One of my favourite Italian phrases is “ti voglio bene.” Now, this translates literally as “I want good (for) you” or in a more refined way as “I wish you well.” However, neither of these translations captures the depth of the Italian expression.
According to Wiktionary, “ti voglio bene” best translates as “I love you.” Now, this may come as a surprise since the more common Italian expression for “I love you” is simply “Ti amo.” However, “ti amo” is strictly for romantic love only, so it would only be said between lovers. You do not say “ti amo” to your mum. 🙂 However, “ti voglio bene” can be used to express feelings of affection and care between relatives and friends. So you could indeed say “ti voglio bene” to to your mother or to a close friend.
A variant on the expression is “ti voglio tanto bene,” which means literally means “I want lots of good for you”. The Wiktionary translation is “I love you very/so much”. However, my favourite version is “ti voglio bene assai”, which uses the slightly archaic word ‘assai’, which is just another way of saying ‘tanto’. I first heard this phrase in The Godfather Part II, during a scene set in early twentieth century New York, where a father is cradling his newborn son (not sure who the characters were) and telling him how much he loves him. Of course, the phrase is also well known as being part of the lyrics of the song ‘Caruso‘. I feel that the ‘assai’ version is very dramatic and intense, and there will be very few people with whom you would use that expression.
‘Ti voglio bene’ communicates a sentiment of caring and affection for an individual. By saying it to someone, you are telling them that they are an important person in your life and that you always want them to be happy. The ‘tanto’ or ‘assai’ version communicates a deeper affection. Beyond that we venture into the realm of ‘ti amo’. It is indeed curious that English uses the same expression to communicate both romantic and platonic/filial love, whereas Italian rightly recognises that they are very separate.