"Je vous en prie" or "de rien"?
It's funny how during the many years I learned French at school, they never taught me how to say a simple "you're welcome".
So I've found two phrases that seem to mean this but I'm wondering if one is better than the other or if there is a nuance I'm not understanding.
Is it really just a matter of personal preference or does context matter?
Funny, I had the same issue. I actually never heard "Je vous en prie" before I lived in a French speaking place. Anyway, "Je vous en prie" is slightly more formal when you use it as "you are welcome" than "de rien". And additionally to "you are welcome" you may use "Je vous en prie" as a response to somebody asking for permission. Then it rather means "Please (do it)." (edit: or "by all means, please go ahead" as suggested by angus - thank you)
Edit: And here a nice reference https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/je_vous_en_prie
Then it rather means "Please (do it)."
I always thought it was more akin to prithee in that sense. Prithee is short for "I pray thee". The only difference is that it uses the familiar "thee" rather than the formal "you" but otherwise it looks exactly like "je vous en prie".
"Please" is short for "if you please" and it is rather more like "s'il vous plaît". It's syrupy and ultra-polite. When we say "if you please" we don't really mean do it only if it pleases you. We are asking for a favor, thus prithee or "je vous en prie" is more honest. It's rather like "por favor" which is used in Portuguese and Spanish. It shows that you are humble in your request.
I gather that in its standard use (as a response to merci), "je vous en prie" it is short for "je vous en prie, ne me remerciez pas" (I pray you, do not thank me.) Thus "please" becomes "you're welcome."
Germans do something similar, but in the typically efficient German manner, they cut out all the unnecessary words in between. "Bitte" is used as a request and as a response to "danke".
Bringen sie mir einen kaffee, bitte.
Hier ist dein kaffee, mein herr.
May I close the window?
By all means!
(I like to say "by all means" in these situations. I learned that from the father of my friend, Andy, when I was in the seventh grade. That was about 1979. Someone came to their house trying to sell him the the Time-Life series Second World War hardbound, one volume per month for twelve months. He was into military history so he accepted it. They salesman said that for an extra 50 dollars he could have it bound in leather and Andy's father said "By all means!" Andy and I thought it was funny and we started saying it all the time. I guess I got into the habit from that.)
But I take your point. One could translate this as "please do" and in fact "please do" is probably more common in English than "by all means."
Non ce n'est pas ca. On dit "je vous en prie" quand quelqu'un te dit "merci". exemple: quelqu'un: Merci beaucoup ! quelqu'un d'autre: Je t'en prie ! C'est polie. "je vous prie de bien vouloir" c'est quand on demande quelque chose à quelqu'un. exemple "je vous prie de bien vouloir finir de construire cette armoire" "je vous prie de bien vouloir vous occuper de ce jardin" "je vous prie de bien vouloir répondre à mon message" ca n'a pas du tout le même sens.
Well, as far as I know, "je vous en prie" would mean more "please" than "you're welcome", because it is used to invite someone into your home or to ask them to sit down in a polite way. "De rien" it's more likely "you're welcome" or "cheers", because it's the usual answer to "merci".
Je vous en prie is the formal way to say it. De rien is more relaxed and informal.
And in French-speaking areas of Canada, Bienvenue is used informally.
You can also say Pas de problème, but that is slang from the often-seen term "no problem" in English language films.
I usually say: "avec plaisir" ; "je t'en prie" ; "je vous en prie". The expression: "de rien" is still widely used, of course, but for many people like me it has a bad reputation, because it undermines the help given by the helper and somehow symbolically undermines the person you helped as well. It is false or inapropriate modesty and should be avoided. Just embrace what you did, receive properly the thanks and do what you have to do next.
Haha, that's exactly the english-speakers divide of "you're welcome" versus "no problem". Older people think "you're welcome" is the polite thing to say and that "no problem" is rude, whereas younger people use "no problem" as a more laid-back, and more humble, expression. From what I've heard anyway.
Agreed, though I am still young ^^ I do think it is bad language use and habits. Younger generations often do not know how to talk properly and, I should say, even think, so they go for the easy way. To be fair, there are circumstances you could use « de rien »...when it is truly the case! :) Just my opinion. Have a nice day.
I would like to add a question concerning this subject: Can anyone recommend literature to learn "polite" French? I mean not only spokenFrench, but all those little empty phrases like "enchanté de vous voir" and so on. I got some by watching Miss Marple films in French but I do not know any book or other source for that.
You may watch ce cher Hercule Poirot for a change, my dear ;)
However, there are plenty of resources on that very subject in the French literature. After a quick research, I found this: https://www.babelio.com/livres-/politesse/29195
There are certainly many examples in our French classical literature, but I cannot recall the specifics for now.
Bonne chance !