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Making or refusing an invitation is always tricky: finding the right words 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..

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. Note: you will find audio recordings of the verbs vouloir and devoir, conjugated in many tenses in the affirmative, negative, and interrogative forms + exercises in my French Verb Drills.

1 – To Make an Invitation

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 ?

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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 – To Accept

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:
– oui, je veux bien aller au cinéma avec toi, merci.
– d’accord, à quelle heure ?
– volontiers, merci, c’est très gentil.

3 – To Refuse

– 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:
– 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 ! (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.

4 – Politeness

Note that we also 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. More on French politeness

 

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

 

5 – Permission – 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 can 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 – Would You Mind

To express this notion, we use the verb “vouloir bien”.
Est-ce que tu veux bien ouvrir la fenêtre s’il te plaît ?

Note that the answer is “OUI, je veux bien” in the affirmative, not “NO, I wouldn’t mind” (this always confuses me when I speak English, to say “no, I wouldn’t mind” meaning “yes, I’m going 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 “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 – Permission/wish – I wouldn’t mind having…

Another way of asking for permission, less direct, is saying “I wouldn’t mind having some tea”… 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.

Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Born and raised in Paris, I have been teaching today's French to adults for 19 years in the US, France, and to people around the world over the phone and by Skype . My method is proven and unique, and, based on my students' goals and needs, I've developed high quality French audiobooks and French audio lessons for all levels. Good luck with your studies and remember, repetition is the key!

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