In Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot detective stories, Poirot uses the phrase “if you please” a lot. Does this come from the French phrase “s’il vous plaît”?

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    Why is this tagged british-english? – tchrist Dec 5 '12 at 19:54
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    @tchrist Possibly because the novels are usually set in England. – coleopterist Dec 5 '12 at 20:39
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    That's Dame Agatha Christie to you. – rajah9 Dec 5 '12 at 21:00
  • @rajah9 To whom? – Daniel Dec 5 '12 at 21:10
  • @Danielδ to any reader who did not know who the author was, that she was British, and that she was given the title in 1971. (Thank you KeyBrdBasher for adding the author and lopping off the stray s in "Hercule.") – rajah9 Dec 6 '12 at 13:57

Hercule Poirot is a Belgian and speaks Belgian French. In the television series, David Suchet uses and switches between if you please and s'il vous plaît on a regular basis, and as such wears his civilised foreignness openly. I expect that the Poirot in the books shares the same affectation.

So, yes, I do believe that the use of if you please is intentional and is the English counterpart of the formal s'il vous plaît in French.

Wiktionary's entry for s'il vous plaît reads:

s’il vous plaît ("if it pleases you")
(formal) please, if you please
Pourriez-vous me donner le pain, s'il vous plaît?

The Wikipedia entry for If You Please refers to a French play:

If You Please (S'il Vous Plaît) is a Dada–Surrealist play co-written by the French surrealist writer and theorist André Breton and poet and novelist Philippe Soupault.

  • I like the idea of your answer. Even though I guess the one by Ilya is more correct. Maybe Ms Christie had the same thoughts as you did, and was not so much trying to be technically correct. – Arne Dec 6 '12 at 6:10
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    @Arne No, I think that it is technically fine and is a better and less stilted option to if it pleases you. Please also see Gilles' (who is French) comment to tchrist's answer. Agatha Christie, who was also educated in France, knew exactly what she was doing. – coleopterist Dec 6 '12 at 6:15

"If you please" has been found in English at least as far back as 1563 according the OED.

c1563 Jyl of Breyntfords Test. sig. B.ii, But tary I pray you all if ye please.

So if it ever came from French, it's sure English now.


S’il vous plaît means if it please you, not if you please.

The formulation if it please occurs often enough in the KJV.

If it please the king, let there go a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not altered, That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate to another that is better than she.

However, if you please does not. On the other hand, if you please does occur 18 times in Shakespeare.

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    Shakespeare also uses If it might please you, May it please you, Please you [to/that...], So please you, As't please you, An't please you, If you shall please so, If you please to, Please it you ... any of which can substitute a title of address for "you". Please is a true ergative; according to my OED 1 (sv II.6), the transitive active and passive and the intransitive uses are equivalent and "Shakespeare uses the three forms indifferently." – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 5 '12 at 21:02
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    The nuance between “if it please you” and “if you please” is not one that carries through translation. Both mean roughly the same thing: if you would derive contentment from something. That is also the rough meaning of the literal French expression. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Dec 5 '12 at 23:05
  • All this talk of Shakespeare in this context and no mention of "As You Like It"? Another phrase that means about the same thing, and is actually the title of one of his plays... – Darrel Hoffman Dec 6 '12 at 5:34

It doesn't seem that these phrases are related, because literally "s'il vous plait" means "if it pleases you":

  • si means "if"

  • il means "he" or "it" (as the subject of the sentence)

  • The word vous can function as the nominative "you" (as in "you stand here"), but in this case it's the objective case: "it pleases you"

  • plait is in the 3rd person: "pleases". For example, vous me plaisez means "I like you" (literally: "you please me").

  • -1 See other comments & answers which suggest that your distinction is erroneous. – TrevorD May 24 '13 at 17:51

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