Apart from saying, “The wifi password is…” there is no greater way of showing your deeply felt emotions for someone than by saying “I love you”. It won’t come as a surprise to non-French speakers that “I love you” in French is “je t’aime.” It’s just one of those phrases, like “Hello”, “Cheers” and “One beer, please” that we pick up in a foreign language. (“Guten tag”, “Skol” and “Una cerveza, por favor.”)
But as is often the case with the French language (the French people, France and everything French), things are more complicated than they might first appear. Let’s look at this phrase to discover its hidden trap.
je = I
te = you
aime = love … or like
Yes, the verb aimer means both “to love” and “to like”.
In a language of over 100,000 words, French has just ONE word for both “like” and “love”. This by anyone’s standards is confusing. Can you imagine if in English there was one word for “kiss” and “punch”? So that making the entirely reasonable statement, “I want to punch Piers Morgan” could be misinterpreted? Horrific.
But in fact it’s worse, far worse. In my made-up example, there could be no mix up because no one in the world could possibly want to kiss Piers Morgan – that would be insane. However, “love” and “like” are close enough to be confused, especially at the delicate beginning stages of a relationship. Can you imagine a situation where a new boyfriend says he loves you and not knowing if he meant “love” or “like”.
Don’t worry though, because the French have come up with a genius* way of distinguishing between the two meanings of aimer, and it involves using the word beaucoup.
If you’re at the top of the class, you will know that beaucoup means “a lot”. It therefore follows that saying “Je t’aime beaucoup” means “I love you a lot” and is what you should say to your romantic interest to avoid them thinking you mean “like”.
NO. That would be logical but in fact it means the opposite.
“Je t’aime beaucoup” means “I like you a lot”. Saying it to a friend is fine, excellent in fact. But use the same phrase on a lover and instead of increasing the amount of love you’re expressing, you’re actually reducing it. It’s the same if you say, “je t’aime bien” or “je t’aime vraiment” – both express varying degrees of liking, not loving, someone.
(Let’s take a moment here to appreciate the subtleties of the French language while hitting our heads with heavy blunt objects.)
The key to saying “I love you” in French is to keep it simple. The words “je t’aime” are all you need. When expressing love in French, less really is more.
And if you want to say “I love you so much“? Don’t. Or rather, find some other way of expressing it… like flowers, French kissing or emoticons.
UPDATE: Apparently you can say “I love you so much” in French by saying “je t’aime tellement.” Thank you, Arnaud. It’s a good phrase to know before Valentine’s!
Have you ever had a misunderstanding when saying “I love you” in French? Or anything else for that matter! Tell us in the comments. And please share if you’ve enjoyed 🙂