Aimer – to Like, to Enjoy, to Love… and to be in Love

The verb Aimer means a lot of things in French; to like, to enjoy, to love, as well as to be in love. In this lesson, we’ll explore how to say “I love you” in French, as well as expressing different kinds of love, from friendship to romantic love, and avoiding embarrassing cultural misunderstandings.

How To Say “I Love” You in French

The typical translation for “I love you” is “je t’aime”.

It’s not false, but it’s far from being complete.

I love you In English

In English, the verb “to love” is confusing because it expresses a variety of feelings. You can say “I love you” to someone you are in love with, but also to your parents, or even to a friend.

I love you in French

In French, “je t’aime” is ” I love you” when you say it to only one person (the “t'” stands for the direct object “te” which refers to the “tu” – you, familiar form).

When talking to several persons (like your parents), or someone you are being formal with, you need to use the “vous” form: “je vous aime”.

Furthermore, in French, it is not possible to say “je t’aime” to a friend. You could say “je t’aime” to a member of your very close family, such as your child, a sibling, or your parents, but usually, “je t’aime” translates as “I am in love with you”, not just “I love you”.

So let’s take a closer look to the French verbs “aimer” and how to express different kinds of love in French.

1 – To Say to Like or Enjoy, use the Verb Aimer With an Adverb.

Let’s see how to talk about feelings in French, from total dislike to great friendship, keeping it all on a friendship level.

Let’s be clear: we are talking about friendship here, not romantic love, not being in love!

  1. Je déteste Paul – I hate Paul
  2. Je n’aime pas Paul – I don’t like Paul
  3. Je n’aime pas beaucoup Paul – I don’t like Paul much
  4. J’aime assez Paul – I kind of like Paul – he is Ok with me – it’s rather positive
  5. J’aime bien Paul – I like Paul – this is the one you need to memorize to say “like” for friendship
  6. J’aime beaucoup Paul – I really like Paul, I’m fond of him – as a friend.
  7. J’adore Paul – I loooooove Paul (but still as a friend)

2 – How to Say “to be in Love” in French?

To express the notion of “to be in love” in French, so romantic love, we use a precise construction:

Aimer + person’s name, without any adverb.

As stated above, the typical way to say “I love you” in French is:

  1. Je t’aime (when you are saying “tu” – informal)
  2. Je vous aime (when using “vous” – formal) – a bit old-fashioned to use “vous” with someone you are in love with, but not impossible… More about tu versus vous in this article on French Today.

Now let’s compare romantic love and friendship:

  1. J’aime Paul – I am in love with Paul (love)
  2. J’aime beaucoup Paul –  I like Paul a lot (friendhip)

So I know this is a bit weird: no adverb at all will end up being a stronger feeling, being in love, than a construction with “beaucoup” which stays on a friendship level….

Many French love songs and movies have a dialogue along these lines:

  • Est-ce que tu m’aimes ? Are you in love with me ?
  • Euh…. je t’aime beaucoup… Well…I like you a lot…

Or to quote the song from Zazie, “Chanson d’ami” from the album “Made in Love”:
“Je ne t’aime pas: je t’aime bien”- “I am not in love with you: I like you”

3 – Exceptions About the Verb Aimer:

You can use aimer without an adverb with your immediate family (parents, siblings, children, pets) to say that you love them (not that you are in love with them), but NEVER with your friends.

People would understand if you said “j’aime mon frère” that you love your brother, but are not in love with him. However, if you said of your friend Paul “j’aime Paul”, they would think that you are in love with him. Use “j’adore Paul, j’aime beaucoup Paul”.

Note that if you really wanted to be clear, you could use the expression “être amoureux/amoureuse de”  (careful, not “être en amour” which they use in Canada, but not in France).

  • “J’aime beaucoup Paul, mais je ne suis pas amoureuse de lui.”
    I like Paul a lot, but I’m not in love with him.
    It’s a bit redundant, but it’s very clear :-)

4 – J’aime ça ≠ Je l’aime

If someone asks “est-ce que vous aimez le vin?” (do you like wine in general), you cannot answer “oui je l’aime”.
You have to say “oui, j’aime ça”.

When talking about things in general, either repeat the thing in your answer, or use “ça”.
You may use an adverb to modify your verb, it’s more eloquent.

  • Est-ce que tu aimes le vin ? (wine in general)
  • Oui, j’aime beaucoup le vin.
  • Or oui, j’aime beaucoup ça.

But you cannot replace “le vin” in its general value by a direct object pronoun like le or les. I don’t know why…

When talking about a precise thing, it’s OK to use a direct object pronoun.
And much more common to answer with an adverb to modify aimer.

  • Est-ce que tu aimes ce vin rouge ? (this red wine = a particular one)
  • Oui, je l’aime beaucoup.

I would not say “oui, je l’aime”. Maybe it’s just me, but it doesn’t sound good to my ear. I would use an adverb in my answer.

I am sorry I cannot be more clear about a rule… but I don’t think there is a rule! I believe this is just an evolution of the language and falls under expressions more than grammatical rules.

5 – Use French Adverbs to Nuance “Aimer”:

When someone asks you if you like something/someone, it’s customary to offer a nuance in your answer and use an adverb.

  • Est-ce que tu aimes le vin ?
  • Oui, j’aime le vin…  Is a little flat… childish almost.

We’d use “bien, beaucoup…” to nuance the answer:

  • Oui, j’aime bien/ beaucoup le vin (or ça).

Except when you are talking about being in love with someone, as discussed above… Then you need to use “aimer” by itself, without any adverb.

6 – The French  Word for Love

Is l’amour. But what is so weird about it is that it is masculine in the singular, and feminine in the plural !!!

  • Un grand amour = a big love
  • Des amours tumultueuses = difficult love

7 – Love – Avoid an Embarrassing Mistake

You need to watch your pronunciation for “l’amour”, love in French. French students often mistake:

  1. L’amour = la moor = love
  2. La mort = la mor = death
  3. L’humour = lu moor = humor
  4. L’humeur = lu meur = mood

Quite a trap!

8 – How To Say “Would you Like” in French

Finally, to ask the question “would you like to…” we don’t use the verb “aimer”, but the verb “vouloir – to want“.

It’s yet another example of why translating doesn’t work.

Read my blog post about  using “vouloir” and making invitations in French.

Voilà, I hope this lesson clarified things about the use of the verb aimer in French.

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On a related subject, you may like my audio blog post “les Petits Noms d’Amour“, and “Why French Women Don’t Date“, or also “How to Ask Someone Out in French“, or even the more daring (and explicit – adult language) French Sex Vocabulary.