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The phrases si tibi placet and si vobis placet can be found in Latin literature, but they are not particularly common. At least superficially they correspond to the French "s'il te plaît" and "s'il vous plaît". The difference in frequency can be partly explained by the cultural differences in expressing politeness. However, I wonder if this picture is complete.

So, does the Latin si tibi/vobis placet mean the same thing as the French "s'il te/vous plaît"? In which cases can they be used the same way, and in which ones not?

This question was inspired by the one about saying "please" in Latin.

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Plaire (à) has many connotations, some of which overlap with the Latin meanings of placere – to please/be pleasing (to), to enjoy, to be acceptable (to), to like/be liked (by), to be agreeable (to). There is perhaps also some overlap with the formulaic constructions such as si tibi placet/God willing (OLD) and plût à Dieu /may it please God or ce qu’à Dieu ne plaise/God forbid (TFLi). The TLFi also indicates a similar use of plaire in a formule de requête, as in plaise humblement votre Seigneurie accepter …/may it humbly please your Lordship to accept … This seems very formal and deferential and certainly does not have the same sense as s’il te/vous plaît.

Placere was used in the Senate (as mentioned above) as a technical term for to be resolved but I don’t know of an equivalent use of plaire in French. Interestingly, placet was used in Anglophone universities or Church assemblies “as a formula to express a vote in favour of a proposition: ‘It pleases (me or us)’”, which keeps that technical use of placere (OED). I wonder too if the formulaic legal phrase “may it please the court” has a similar background? (It is accepted that the English verb to please derives from the French plaisir/plaire and thus Latin placere)

As to whether si tibi/vobis placet and s'il te/vous plaît are equivalent, I didn’t find anything to suggest so. They are saying the same thing – if it pleases you – but there the similarity seems to end. I couldn’t even find that si tibi/vobis placet was for requests as such but rather for making suggestions/seeking agreement – si tibi placet/if you have no objections or for simply stating what one liked – nunc tu mihi places/now I like you (OLD). This most definitely is not how s’il te/vous plaît is used.

By the way, I’m not a native speaker of French and the above is just the product of my research in dictionaries. I’d welcome any corrections!

  • I do agree, but you have to consider the meaning of the word "plaire" in old French, not modern French. – Quidam Nov 1 at 22:34
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The French verb plaîre is not the DIRECT continuation of placēre, but seems to imply a parallel form *placĕre, or else (as others argue) it derives from the infinitive plaisir, which implies *placīre. Moreover, s'il vus plaist does not seem to be attested until the mid-twelfth century, which again argues against seeing it as a direct continuation of Latin si vobis placet.

http://www.cnrtl.fr/etymologie/plaire

  • I’m not a native French speaker but my interpretation of that entry is that plaire could derive from placere. Two options are given: that it comes from an etymological doublet placere/placire (the OED suggests a post-classical variant plácĕre of Classical placēre); or that it is a réfection – the reconfiguring of an irregular word into the form of more regular words – here, the alteration of plaisir, an infinitive until the 13th cent., into plaire, probably because il plaît appeared to conjugate like faire, traire etc. The CNRTL entry for plaisir unequivocally gives placere as its etymon. – Penelope Sep 29 '16 at 10:03
  • @Penelope. I am not sure that we disagree about anything. plaîre implies a 3rd-conj. verb *placĕre, like faîre from facĕre. Classical placēre is a 2nd-conj. verb. – fdb Sep 29 '16 at 12:00
  • Sorry, I may have misunderstood you. I think the point I was trying to clarify was that plaire does seem to derive from the Latin verb to please, find agreeable. I think I must have overlooked your point that it wasn't a "direct" continuation. All the rest, the doublet and the réfection, happened between placere and plaire! – Penelope Sep 29 '16 at 13:46
  • Why is it not the direct continuation, what are the sources? – Quidam Nov 1 at 22:34
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The Latin verb placere is certainly used as you suggest, but I think that its use tends to be formal rather than familiar (for instance, the Senate would be asked if it "pleased" to accept a proposition, and so on). This may tend to distance the use of si tibi placet, etc,. from the French s'il te plaît.

As you know, there are several nuances of the English phrase 'if you please' according to context, and I suspect that there is a similar situation in other languages. You probably need a native French speaker to answer your question.

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We can find the many meanings of s'il te plaît in the Littré above the article PLAIRE. They are:

  1. Vouloir, trouver bon
    E.g.: Heureux, si vous voulez, malheureux, s'il vous plaît (in Tartuffe by Molière)
  2. S'il vous plaît, terme de politesse, pour demander quelque chose à quelqu'un.
    E.g.: Ne m'oubliez jamais dans vos prières, s'il vous plaît (in a letter by Mme de Maintenon)
  3. Parfois, s'il vous plaît, est une façon polie de recommander avec énergie ce qu'on dit.
    E.g.: Une seconde fois avisez, s'il vous plaît, à traiter Laodice en reine comme elle est ; C'est moi qui vous en prie [Corneille, Nicom. II, 3]
    Et moi, ma petite fille, ma mie, je veux que vous vous mariiez, s'il vous plaît [Molière, Avare, I, 6]

Translations

Basically, the (authoritative) Quicherat French-Latine dictionary gives the following possibilities above the article PLAIRE:

Si placet.
Cic. Si vobis videtur.
Cic. Si tibi est commodum.
Cic. Nisi molestum est.
Cic. Si grave non est.
Hor. Quæso

1. Vouloir, trouver bon

1.a) Si placet

It fits really good with this meaning of placere (Lewis & Short):

II. Transf.: placet mihi (tibi, etc.), or simply placet, it pleases me, it seems good, right, or proper to me; it is my opinion, I am of opinion, I hold, believe, intend, purpose; and in perf., placuit, or placitum est, it is decided, resolved, determined (mihi, nobis, etc., or absol.).

We can find an exact parallel of the expression in Cicero (Rep. 2, 44, 71):

Sed, si placet, in hunc diem hactenus

That is, in French, mais, s’il vous le trouvez bon [=s’il vous plaît], c’est assez pour aujourd’hui.

1.b) Sis

We could also think to sis [= si vis]. In fact, the Gaffiot gives the following translations of this one:

Sis (=si vis): si tu veux, s’il te plaît, de grâce

1.c) Si videtur (from videor)

According to the Gaffiot, it fits well with the meaning of trouver bon:

  • si videtur or si tibi/vobis videtur: s’il te paraît bon, si tu veux bien, s’il te plaît : Cic. Ac. 1, 35 ; Tusc. 1, 23 ; 1, 77 ; Fam. 14, 7, 3 ; Verr. 2, 4, 66, etc. ; Cæs. G. 5, 36, 3

1.c) Example

For example, I would translate Molière by:

  • Heureux, si vous voulez, malheureux, s'il vous plaît

    Felix sis, infelix si placet

I think the play on vouloir and plaire is quite the same with volere and placere.

2. S'il vous plaît, terme de politesse, pour demander quelque chose à quelqu'un.

The second one is a polite way to ask something. Here, s’il te plaît, means more if it doesn’t bother you as it is a term of politness. So I think the following translations (from the Quicherat) fit very well with it:

Cic. Si tibi est commodum.
Cic. Nisi molestum est.
Cic. Si grave non est.

We can also translate it with (translations and examples from the Gaffiot):

  • quæso: s'il te plaît, je te prie
  • si lĭbet: s’il te plaît (libet = il plaît, il fait plaisir) E.g. adde, si libet Cic. Tusc. 5, 45, ajoute, s’il te plaît
  • sōdēs [=si audes]: s’il te plaît, de grâce Cic.
    Or. 154 ; Pl., Ter.; Cic. Att. 7, 3, 11 ; Hor. Ep. 1, 7, 15 ; P. 438, etc. ;
    vescere, sodes Hor. Ep. 1, 7, 15, mange, s’il te plaît

Example

I would translate Mme de Maintenon by:

  • Ne m'oubliez jamais dans vos prières, s'il vous plaît

    Noli dediscere me cum precaris, sis.

3. Parfois, s'il vous plaît, est une façon polie de recommander avec énergie ce qu'on dit.

This meaning seems more difficult to render. I think we can use the same as for the polite s'il vous plaît.

So the quotation from the Avare would be (e.g. staging with Louis de Funès):

  • Et moi, ma petite fille, ma mie, je veux que vous vous mariiez, s'il vous plaît

    Et ego, carissima filiola mea, opto ut in matrimonium eas, si placet.

  • It's very interesting, but only the meaning in old French is relevant. – Quidam Nov 1 at 22:35

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