French Lesson: Je t’aime bien

Je t’aime. I love you. Je t’aime bien. I like you. I don’t know about you, but there seems to be something cruel about this phrase. You thinking you’re getting the big L-bomb [love] dropped on you, until the word bien comes out, and it turns out he just likes you. Of course, the French say it in a fluid way, but as a foreigner, all I can just sense an uncomfortable moment coming on. The irony too in all this that the French don’t really date. One kiss and poof, you’re married. I joke about this with my French friends and they laugh, because they know there is truth to it. Additionally, the whole concept of dating doesn’t really exist – you’re either together or you’re not (no DTRs – define the relationship talks – here; you just know). But if you do find yourself expressing affection with a certain someone, the levels go: je t’aime bien [I like you], je t’adore [I adore you], je t’aime [I love you].

p.s. Cher Frenchies, as always chime in. Your insight is always welcome and makes for fabulous conversation!

French Lessons is an ongoing series where I teach you French words while beefing up my Illustrator skills.


  • Dear Anne… That’s a though one. I don’t think ‘french’ relationships between men and women are easy. We have dates (but we don’t call it like that) and ‘conversations’ (together or not?)… We tend to live for the moment and kiss on balconies and dancefloors for the fun of it and think later… The famous ‘Je t’aime bien’ si a slap in the face when you care, and it’s universal I guess. We have other options : ‘je t’apprécie’, j’ai beaucoup d’affection pour toi’, but the very useful ‘je ne suis pas prêt’ (not ready) or ‘Je sors d’une relation’ (I’m out of the office…) are mostly common due to the living in the moment part stated above. No recipe, except : cherish love. Welcome in our beautiful country. xoxo. C.

  • Thanks for all your insight, C!

    Hooking up and fun definitely exists in the US too, but there is definitely a longer series of dating (courting if you will, but I’d venture to say it’s far less romantic than it would be in France). I feel like there is more of a getting to know you period in the US.

    American friends who have married Frenchmen. Their to-be husbands saw them as a couple (in a relationship) far before they did.

    We too can have the slap in the face with “I like you a lot.” But I think the funny thing in this French phrase is that we don’t say “I love you a lot” to mean I like you. As another friend said “Or you accidentally tell someone you love them, when you just meant to say you liked them.”


  • Hi Anne,

    Since I haven’t traveled to France and intend to, I’ll take all the information I can get about the culture. Thank you for sharing these insights! Even though I’m married, I believe learning these subtleties helps improve my understanding of the French :)

  • I don’t think things are much different from the US actually. My husband who is French we had to have a DTR because we were a long distance relationship for about 2 years.

    I think Frenchmen are a bit more attentive than US men in general. I find them more open to discussions and won’t close off talking about how they feel.

    One night stands are still one night stands here in France but I think it’s that women here don’t get confused as much as to what they were getting into. They aren’t as eager to try and change a man as women from the US are. They are also very up for having a one night stand and don’t tie themselves to someone just to be in a relationship.

    But for real relationships they seem to last longer. Most of the couples, guys I’ve known since moving here if they start to be in a relationship then it lasts at least a year or more (usually much more). They don’t seem to tie themselves to one person as quickly as a lot of American guys. I hardly ever hear or see couples that were just together for a couple months. I think they take those couple months of seeing each other in group situations and a few one nighters possibly before having the DTR. Those aren’t dead either. Most people I know have had one. Maybe our American tv shows have made it more common place here in Europe where it didn’t used to be?

    I think group “dates” are much more common. The French love to just hang out. Something as an American I’m not used to. When you go to a party I’m always expecting a theme, or something to fill the time. But no it’s literally just sitting around chatting with everyone around you. You are expected to be your own entertainment. And I think those kind of parties are how would be couples get to know each other more than one on one dates like in the US.

    Does that make sense? I feel like I’m rambling now ;) I don’t think the French have a guide book for set rules just like in the US there aren’t. I think that’s my point :P I’m no writer.

  • “Je t´aime bien” can be almost exactly equivalent to saying: “je t´aime non plus” = “i also do not love you”; the prosaic way of talking love since the 1789, 360-degrees-turn-round-the-circle-to-exactly-the-same-place-but-the-power-to-them, they called revolution.

    Before 1789, they had first to marry, but was true; sorry for the long literature in such a short english.

  • (continuing) 1789 is a rough date; could be later; they were in fact all very careful, back in that time, not to abuse of terrestrial pleasures: love outside marriage or waste of money; last has not yet be considered a “sin” in the usa, but french revolutionary figures were very careful to be living rather poorly.

  • “Roncar es tomar ruidosamente sopa de sueño”

    « Ronfler c´est prendre bruyamment de la soupe de songe »

    “To snore is to take loudly dream soup”

    (Ramón Gómez de la Serna)

    (Not good translations from Robín)

  • That does seem sort of like a set up… unless you are not expecting. I suppose some people could just assume that they’re going to hear “like” instead of “love” and that way, when they don’t hear that last word, they’ll be surprised in a good way. :)

    Sentence structure can be so tricky! In the Korean language there are a lot of phrases and sentences that kind of spoil what someone’s trying to say beforehand, or will sound like something else entirely, just like this. Lol.

    – Esther

  • As a FR native speaker: I think saying “Je t’aime bien” to a boy/girl friend is actually quite insulting… I would say “Je t’aime bien” to my dog or to some guy I’m friendzoning, definitely not to a guy I fancy!

    Living in the UK, I feel like saying “I like you” is clearly more positive than “Je t’aime bien”. Which then makes “I love you” much more intense than “Je t’aime” (according to me/my experience).

    I don’t use “Je t’adore” that much and I’ve never met somebody who does. It can sound a bit cheesy.

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