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Invitation in French
Making or refusing an invitation is always tricky: finding the right words in French to do so with tact is essential. Furthermore, the grammatical constructions, verbs and tenses don't always match between French and English. So you need to train a lot on this concept so the French way becomes natural to you...

To make, accept or refuse and invitation in French, we  use mostly 3 irregular verbs : vouloir (want), pouvoir (can) and devoir (must).

  • Vouloir: je veux, tu veux, il veut, nous voulons, vous voulez, ils veulent (don’t say the ent but do say the L).
  • Pouvoir: je peux, tu peux, il peut, nous pouvons, vous pouvez, ils peuvent (don’t say the ent but say the V).
  • Devoir: je dois, tu dois, il doit, nous devons, vous devez, ils doivent (don’t say the ent, but do say the V).

Remember, when 2 verbs follow each other, the second one is in the infinitive; tu veux dinER.

You will find audio recordings of the verbs vouloir and devoir, and their correct modern French pronunciation + exercises in my French Verb Drills.

1 – How To Make an Invitation In French

To say “would you like”, we say “do you want to” – we do not use the verb “aimer”, we use the verb “vouloir”. And we use the present tense, not the conditional.
Est-ce que tu veux dîner avec moi ?
Est-ce que vous voulez jouer au tennis avec nous ?

So, if you translate literally, we say “do you want to have dinner with me”, “Do you want to play tennis with us”, but the meaning is “would you like to…”: this is the polite way to invite someone in French.

You cannot translate word by word, so you need to train until this way of making an invitation in French sounds normal to you.

2 – How to Accept an Invitation in French?

There are many ways to accept, but here are the most common:

  • Volontiers – with pleasure – we also use “avec plaisir” but it’s a bit less common.
  • Oui, d’accord – yes, OK, I agree
  • Je veux bien. – OK, I’d love to, meaning YES, I accept.
    Note that in English, “I’d love to” can lead to a positive or negative answer (yes I’d love to ≠ I’d love to but I can’t).
    In this context (an invitation) “Je veux bien” means that you accept the invitation.
    You cannot say “je veux bien mais…” and then refuse or give an excuse.

Examples of accepting an invitation in French:

  • Oui, je veux bien aller au cinéma avec toi, merci.
  • D’accord, à quelle heure ?
  • Volontiers, merci, c’est très gentil.

3 – How To Politely Refuse an Invitation in French?

Refusing an invitation in French – or in any language – is not easy. You need to be tactful, not hurt the other person’s feelings, but also make the message clear. Let me warn you that the typical French may be a bit more blunt than the Americans on this front…

  • Non, je ne veux pas – No, I don’t want to.
    If you may need to say that in some occasion, be careful that it is quite strong, and can be seen as rude.

We tend to use the expressions below:

  • Malheureusement…. then give an excuse – unfortunately. It’s pronounced “ma leu reuz man(nasal)”
  • Désolé(e)… then give an excuse – sorry
  • Je voudrais bien, mais… then give an excuse.
    Same remark as above, you need to watch out!
    In this context (answering to an invitation) “Je voudrais bien” means that you actually refuse the invitation.

Examples of politely refusing an invitation in French:

  • Non, désolée, je ne peux pas dîner avec toi ce soir. J’ai déjà des projets.
  • Non, je ne veux pas acheter ce magazine ! Arrêtez d’insister ! (stop insisting – quite strong)
  • Malheureusement, nous ne pouvons pas ce soir. Peut-être que nous pouvons dîner ensemble samedi soir ?
  • Je voudrais bien, mais malheureusement, je ne peux pas. Est-ce que tu peux la semaine prochaine ?

Note that in French, it is not considered rude to not say why you cannot accept the invitation. French people will often just say that they cannot, then offer another day to meet. In the States, people always said why they couldn’t make it, even when my students cancelled a class…

I felt they were telling me too much, especially when this was business related. I guess that in France we are more blunt when it comes to making/accepting/refusing invitations. It’s about finding a date that works for everybody, not about telling your personal life. I’m in no way judging, just pointing out cultural differences.

4 – How to Ask for Something Politely in French

Note that in French, we use the verb “vouloir”in the conditional, just like in English, to ask for something politely.

  • je voudrais, tu voudrais, il voudrait, nous voudrions, vous voudriez, ils voudraient.

Je voudrais réserver une table pour deux personnes s’il vous plaît.

To learn More on French politeness, I invite you check out my audio masterclass on French politeness and greetings: on top of teaching you the modern French pronunciation of these quintessential French expressions, this lesson will explain cultural points such as tu versus vous, and give you plenty of practice with audio.

If you are a beginner student, stop here. This is enough for now :-) If you are more advanced, here are some subtleties.

I suggest you check out my article on why French women don’t date – pointing out huge differences between the French and the American dating system.

umbrella safety younger couple smiling

5 – Asking for Permission in French – Can, may I have…

You can also use “pouvoir” to ask for permission, but still in the present tense;
Est-ce qu’il peut regarder la télévision avec Marc ?

Note that you cannot say “peux-je”. You may say “puis-je” but it is very formal and kind of old fashion.

“Pourrais-je” (conditional of politeness) is used but quite formal, “est-ce que je peux” is the most common one.

6 – How do you say “would You Mind” in French?

To express the notion of “would you mind”, we use the verb and adverb combination: “vouloir bien”. Kind of “I am willing to do it”.
Est-ce que tu veux bien ouvrir la fenêtre s’il te plaît ?

Note that the answer in French is “OUI, je veux bien” in the affirmative : this means that you are willing to do it, that you do not mind. We don’t use a negative, we don’t say “NO, I wouldn’t mind”. This always confuses me when I speak English, to say “no, I wouldn’t mind” meaning “yes, I’m willing to do it”…

If you DO mind and therefore don’t want to do it, you cannot say “je ne veux pas bien“, but just say “je ne veux pas” or something less direct like “je n’ai pas vraiment envie” (I don’t feel like it).

Est-ce que tu veux bien ouvrir la fenêtre s’il te plaît ?
– oui, bien sûr, pas de problème.
– non, désolé, j’ai un peu froid.

6 – How To Express Permission/Wish in French – I wouldn’t mind having…

Another way of asking for permission, less direct, is saying “I wouldn’t mind having some tea” (or I would be willing to have some tea if you prefer…)

It’s a less direct way than saying “may I have some tea”…
Je voudrais bien du thé.

7 – Note the Difference Between

  • J’aime écouter la radio (I like to listen to the radio – saying what you like and don’t like).
  • Est-ce que tu veux écouter la radio ? (would you like to listen to the radio – invitation, but we use the present tense).
  • Je voudrais écouter la radio s’il vous plaît (I would like to listen to the radio – permission – conditional of politeness)

8 – Contrast the tenses used in this dialogue

– Est-ce que vous voulez du thé?
– Non merci, (je ne veux pas de thé – you don’t actually have to say that).
Mais je voudrais bien du café s’il vous plaît.

Unlike English, we use the present tense for the question and the negative answer.

We use the conditional of politeness to express our wish.

Voilà, I hope it’s not clear as mud :-) It’s a lot to take in!

If you liked this lesson, you may also be interested on how to write a letter in French, or common French abbreviations used in text messages – and with the rise of social media, French for Facebook.

I post new articles every week, so make sure you subscribe to the French Today newsletter – or follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Born and raised in Paris, I have been teaching today's French to adults for 20 years in the US and France. Based on my students' goals and needs, I've created unique downloadable French audiobooks focussing on French like it's spoken today, for all levels. Most of my audiobooks are recorded at several speeds to help you conquer the modern French language. Good luck with your studies and remember, repetition is the key!

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