What does je puis mean?

JohnA2Kwiziq community member

What does je puis mean?

Asked 5 years ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Je puis is very formal and can sound pompous, you might  hear it said between friends for comical effects.

C'est un peu notre crédo si je puis dire It's a little bit like our credo if I may say so 

Si je puis me permettre, essayez cette robe qui vous ira mieux = If I may be so bold, try this dress which will suit you better

In some shops, someone might ask you "Puis-je vous aider?" which is the very formal way of addressing customers like,  "Que puis-je faire pour vous?".

In everyday life, you will say: 

Est-ce que je peux vous/t'aider?

Qu'est-ce que je peux faire pour vous/toi?

Hope this helps!

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Je puis is actually incorrect. The correct form is:

Je peux. -- I can (the verb is an irregular from of pouvoir).

That said, if you form an inverted question, for example: "Can I help you?" you would say:

Puis-je vous aider? -- Can I help you? You might think it ought to be peux-je and not puis-je but that's where French is throwing yo a curve ball. That's just an exception you have to memorize.

AlanC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

I don't think you can say that "je puis" is incorrect, it's just a bit old-fashioned or formal. For example, you'll find Michel Barnier using this in some Brexit statements:

"Je parle au nom des 27 chefs d'Etat et de gouvernement, si je puis dire aussi au nom du Parlement européen, il y a unanimité du côté de l'UE pour que dans l'accord de retrait que je dois mettre sur la table (...) il y ait un règlement sérieux avec les Britanniques"

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Here is what my French go-to native speaker says: "Jamais dans la vie courante. C'est d'un style très littéraire, ou ancien."

TomC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Hi Alan,

Je puis is certainly not incorrect and as you pointed out 'si je puis dire' is a very common expression.

I had a look through my electronic copy of "Le petit prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and every one of the numerous instances of 'I can' is rendered as 'Je puis' and none as 'Je peux'. This novella, voted the most popular book of the 20th century, with a recommended reading age starting from 9 years, can hardly be deemed either supremely literary or archaic.

Or perhaps it could be that these aristos cannot forgo their lofty language even when writing for children. ☺

DmitriA2Kwiziq community member

If I had to hazard a guess, I would imagine it is something to the tune of being an abbreviation of the conditionelle de politesse, or more specifically, pourrais. ( i.e. Puis-je vous aidez? = Pourrais-je vous aidez?)

If I am wrong, my most sincere apologies, but that is how I see it. For a English homologue, think about the word "please" being the shortened form of the archaic English phrasing "If it pleases you", which, in french, is fully expressed, ( s'il vous plaît.) which literally translates to "if it [he] pleases you."

 That is my interpretaion, but I could be wrong. Again, feel free to correct me, anyone and everyone.

Même les gens les plus intelligents ne sont pas à droit toujours. C'est le bonhomme qui recherche qui est le vrai homme sage. Je ne suis ni sage ni vieux!! Mais j'essaie, et n'est-ce que le moral de la vie?

What does je puis mean?

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