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I know two translations for "boyfriend" in French: copain m, petit ami m.

In English it means a romantic and intimate partner without marriage.

I am studying the difference between them.

copain = "ancien français compain, cas sujet de compagnon" - Larousse

What is the difference?

Thank you.

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    Copain and petit ami are not the only possible translations. You should consider, mec, compagnon, bon ami, and maybe a few more, they can all translate "boyfriend" according context (mainly how deep the relationship is and age of the person using the word). A quick search on French Language would have lead you to this question to help you with yours. A copain is originally the one with who the bread (pain) is shared. – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Nov 20 '16 at 10:49
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We used to say "petit ami" and "petit copain", but there are a little aged now. "Petit ami" is fine if you're talking to your parents or older, but "petit copain" sound reaaaally old.

"Petit copain" became "copain". "Ami" still means friend. "Mec" is also used a lot.

It sounds like it's hard to tell the difference between friend and boyfriend but really it isn't :

Je suis venue avec mon copain vs Je suis venue avec un copain/pote

(I came with my boyfriend vs I came with a friend (of mine, implicitly)

J'ai croisé un mec dans la rue vs J'ai croisé mon mec dans la rue

(I bumped into a guy in the street vs I bumped into my boyfriend in the street)

Basically, it's the possession that tells "boyfriend" apart from "friend". See also :

J'ai un mec

(I have a boyfriend, marks possession as well)


The same applies for "girlfirend" : "Copine" is the most common, "petite amie" is dated but not that bad, and the "equivalent" of "mec" is "meuf", but it's a little more casual and vulgar, don't use it with anyone.

  • You suggest “un mec” as a way to avoid ambiguity when using “un” is unavoidable (as in your example, when stating that one has a boyfriend) & fwiw, I totally agree. If you don’t mind fielding a follow-up, would using “un mec” also be a good unambiguous way to familiarly ask someone: “As-tu un mec?” (or would it be better to use something more formal like “As-tu quelqu'un dans ta vie?”)?-(“As-tu un jules?” did briefly cross my mind as an option for asking that question, but that would be even more ambiguous! “Do you have a chamber pot?” or even worse, “Do you have a pimp?”) Thanks & +1 – Papa Poule Nov 20 '16 at 16:46
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    @PapaPoule Thank you ! But actually, maybe it's not clear but I'm still showing possession when using un : "J'ai un mec". (=="c'est le mien") Maybe it's the "see also" that is confusing, I looked for another word but I didn't find anything. – Teleporting Goat Nov 20 '16 at 16:52
  • Ahh, ok yes, I did kind of misinterpret your reason for including “J’ai un mec” but that was totally my fault because the ‘j’ai” does clearly mark possession just as “As-tu” would mark it when encountered in the form of a question. – Papa Poule Nov 20 '16 at 17:18
  • Nice anwser. Just a thing I noted, you say Ami still means Friend. While I find this a bit ridiculous, I know some people who do use Ami to say boyfriend. Just a few weeks ago I was in a carpool and the driver told me about his amie that he was going to visit. And he was obviously talking about his girlfriend. – Ctouw Nov 21 '16 at 8:49
  • "J'ai un ami" is ambiguous "I have a friend" or "I have a boyfriend" when "J'ai un petit ami" ou "J'ai un petit copain" only mean "I have a boyfriend". "J'ai un copain" it depends of the age of the one who says that, under 13 it means a friend, over it means a boyfriend. "J'ai un mec" only means a boyfriend, but it is really familiar. Don't know why you meant it is old but "petit copain" is still used a lot. The first example is when you chat with a girl and she answer you "J'ai déjà un petit copain". – Alvisslp Nov 21 '16 at 16:12

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