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Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir ?

French expressions analyzed and explained

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Expression: Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir ?

Pronunciation: [voo lay voo koo shay ah vehk mwa seu swahr]

Meaning: Do you want to sleep with me tonight?

Notes: The French expression voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, it is very direct - it's hard to imagine that it's a very effective pick-up line—assuming the speaker even knows that's what it is. (A friend of mine once said it to a French guy she'd just met because it was the only French she knew, but she had no idea what it meant. Oops.)

In addition, voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir is odd for its extreme formality. In the type of situation where a person would ask this question, I have to think that tutoiement, at the very least, would be the order of the day: Veux-tu coucher avec moi ce soir ? But inversion is also very formal; a savvy dragueur would use an informal structure, like Tu as envie de coucher avec moi ce soir ? or—more likely—something else entirely, such as Viens voir mes estampes japonaises (Come and see my etchings).

For these reasons, despite the fact that this is a grammatically (if not socially) correct French expression, it's really only English speakers who use it, sometimes because they simply don't know any better. But why do they say it at all?

Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ? made its American debut without ce soir in John Dos Passos' novel Three Soldiers (1921) when one of the characters jokes that the only French he knows is "Voulay vous couchay aveck moy?" E. E. Cummings was the first to use those five words correctly spelled, in his poem La Guerre, IV, known as "little ladies more" (1922). The full expression didn't appear until 1947, in Tennessee Williams's "A Streetcar Named Desire," though it was written Voulez-vous couchez [sic] avec moi ce soir ?

But voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir) really came into English vernacular with music, as the chorus in the 1975 hit "Lady Marmelade" by Labelle. That song has since since been covered by many other artists, notably All Saints (1998) and Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mýa, and Pink (2001). The expression is also referenced in many other songs as well as movies and TV shows from the last few decades.

Where have you heard voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir? Have you ever used it? Post your comments about this French expression on my French blog - just hit "comments" at the bottom of the post.


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