It was recently revealed to me that I use the literal “I want” in French too often. Not that it isn’t used, far from it, it’s used all the time. But I needed to be reminded of how and when to use it. Here are the top 3 ways of clearly expressing your desire for something.
Bear in mind that just like in English these are somewhat interchangeable. Don’t worry, it becomes easier to know which to choose as you get used to hearing natives speak.
1. Je veux – I want
This is the French verb vouloir in the present tense. For most occasions it can be used in the same situations that you would use I want in English. So that means you wouldn’t say “I want” in a restaurant or other formal setting. Use number 2 for that.
- Je veux aller en Australie – I want to go to Australia.
- Je ne veux pas dormir – I don’t want to sleep.
- Est-ce qu’il veut voir ses amis? – Does he want to see his friends?
2. Je voudrais/aimerais – I would like
Voudrais – Conditional form of the French verb vouloir.
Aimerais – Conditional form of the French verb aimer.
This is seen as more polite and translates to I would like and again is to be used in the same situations in English.
- Je voudrais un sandwich jambon emmenthal s’il vous plaît. – I would like a ham and emmenthal sandwich please.
- Qu’est-ce que tu voudrais/vous voudriez boire? – What would you (informal, familiar/formal) like to drink?
3. J’ai envie de – I feel like/I want
This can be translated as I feel like. It’s more relaxed and is expressing a desire and not so strong as the previous two. It can be followed by a verb in the infinitive or a noun.
Careful: If you follow it with the name of a person it has a strong sexual connotation. J’ai envie de Guillaume – I want Guillaume.
- J’ai envie de regarder un film ce soir – I feel like watching a film this evening.
- Est-ce que tu as envie d’une glace? – Do you feel like/would you like an ice cream?
If you’re unsure of which one to use, the safest bet is the politest so stick with number 2.
Remember to conjugate the verb!
Let me know your experiences, funny stories, and opinions in the comments below!