What is the origin of en vouloir?

French Language Asked by kamilazdybal on November 26, 2020

I met an expression en vouloir in two sentences coming from Harry Potter and Le Petit Prince:

Il ne pouvait pas lui en vouloir.

Il ne faut pas leur en vouloir.

When I found out that it means to blame someone, the use of the verb vouloir felt very strange and I wonder how this expression came to be. Why a verb meaning to want creates an expression like that?

Is there any approximated, or common sense translation of this expression?

3 Answers

First, en vouloir has not only the meaning to blame someone :

  • Avoir contre quelqu’un un sentiment de malveillance. (To have against someone the will to harm)
  • Attaquer, tenter de nuire à quelqu’un. (To want to attack or to be detrimental to)
  • Avoir une rancune vis-à-vis de quelqu’un. (To have hard feelings or grudge)
  • Avoir quelque prétention sur une personne, sur une chose, en avoir quelque désir. (To desire)
  • Avoir du regret, du repentir. (To regret)

And it can also means

Être très déterminé, très motivé. (To be motivated, determinated)

To help you to understand, you have to place yourself in situation:
Something happened, probably caused by someone and you :

  • want revenge / to ask for compensation (3 firsts meanings);
  • want to have / get it back (to desire);
  • want to have done differently (to regret).

→ You want to have something from this person. (excuses, goods, feelings)

→ You are refusing the current situation and want reality to change.

You can look at the reverse translation to have more traductions.

Correct answer by Yohann V. on November 26, 2020

I believe it came from « vouloir du mal à quelqu’un » which is shortened to « en vouloir à quelqu’un » long ago

Answered by Joseph on November 26, 2020

I think the literal translation might sound a touch unidiomatic, but not terribly strange.

He could not want anything against him.

But in English, I would say the idiomatic expression that most closely approximates this usage is hold instead of want.

He could not hold anything against him.

Answered by Frenzie on November 26, 2020

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