Il m’aime: un peu, beaucoup…

Right in time for Valentine’s Day. It’s coming–get ready!

Il m’aime: un peu, beaucoup, passionément, à la folie, pas du tout.

eel MEMM: uh puh, bow-KOO, pah-see-uh-nay-MAHn, ah lah foh-LEE, pah dew TOOT.

He loves me: a little, a lot, passionately, madly, not at all.

The French version of “He loves me, he loves me not” offers a lot more choices! Love is nuanced (just look at all the Facebook profiles that proclaim “It’s complicated”). This can work to your advantage: you have a much greater than 50-50 chance of being loved in French than loved in English.

English speakers may try to influence the outcome by starting with “He (or she) loves me not”, rather than “He loves me.” To attempt influencing the outcome in French will call for a mathematical approach. It seems that daisies, while they vary according to species, most often have an odd number of petals. (The botanists will argue with my calling them petals. I say it’s already complicated enough, and I got a “C” in college botany.)

Not only do they have an odd number of petals, but the number of petals is usually a Fibonacci number! (Look it up. I can’t explain that to you, either.) As, apparently, is true of most flowers. And when it’s not true–20 or 22 petals, for example–it’s a fluke of nature.

So, in order to effeuiller la marguerite (ay-fuh-YAY lah mahr-guh-REET: pluck, or “de-leaf” the daisy) with some hope of a positive outcome, you will first have to determine how many petals your daisy has (likely 13, 21, 34, 55 or 89), and divide by five. (You don’t usually pull off a petal for il m’aime, only on the adverbs.)

Gentlemen, to play this game of effeuiller la marguerite, you will need to change one word. Instead of il (he) at the beginning of the sentence, you should say elle (she). Nothing else changes.

But it’s the adverbs that are really interesting:

  • You can’t say un petit. That’s an adjective, and has to describe a thing, not an action such as loving. It tells how big, whereas un peu describes how much. But you can say un petit peu, a very little bit. The logic behind that? Absent. Don’t ask.
  • You can’t say très beaucoup. No good reason, but you can’t. If you want to emphasize the idea of beaucoup, you say…are you ready?…beaucoup, beaucoup. Or you choose a different word, such as…
  • Passionnément. The rule for turning an adjective into an adverb is to make the adjective feminine, then add -ment to the end. But there are exceptions (aren’t there always?), and this is one of them. If the adjective ends in é, then you would normally add another e + -ment. But the rules say that one e is enough.
  • One way to make adverbs in French is to use a phrase, like à la folie. We can translate this as madly, but it’s literally to (the point of) madness. It’s not necessarily a good state of affairs in matters of the heart.
  • And pas du tout, not at all, is a shortcut. The rule says that a negative is always a two-part expression–usually ne (or n’) before the verb, and pas after it. So the sentence should read, Il ne m’aime pas du tout. But the game starts out with Il m’aime (positive, hopeful, optimistic), and it’s too much trouble to go back and insert Il ne m’aime pas. It breaks the rhythm and the train of thought and the sense of anxiety about the outcome. So this is an affirmative sentence that switches to a negative one in midstream: the ne is understood, even though it’s not spoken.

And with that, I wish you enough daisies to keep plucking until you get the answer you were hoping for!

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