Love is one of those great universal things. It’s something that all of us experience in some way, no matter what country or culture we come from, or what language we speak. Interestingly, though, the way different cultures express their love can vary widely. So, how do the French talk and think about love?
Let’s look at how to say “I love you” in French, and some French love facts that may surprise you.
How to say “I love you” in French
“I love you” in French is Je t’aime.
And of course, you can say this with a plural “you”, as well, for example if you’re talking to family members or good friends: Je vous aime.
If you want to say “I love you so much”, be careful which modifier you use (more on that in the next section). “I love you so much” in French is either Je t’aime tellement or Je t’aime tant.
Je t’aime tellement is the one I hear most often more often – in movies and TV shows, I mean, not said to me by a string of prétendants (suitors).
If you want to get more creative when it comes to declaring your love for someone in French, this article includes a great list of options, although I would caution against using Je t’adore if you’re declaring your love to a French person. French people seem to find it funny and over-the-top, at least when a foreigner says it.
In fact, the French often portray Anglo-Saxons, especially Americans, as saying J’adore about anything and anyone…and before I realized this, I have to admit that, in my case, they weren’t necessarily wrong! But then, am I wrong to find beauty and joy everywhere?
This song by eccentric French music star Philippe Katerine is what I think goes through the mind of a French person who hears someone say j’adore.
In a previous article, French Together’s Benjamin suggested this as another good déclaration d’amour (declaration of love): Je suis amoureux/amoureuse de toi (I’m in love with you). It’s a phrase you often hear on French shows and movies, and no wonder — as in English, it lets someone share their feelings and also makes them vulnerable in a way.
How to say “love” in French
Although love is a complex and nuanced emotion, there’s one word for it in French: l’amour.
This word is used for romantic love, familial love, even a love of activities, things, and ideas.
But that’s where the simplicity ends.
Originally, amour was a feminine noun, but over the course of time, that’s changed. If you ask many modern-day French speakers, amour is one of only three words in the French language that changes gender when it’s pluralized, from masculine when it’s singular, to feminine when it’s plural.
So, you could see something like:
– Entre eux c’est l’amour fou. (They’re madly in love.)
– Il me semble que Jean a déjà eu plusieurs grandes amours dans sa vie. (It seems to me that Jean has experienced true love quite a lot already.)
But this isn’t officially correct. Prestigious French grammar institutions, including the Académie Française (the organization that determines the official rules for the French language), consider amour a masculine noun in both its singular and plural forms.
Still, don’t be surprised to see some French people making amour feminine when it’s plural – old habits, like first loves, die hard. And it could also be that what you’re seeing or reading comes from a time when the word was officially feminine in its plural form – or maybe someone is trying to convey older French language, for example in a historical fiction novel.
Unless you’re deliberately trying to be old-fashioned, though, remember to keep amour masculine in both its singular and plural forms.
How to say “to love” in French
Okay, so, like many relationships, that got complicated! Luckily, “to love” in French is aimer, a regular -er verb. Like amour, it can be used for all kinds of love: romantic, familial, etc. Now, that’s something to love!
Here are the conjugations of some of the most common tenses of aimer:
|Tu aimerais||Que tu aimes||Aimons|
|Il/elle/on aimerait||Qu’il/elle/on aime||Aimez|
|Nous aimerions||Que nous aimions|
|Vous aimeriez||Que vous aimiez|
|Ils/elles aimeraient||Qu’ils/elles aiment|
There are several love-related words that are directly derived from aimer. These include:
aimé(e) – loved/beloved. Example: Jacques est aimé de tous. (Jacques is loved by everyone/Everyone loves Jacques)
bien-aimé(e) – beloved, well-beloved. Example: Nous sommes ici pour fêter notre bien- aimée Françoise. (We’re here to celebrate our beloved Françoise.)
How to say “I like you” in French
Interestingly, there is no verb that specifically means “like” in French. Usually, you’ll see aimer, or maybe the more formal apprécier.
Paradoxically, you can tell also someone you like but don’t love them by adding bien.
Yes, that’s right – if a French person says Je t’aime bien, that doesn’t mean the love you a lot, but that they simply like you.
British comedian Paul Taylor has a great theory about aimer bien thattruly made me laugh when I first heard it. For him, it’s a way for the French to maintain dignity in case they see that the person they’re trying to declare their love to doesn’t feel the same way! You can watch his delightful video about romance in France here (the aimer bien part is at the 2:10 minute mark).
But what if you don’t want to let someone down easy? Can you still use aimer bien? I’ve heard French people use it to show that they really appreciate a good friend. But more commonly, if you want to tell someone you like them in a non-romantic way in French, the best way to express this is probably to simply say why you like them.
For example: Tu es un bon ami (You’re a good friend) or Je m’amuse toujours quand on est ensemble. (I always have fun when we’re together.)
You may be wondering if adding any adverb to je t’aime makes the statement less strong. As this thread points out, although that can be true with certain ones, like bien and beaucoup, for many others, that’s not the case at all.
We’ve seen that tellement and tant really do make je t’aime stronger. Other adverbs, like passionnément, are also sincere. And then there are some cases where it just depends on the context. That probably sounds frustrating, but I can tell you that, even as a foreigner, I think it works. Often, you’ll hear these declarations in your own personal life or in a book, movie, story, show, etc., so you’ll already know something about the feelings of the person who’s saying it, after all.
If you’re worried that your declaration of love might be misunderstood due to adverbs, don’t be – just keep things simple and say Je t’aime.
How to say “I love something” in French
If I’m eating a really delicious cookie, in English – especially American English – I could just let out all of my feelings, all of the explosive joy and sensory delight that I’m experiencing in that moment: “I love this cookie!” or “This is the best cookie I’ve ever eaten,” and so on.
But the French find extreme displays of emotion unnecessary and insincere. It would be perfectly okay to talk about loving cookies in general (J’aime les biscuits) But for a single cookie? Jamais! Instead, a French person would keep some verbal distance by simply complementing the cookie – for example, Il est vraiment bon, ce biscuit (This cookie is really good).
How about activities? In that case, j’aime is fine, and will be understood as “like” or “really enjoy”.
If you want to convey that a particular activity is your life’s passion, use something like passionné(e) par. For example, Je suis passionnée par la lecture et Paul est passionné par le sport. (I love to read, Paul loves sports.) But the expression is even more effective when passionné(e) is a noun, like so: Je suis une passionnée de la lecture, Paul est un passionné du sport. (Reading is my passion, Paul’s passion is sports.) But if you can play it down, really, aimer and a non-specific object or activity is fine.
Can you say you love your pet in French?
I have heard people say J’aime mon chien, J’aime mon chat, or J’aime just about any other kind of pet they might have, quite often in France. Grammatically and culturally, using j’aime with your pet is fine, with two exceptions.
The first is, do not say J’aime ma chatte. Even if the person you’re talking to knows that you have a female cat, somewhere in the back of their mind, they’ll be giggling, because it sounds like you’re talking about something else – une chatte also means “pussy” (a vulgar word for the vulva).
So just say J’aime mon chat – it’s probably not important that the person you’re talking to knows your cat’s gender anyway. Or if it is, you might be able to get away with it by adding your cat’s name: J’aime ma chatte Chloë. (I love my cat Chloë). But even then, confusion might ensue.
The second time it may be a bit complicated to say you love your pet is when you’re talking to someone who doesn’t get it – and in France, that may happen a lot.
Many French people grew up in rural environments where animals had jobs and weren’t meant to be fawned over. These people will often scoff over “city folks” who bring their pets regularly to the vet.
That being said, not all French people feel this way, by far. In fact, a recent survey found that 60% of French people think that sharing their life with a pet can be emotionally fulfilling. They just may not be as open about it as we are in some other cultures.
And there will always be people who don’t get it, no matter what their background. My American father, for example, was just as baffled about my including my cat’s name on our Christmas card, as my French mother-in-law was. So, don’t be afraid to proudly say J’aime mon animal de compagnie! (I love my pet!) And if you feel moved and want to tell your pet Je t’aime, go for it! In fact, why not stop reading and do it right now?
As for a species or type of animal, it’s normal to refer to them as a collective and use aimer. For example, Noëlle aime les poissons et Marie aime les baleines. (Noelle likes fish and Marie likes whales.).
Some common French love vocabulary
There are many, many ways to talk about love, but these words come up frequently in French.:
faire l’amour – to make love. This is one of those phrases that a lot of non-French speakers know, too! If you’re looking for more vulgar ways to express this, check out our list of French swear words.
le grand amour – true love. Example: Entre Pierre et Céline, c’est le grand amour. (Pierre and Celine are truly in love./Pierre is Céline’s true love./Céline is Pierre’s true love.)
l’amour de ma vie – The love of my life.
fou amoureux/euse (de) – to be madly in love (with). Example: Elle est fou amoureuse de Johnny. (She’s madly in love with Johnny.)
fou/folle de toi/de lui/d’elle, etc. – crazy about you/him/her, etc. Example: Je suis fou de toi. (I’m crazy about you.)
dingue de toi/lde ui/d’elle, etc. – mad about you/him/her, etc. For fans of the Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt sitcom ‘Mad About You,’ this is the title in French.
un amour impossible – forbidden love. Example: Luna est amoureuse de Michel, le mari de sa sœur bien-aimée ; hélas, c’est un amour impossible. (Luna is in love with Michel, her beloved sister’s husband; alas, it’s a forbidden love.)
le/un premier amour – first love. This can refer to the experience or a person. Note that the term stays the same, whether the subject is masculine or feminine. Examples: 1. Le premier amour est un évènement majeur dans la vie. (Your first love is a major moment in a person’s life.) 2. Bette était son premier amour. (Bette was her first love.)
un amour de jeunesse – one’s childhood love/first love. Of course, if you didn’t fall in love until you were older, I wouldn’t use this expression. In that case, just use mon premier amour
amant(e) – a lover. Example: Emma Bovary avait deux amants. (Emma Bovary had two lovers.)
filer le parfait amour – to be living the perfect love story/to be happily in love.
une histoire d’amour – a love story OR a love affair! Be careful with this one – although usually the context makes it clear. Examples: 1. Et si c’était vrai… est l’histoire d’amour entre un homme et une femme qui est peut-être un fantôme. (If Only It Were True is a love story between a man and a woman who might be a ghost.) 2. Elle a eu une histoire d’amour avec le boucher. (She had an affair with the butcher.)
tomber amoureux/euse (de) – to fall in love (with). Note that the verb tomber is conjugated with être in the past tense, which means it has to agree with the subject. Example: Elle est tombée amoureuse de Stéphane. (She fell in love with Stéphane.)
le coup de foudre/avoir un coup de foudre – love at first sight/to fall in love at first sight. Unlike its English equivalent, this expression in French is delightfully descriptive: un coup de foudre can also mean “a lightning strike”! Example: Je l’ai vu au musée, au milieu d’une foule, et là, c’était le coup de foudre. (I saw him at the museum, in the middle of a crowd — it was love at first sight.)
un philtre d’amour – a love potion. Okay, so this isn’t necessarily something that pertains to all relationships, but you never know….
la vie amoureuse/sentimentale – one’s love life.
l’amour-propre – self-respect. Example: Non, je ne ferai pas semblant d’être amoureux de cette femme pour prendre son argent ! Elle est méchante et écœurante ! J’ai de l’amour-propre, quand même. (No, I won’t pretend to be in love with this woman in order to get her money! She’s mean and repulsive! I’ve got some self-respect, after all.
déclarer sa flamme – to declare your love for someone. I love this expression, because it makes it seem like the love inside of you is like a flame. So poetic! You can use it as-is when talking about declaring your love to someone, or you can add an object pronoun to specify that you’re declaring your love to someone. Examples: 1. Aujourd’hui je vois Thérèse et je déclare ma flamme ! (Today when I see Thérèse, I’ll declare my love!) 2. Aujourd’hui je vois Thérèse et je lui déclare ma flamme ! (Today when I see Therese, I’ll declare my love to her.)
bisou – kiss/Love. This is the equivalent of the above, but for the person you’re in love with/in a relationship with. The idea is that while you’d faire la bise (give cheek kisses) with other people you’re close to in your life, with the person you’re in love with, you’d exchange a single kiss on the lips.
jtm – a common way to abbreviate Je t’aime in text messages. If you say the letters the way they’re pronounced in the French alphabet, it sounds like this phrase. Of course, if you choose to text someone “jtm”, just be sure they’re the sort of person who’d appreciate it.
Longing for more French love words? Here’s a good love-, romance-, and friendship -related vocabulary list: Note, though, that while some people (especially of an older generation) do refer to their female loved one(s) as ma chatte, it probably will sound vulgar or make someone snicker, since, as I mentioned previously, la chatte also means “pussy”, so avoid using that one.
Common French phrases and expressions about love
Here are some common French phrases and sayings about love.
There are many others, of course, from lines of poetry, to funny retorts in plays and movies. But these are the generic sayings that have become so much a part of the language that they’re almost a cliché. You’ll find them – or puns or references based on them – all over French pop culture and in daily life.
L’amour rend aveugle – Love is blind. If we have the same expression in English, it’s because some version of this idea has been around since antiquity. But, as in English, this expression is omnipresent in French.
On ne badine pas avec l’amour – Don’t trifle with love/Love is serious business. This expression comes from the eponymous 1834 play by Alfred de Musset and became a common saying in French. You can read the play for free here, if you’re interested.
vivre d’amour et d’eau fraîche – to live on love alone (literally: to live on love and cool water). This can be a good or bad thing, depending on how the speaker feels.
un peu, beaucoup, à la folie – He/She loves me, he/she loves me not… – Whereas in English, this game involves plucking petals of a flower and alternating “He/She loves me” and “He/She loves me not” with each one, the French version actually contains a lot more options; the phrase is a shorter version of Il/Elle m’aime un peu, beaucoup, passionnément, à la folie, pas du tout (He/She loves me a little, a lot, passionately, madly, not at all.). One of my favorite French romcoms has a title that’s a play on words of this famous phrase and the first one on this list: Un peu, beaucoup, aveuglement (A little, a lot, blindly).
If your heart is crying out for more French sayings about love, here’s a good list.
Six things you may not know about love in France
For many of us, the French are considered the most romantic people in the world. But when you learn about how the French see many aspects of romantic love, you quickly realize that they aren’t romantic in the way most people expect. Here are six things that might surprise you about love in France:
1. The French aren’t into big romantic gestures.
One of the biggest cultural differences between French and many other cultures (including my own native culture, American), is that the French aren’t into big emotional displays. They tend to see them as either fake, stupid, or outright lies — at least outside of fiction.
When it comes to romantic gestures, this exchange from the film Gazon maudit sums up that mentality: A man selling roses (a common sight in France) approaches a couple at a table. The man tells the flower seller “Non merci, on a déjà baisé.” (No thanks, we’ve already fucked.).
Most French people are more low-key about expressing their emotions – including when they’re in love. They may not take you up to the Eiffel Tower and propose to you in front of a huge crowd of people, but they will quietly praise you, play a subtle game of seduction, and want to spend real, quality moments together. That’s not to say you’ll never get a surprising or pricey gift or an invitation to dinner or a weekend getaway or some such thing, but if you do, it won’t be done in a loud, flashy way.
Which way of showing love is better? Or maybe a middle ground is the ideal? That’s up to each individual. But I will say from experience that if you need elaborate, overt displays and affirmations of affection and love, the typical French person may not be your ideal match.
2. Valentine’s Day isn’t a major French holiday.
Lots of people I know dream of visiting Paris on Valentine’s Day. It’s true that there are lots of romantic things to do here – but then again, you can do all of those things pretty much any other day of the year, as well.
Although Valentine’s Day is a holiday on the religious and cultural calendar in France, most French people don’t celebrate it in any kind of elaborate way. Yes, some couples may go to dinner, especially if they’re dating. But boxes of chocolates, cards (including valentines exchanged among schoolkids), and enormous bouquets are far from the norm among French people.
One thing that is a French Valentine’s Day custom though, is Parisians declaring their love on the electronic community announcement panels that are found throughout the city. A few weeks before Valentine’s Day, Parisians (and anyone in Paris at the time) can submit short messages to those they love. Many of these will be selected to be posted citywide on the announcement panels. In recent years, they’ve also been posted on the City of Paris’s official website. The messages can be anonymous or specifically addressed to and for someone. They can be an opportunity to déclarer sa flamme, or simply to show appreciation of someone you’re already in a relationship with.
To me, even this custom has a French aspect to it: It’s romantic, but not in-your-face. The words on the panels are printed and change often. There’s no noise or interference with anyone’s life involved, and because full names aren’t used, the people involved still maintain their privacy.
3. The French aren’t the most sexually active people in the world.
The French don’t have the most sex out of any country, as many surveys show. In this recent one by Durex, France didn’t even crack the top 9!
Of course, there are many factors that might make surveys inaccurate or inapplicable. Maybe most French people and their partners don’t use Durex condoms, or those who do have more important things to do than participating in a survey. But from experience, I can say that while sex is often talked and joked about here, I don’t know any French people who can say they faire l’amour every day.
4. In France, love doesn’t necessarily lead to marriage.
In many cultures, it’s a natural evolution: A couple falls in love, dates for a while, and then gets engaged and married. Or they may date for a long time, then decide they want kids and get married in order to be accepted as parents by society or their family. In France, none of that is necessarily true.
Many people do get married here, but unless they’re from a traditional family or subculture, there’s no pressure by French society at large to do this (inheritance laws aside). Many French people I know, from the old woman I rented a room from when I was a student in Paris back in the day, to 20- and 30-something friends, live with the person they love, but aren’t married. This is true even if they have kids. Those who are married might have even waited to do so after having kids.
According to a 2016 survey of French couples living in the same household, 73% were married, 20% were unmarried, and 7% were PACS’ed (The PACS (Pacte Civile de Solidarité) is the rough equivalent of a civil union in the United States).
All of these couples may have children without judgment by the state or society in general. That’s one of the things I love most about life in France. Regardless of your relationship status the co-parent of your child, you’re not shunned because you don’t have a ring on your finger.
5. Not every Frenchman has a mistress.
Whether you’re a fan of classic French literature or you’ve just heard the rumors, you may think that cheating on your spouse – especially men cheating on their wives – is de rigueur in France.
There are some cultural habits that would back this up. For example, the phrase un cinq à sept, which refers to the person you sleep with at the end of the workday (5 to 7pm), when your spouse thinks you’re still at work. Or the many French movies where infidelity seems par for the course, and is often forgiven, especially if men are the culprits.
Despite all of this, France isn’t the most unfaithful country in the world. That “honor” goes to Thailand! Still, the rate of extramarital affairs in France is high; it ranks 5th out of the list of the most unfaithful countries, with a rate of 43% of surveyed people having had an affair.
But romantic, monogamous love isn’t necessarily dead. The study found that 63% of French people believe you can only truly love one person. And in another poll, 67% of the French people surveyed believe in a lifelong love, and 76% are happy in their current relationship.
If you’re in love with these surprising facts, here’s yet another survey that will reveal even more about love in France.
French love songs
Like most languages and cultures, French boasts countless love songs. In fact, a recent poll asked French people to say which love songs are their favorite. Here’s the list of the French’s ten favorite love songs.
Interestingly, the French’s favorite love song is one by Edith Piaf, but not her most famous international hit La vie en rose. Instead, it’s the moving Hymne à l’amour. You can listen to it (and read the lyrics) here.
And if ten French love songs isn’t enough, here’s a hundred more!
I’d love to list the French’s other favorite love-themed things, from movies, to books, to poetry, but unfortunately, no one seems to have done a poll of those. So, why not discover some lovely French works about love by doing an online search?
Do you have a favorite French love song, poem, movie, book, or something else? Share the love in the comments!