Misconceptions and the changing use of language over the decades mean that cher/chere and chéri/chérie are among the French words most commonly misused by English-speakers.
We asked Camille Chevalier-Karfis, French language expert and founder of the French Today site, to explain exactly how these are used in modern France.
Mon chéri/ma chérie
This means my dear or my darling and is one of the French language’s best known endearments, so much so that it’s frequently dropped into everyday conversation even by non French speakers who want to add a bit of sophistication to their daily language.
Chérie is used in numerous film titles and is such a well-known phrase that there is even a brand of chocolates called Mon Chéri from the Italian firm Ferrero (they contain a cherry, a pun that doesn’t work at all in French where a cherry is une cerise).
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But be careful before you drop mon chéri (for a man) or ma chérie (for a woman) into everyday conversation.
Camille says: “This is really one to use with your nearest and dearest, I use it for my husband, sometimes for my daughter – people I am really close to. I wouldn’t use it with friends.
“But because it’s such a well-known phrase in the English-speaking world I often get emails that refer to me as chérie and it’s just completely inappropriate!
“I know that the sender is just trying to be friendly, but to a French person this comes across as way too intimate. Save it for people you’re in a romantic relationship with, or perhaps family.
“It’s interesting actually because it’s a word that I think changed its meaning in about the 1960s, before that it was used more widely for friends.
“I wouldn’t use it all apart from for people I’m very close to. I think you sometimes hear it from people who are older and very well-off, but to me it comes over as quite pretentious. Of course, there are lots of different ways to use any language though!”
Use instead – if you’re looking for a more up-to-date endearment, you could use mec for a man (similar to mate or buddy) or the more general les gars (guys) or pote (mate). If you’re in a romantic relationship with someone you’re spoiled for choice in French – we like ma puce (my flea) or bébé (baby) but you can find a full list HERE.
This also means dear, but has some very different usages in modern France.
It’s the standard way to begin a letter or a very formal email – either Cher Jean Dupont/ Chère Jeanne Dupont or Cher Monsieur/Chère Madame depending on the context.
You’ll also see it used in a more formal way by business people and – especially – politicians when they are referring to their colleagues or international counterparts.
For example in the below tweet, president Emmanuel Macron uses cher to congratulate Frank-Walter Steinmeier on his re-election to the presidency in Germany, saying: “Dear Frank-Walter, congratulations on your re-election. Together, let us continue to nurture the precious friendship between Germany and France and to promote our European values.”
Cher Frank-Walter, je t’adresse toutes mes félicitations pour ta réélection. Ensemble, continuons à nourrir la précieuse amitié qui unit l’Allemagne et la France et à promouvoir nos valeurs européennes.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) February 13, 2022
In this context it’s a formality, similar to British MPs referring to their colleagues as My Right Honorable Friend.
Mes chers compatriotes is also the standard beginning for any politician directly addressing the electorate, in the same way that US politicians might say ‘my fellow Americans’.
Cher is also sometimes used by couples, but is quite old-fashioned and not often used by younger people.
Camille says: “Because this is often used in a formal context, it can come over as a bit sarcastic if you’re using it with acquaintances.
“It’s really too formal and like with many excessively formal words and phrases it can come across as sarcastic or even hostile if you use it in an informal context.
“Younger people no longer use it among friends but I wouldn’t use it with people that you know or work colleagues, unless you are actually the President of the Republic.”
And if you look into the replies to Macron’s above tweet, you come across people who use cher to reply sarcastically to him, such as the person below who replies: “Dear Manu [the shortened version of Emmanuel] I call you Manu and use ‘tu’ with you … you’d better look at what’s going on in the former French Republic and apologise to the people you want to piss off… in any case, we’ve gone to a totalitarian place”
Cher Manu je t’appel Manu et te tutoie .. tu ferais mieux de regarder ce qui ce passe euh… ex république française et t’excuser auprès des euh… des gens que tu veux emmerder .. en tout cas ont a basculer dans un endroit totalitaire https://t.co/liJXsgg2KT
— Eric (@munsch_eric) February 13, 2022