I didn't plan it like this, but clearly, this one is just in time for Valentine's Day.

Because Russian doesn't have articles, I often try to find a good adjective-noun combo so that I can better remember a noun's gender. Such was the case when I got to the word "love" on one of my word lists. I thought that "true love" would be a good, common pairing to know, but I wasn't quite sure how to translate it, so I looked it up with DeepL. When I noticed that it gave an alternative to "истинная любовь", I wondered which to use. The alternative it gave was "настоящая любовь." So, I decided to look it up in Google's Ngram Viewer and discovered that not only were their frequencies not too far off, but the frequency "настоящая любовь" surpassed the frequency of "истинная любовь" sometime between 1990 and 2000. See for yourself:

I glanced at some of the books. It looks as if they both mean "true love," but are they truly, completely interchangeable? Is "настоящая любовь" now a more common way to say "true love"? If so, why?

I haven't done extensive research on this, but I did happen to notice that "настоящая любовь" is more prevalent in Izvestia than "истинная любовь," and by a lot (11:1):

I also noticed that according to Wikipedia, the Coldplay song "True Love" has been translated into Russian with "истинная любовь," and so has the song with the same name by Cole Porter (sung by Harry Connick, Jr. here) and this one by Pink. Songs with "real love" in the title get translated as "настоящая любовь." This then leads me to believe that the difference between "истинный" and "настоящий" is little more than the difference between "true" and "real." Nevertheless, the Ngram above and what I found from a search of Izvestia makes me think that "настоящий" may be adopting the meaning of "true" and supplanting instances of "истинный" in the process. This is definitely not happening in English. Check it out:

Whatever the case may be, how would you translate the famous Shakespeare line:

The course of true love never did run smooth.

Would you use "истинной любви" or "настоящей любви" for "true love"?

I also did a cursory search of the web using Google, but nothing really appeared to answer my question even when I expanded my search to What's the difference between "истинный" and "настоящий"? A lot of what did come up appeared to be in Russian for Russians and not necessarily for language learners.

The green check mark will be awarded on Valentine's Day if a worthy answer surfaces between now and then.

May the best contestant win.

3 Answers 3


You are overthinking it. The thing is that the word "истинный" per se just became less frequently used, and the word "настоящий", on the contrary, gradually got more popular. "Истинный" (and its derivatives) nowadays is a bit high-style and bookish, one just won't say "истинно хорошие люди" but always "по-настоящему хорошие люди". That said, "истинная любовь" is just something we say when we a) want to sound more bookish and/or b) want to stress out that this is really-really, like really-really true love )

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  • Well, you rarely win friends and influence people when you start an answer off with an unflattering opening statement (i.e., you're overthinking it), but, be that as it may, yours is the best answer. Nevertheless, you didn't answer my question about how the famous line The course of true love never did run smooth. would be translated. I suppose I can extrapolate, from your answer, that most would go with the "high-style and bookish" истинная любовь. Правда?
    – Lisa Beck
    Feb 20, 2021 at 0:42

The both expressions in fact literally mean "real love". I am not sure what exactly "true love" means, but these expressions certainly do not mean "faithful love" or "trustful love", or "correct love" or "non-lying love".

The answer by Shabunc is correct: the word "истинный" sounds outdated, bookish and philosophical.


"Истинный" is an objective concept. Absolute. It extremely rare can be reached by a human. That makes phrase "истинная любовь" looks a bit mysterious.

"Настоящий" is subjective concept. I can announce anything as "настоящий" only because I think so personally. This is a bit emotional.

A lot of people think their opinion is "ablolutely true". That explains why "истинная любовь" and "настоящая любовь" have same sense.

This doesn't cancels other answers but expands them for you to understand the difference more deep.

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