Aimer, adorer, kiffer: understand the language of love in France

We look at the different ways to say ‘I love you’ and how not to get confused by ambiguous variations

A young couple holding hands and looking into each other's eyes
Je t’aime is the sincerest expression of love that a couple can say to each other
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Are you a couple living in France who want to celebrate Valentine’s Day like the French would?

We look at the different ways to tell that special someone that you love them in French.

Je t’aime

The most straightforward and meaningful way to say ‘I love you’ is je t’aime.

Je t’aime is an emotionally charged phrase for French people. It is the highest expression of love that you can give someone and is only reserved to the people closest to you.

If your French partner tells you je t’aime, then you should have no doubt whatsoever about their feelings.

Je t’aime is hardly ever heard in commercials or casual settings, as it is considered by some to be a public display of affection and therefore not to be said in company. French people will normally say it to their partners in private settings.

A lot of French people consider it almost sacred and only use it very occasionally. Others, especially younger people, use it more liberally and not just in a romantic sense.

Read also: Only French village called Saint-Valentin embraces romantic links

Difference between ‘je t’aime’ and ‘je t’adore’

Many English speakers think 'je t'adore' is the most intimate way to say 'I love you', because adorer translates to 'love' in English, and aimer to 'like'.

Saying je t’adore to signify je t’aime will not have the intended effect however, as the expression is not equivalent.

J'adore is used to indicate fondness for people and things, without implying a romantic undertone.

It is more so the equivalent of ‘I really like’ and is often associated with a strong feeling of pleasure for something, whether it is an object, an idea, a person or a place.

If someone says je t’adore, it doesn’t necessarily means he or she is interested in you romantically, as je t’adore can often be translated to a huge ‘thank you’, ‘thank you very much’ or ‘I like you very much’ when said to someone else.

For example, at a party, if a man meets a woman he finds very funny, he might turn to other people and say j’adore cette fille (I love this girl) right in front of her. It does not have inherent romantic connotations.

J’adore cette chanson means ‘I love this song’ and j’aime cette chanson would not really be used. Saying j’aime here is not grammatically incorrect but it conveys an indifference when employed for objects, as if you are just being polite. It would sound odd to a native speaker.

Of course, the context of how these two are used is also important, and is the most obvious clue to the strength of someone's words.

‘Je t’aime’ variations

Je t’aime can also be said in combination with another word in a variation on the traditional phrase. Surprisingly, this usually lessens the intensity of the words’ meaning.

Variations starting with je t’aime include je t’aime de tout mon coeur, (with all of my heart), je t’aime de tout mon amour (with all of my love), je t’aime du fond de mon coeur (from the bottom of my heart), je t’aime à la folie (I am crazy in love with you), je t’aime à en mourir (I love you so much I could die for you).

These variations are generally used in written form and are not commonly used in spoken French.

Je t’aime bien is harder to interpret as it can both introduce an undertone expressing greater feelings than friendship but can also simply mean ‘I like you’ platonically.

Convoluted ways

Tu me plais is an indication of someone’s interest for someone else but it does not convey the same emotion as je t’aime. Tu me plais is the equivalent of ‘I am fond of you’ or ‘I like you’, with romantic connotations.

Je t’aime beaucoup is a similar case, although this expression is more often reserved for friends. Despite beaucoup meaning a lot, it is less strong and intimate than a simple je t’aime.

Both expressions are likely to be used early on in a relationship before the more meaningful je t’aime.

The case for ‘je te kiffe’

Je te kiffe is the French slang version of je t’adore.

The term comes from the Arabic word kiff, which means ‘amusement’ or ‘pleasure’ and was introduced by immigrants coming from northern Africa. The word has been absorbed into French as the verb kiffer and acts as the slang equivalent of ‘to like’.

When young people say: Je kiffe cette meuf (I like that girl) or je kiffe ce mec (I like that guy), it can definitely suggest that they are interested in them, although not necessarily.

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