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Idiomatic French: To want: vouloir and aimer

I'm working through the 'Verbs: Infinitive 3' unit in French and wanted to clarify the exact meaning of some phrases. I realise that 'vouloir' is usually used for 'to want' and 'aimer' for 'to like'. But I am wondering if it is sometimes more idiomatic to translate 'aimer' as 'to want'.

E.g. Duolingo gave me these phrases:

La nièce aime sortir. The niece likes to go out.

J'aime bien réfléchir avant d'agir. I like to think before acting.

Are these phrases expressing a habitual behaviour that the subject does regularly? Or could they also refer to the immediate present, e.g. the niece is expressing her desire to go out this evening, or "I" have found myself in a tough situation and am telling someone else that I want to think more deeply before taking action?

I ask this because I have heard non-native English speakers confuse 'like' and 'want' when discussing plans for the day, e.g. saying "Do you like to go to dinner now?".

A final example that may clarify my question: let's say you have a friend over to your house and want to ask him if he wants a cup of tea. I suspect it's more idiomatic to ask "Tu aimes boire du thé?" rather than "Tu veux boire du thé?", even if the English equivalent would be 'want' and not 'like'. Of course there is a kind of in-between version with "Tu voudrais" in the conditional, but what would native speakers tend to say?

Sorry for the rambling length of this post and thanks in advance for any help! :)

August 4, 2017



No. You are probably confusing French and Spanish. In Spanish "querer" can mean "to want/like/love", so maybe some Spanish people are confusing these meanings when speaking English.
In French the only "confusion" is between to like and to love, and that confusion also exists in English to a lesser extent.


"I ask this because I have heard non-native English speakers confuse 'like' and 'want' when discussing plans for the day, e.g. saying "Do you like to go to dinner now?"."

This person probably mistook "like" for "would like". And instead of asking "Would you like to go to dinner ?" which in French is "Aimerais-tu sortir diner?" asked "Do you like to go to dinner?" which in French means exactly the same thing as in English.

As demilade said, "aimer" is "like" and "vouloir" is "want". Therefore, these phrases express a habitual behaviour that the subject does regularly and do not refer to the immediate present.


No the words mean exactly what they mean. It's the way you use them that matters but most of the time, everything is straightforward. The meanings are understood the way they are written :) hope this helped!


Thanks all for the help!


Depending on the situation (formal situation/informal situation), there can be several ways to ask someone if they want a cup of coffee (Disclaimer: I am not a native speaker but I have been living here for 2.5 years).

  • Vous voulez un café ? - Formal
  • Un café, ça vous dit ? - Still formal, but the people probably know each other well.
  • Un café, ça te dit ? - Informal
  • T'aimerais un café ? - Informal
  • Tu veux un café ? - Informal
  • Je fais un café. Tu en veux un ? - Informal
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