Géraldine from Comme une Française tells us how to express love in French. If you need to brush up on your vocabulary before Valentine’s day, then read her notes and watch her video.
The basics: the conjugation of “aimer”
You’re never too advanced to review your basics!
Aimer = to love
Like most verbs that end in “-er”, Aimer is a “first group” verb. All first group verbs share the same conjugation. At the present tense, we have:
J’aime → I love
Tu aimes → You love (singular, for friends or family) [the “s” is silent]
Il/Elle/On aime → He/She/”Informal We” love
Nous aimons → (“formal”) We love [the “s” is silent]
Vous aimez → You love (plural, or “formal” singular) [the “ez” sounds like “é”]
Ils/Elles aiment → They love (masculine or feminine “They”) [“ent” is silent]
The big embarrassing mistake with “aimer”
“Aimer” used on its own means to love (romantically or in your family). By itself, it’s very powerful, so be careful!
It’s a strange verb, really: the more you add to it, the less powerful it becomes. If you add an adverb to “aimer (quelqu’un)”, it becomes “to like” or at least a bit less than “to love.”
In French, we don’t “love” easily: “Aimer” (on its own) is used much less in French than “love” is in English. In French, it’s more subtle.
“I love cheese !” is a bit different than “J’aime le fromage !”
But “Aimer” someone means romantic or family love.
Michel aime Jeanne means Michel is in love with Jeanne. (Nothing less!)
It can be used in some literary (or ironic) meaning for a very strong friendship bond, on a par with family ties, but you need the exact context to make it sound casual. So be very careful with your use of “aimer” in French.
How to translate “to love” and “to like” in French
Adverbs take down the intensity.
Aimer + adverb + someone means to like.
So, Je t’aime means I love you, but Je t’aime beaucoup means I like you a lot. Je t’aime bien also means I like you.
Paul aime beaucoup Pierre – he likes him a lot.
Marc aime énormément Pierre – he really likes him a lot.
Marie aime bien Jeanne – she likes her.
Other verbs to translate “love” and “like”
Adorer : I love cheese is J’adore le fromage.
“J’adore” has a meaning of “being delighted,” actively enjoying something. There’s no meaning of “adoration” or devotion.)
Apprécier : I like Pierre a lot you could say J’apprécie beaucoup Pierre. (It’s a neutral, friendly way – almost like an assessment of personality, rather than a personal connection.)
Plaire : Pierre me plait (beaucoup) → I “like” Pierre, I might be romantically interested in him.
In context, the romantic angle can disappear: “Pierre me plaît” might mean “I like what I see in Pierre,” as a “gut-feeling” assessment of his potential, his use, or his character.