing signs of age. The best I can come up with is "You are agreeable to my taste.", but that sounds very stiff.
    – David42
    Oct 12, 2016 at 15:14
  • @DavidC Ok, but expressionпо нраву is the only expression where нрав has the meaning of "taste". I can not think of any other case where нрав would have this meaning.
    – Abakan
    Oct 12, 2016 at 15:15
  • 1
    @Abakan Sure, нрав has a wide range of meanings including disposition, humor, personality, temperment, and even customs. Anixx has wisely resisted the urge to explore this fascinating but tangental subject and instead concentrated on what нрав means as the root of the verb нравиться.
    – David42
    Oct 12, 2016 at 15:49

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