Je t’aime or Je vous aime (I love you) is one of the best known phrases in French. But, contrary to many languages that have verbs like ‘like’ and ‘love’, French only has one verb. The verb aimer has different meanings depending on the context it’s used in and the words it’s used with. So for those studying French, it’s a good thing to learn all of this in order to avoid potential faux-pas.
Aimer + person
First, when used on its own to talk about a person, without an adverb like bien or beaucoup, aimer means love, a deep emotional and often physical attraction.
- J’aime Sylvie. (I love/am in love with Sylvie.)
- Je l’aime. (I love her/him.)
- J’aime mes parents. (I love my parents.)
Aimer + thing
On the other hand, when used with things aimer is better translated as like. You can add an adverb like beaucoup (a lot) right after aimer to show that you really like something. That thing can also be another verb, by the way. If you love something, use adorer.
- J’aime beaucoup le chocolat. (I really like chocolate.)
- Aimez-vous votre travail? (Do you like your work?)
- Il aime lire. (He likes to read.)
- J’adore cette chanson. (I love this song.)
Shades of aimer
What’s more, you can specify the intensity of aimer with an adverb. Try using vraiment (really/truly), beaucoup (a lot), assez (quite/rather), pas vraiment (not really), peu (little), pas (not) and pas du tout (not at all) when you talk about what you like or don’t like.
- J’aime vraiment ce livre! (I really like this book.)
- Je t’aime beaucoup,Théo. (I love you very much, Théo.)
- J’aime assez les épinards. (I like spinach okay.)
- J’aime pas du tout ce tableau. (I don’t like this painting at all.)
Finally and perhaps contrary to common sense, J’aime bien does not add strength to the verb, but just means I like or even I kind of like. It can even take intensity away, as in this heartbreaking exchange.
- Est-ce que tu m’aimes? (Do you love me?)
- Oui, je t’aime bien. (Yes, I like you.)
In the end, the best way to understand all the uses of the verb aimer is to practice with native speakers!