Learning the French Imperative (Imperatif) - Talk in French
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Learning the French Imperative (Imperatif)

Reading time: 3 minutes Difficulty: Beginner

Imagine a world where there are no commands or orders being issued. Well yeah, that’s right, you can’t. Whether you’re the one giving the orders or being given the orders, these things are all inexplicably intertwined with human nature and everyday living.

To issue commands or give instructions, we use the imperative form of the verb. We use the imperative day in and day out, and these words are quite often inescapable – from the moment you wake up until the day ends. 

“wake up!”

“go to work!”

“hurry up!”

“shut the door!”

“work on this project”

“sit down”

“meet me at 8”

“turn off the lights”

“go to bed now”

… and so many things in between.

Other uses of the imperative are:

  • to express a desire (which is still basically a form of issuing a command, only said a lot nicer)
  • to make a request (a very very polite kind of command)
  • to give advice (still a form of command if we come to think of it)
  • to recommend something (yup, still a command)  

THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN USING THE IMPERATIVE

  • There are two often-used forms of the French imperative, and these correspond to tu and vous. The third form nous is only being used sometimes, and it works the same way we say “let’s” in English.
  • Unlike the other verb forms and grammatical moods, the imperative does not use subject pronouns. Instead, object pronouns are being used.
  • To form the present tense imperative, you simply use the present indicative forms for tu, nous, and vous, but these pronouns are no longer being mentioned.

Example for -er verbs: donner

tu            —–>    donne

nous      —–>     donnons

vous       —–>     donnez 

Donne-moi ça! (Give me that!) 

Note: In the tu form of -er verbs, the last -s is dropped (i.e. donne instead of donnes). But when tu is followed by en or y, the -s remains to make it easier to pronounce. (example: Vas-y! Which means  “Go on!” or Donnes-en à ton frère which means “Give some to your brother.”) 

Example for -ir verbs: finir

tu             —–> finis

nous      —–>finissons

vous       —–>finissez

Finissez vos devoirs. (Finish your homework.)

Example for -re verbs: attendre

tu             —–>attends

nous      —–>attendons

vous       —–>attendez

Attendons le bus. (Let’s wait for the bus.)

  • There are two kinds of commands where the imperative is being used. These are the affirmative commands and the negative commands. In English, the affirmative command would be like “do this!” while the negative command is the opposite “don’t do that!” In French, the object pronoun which accompanies the imperative changes its position depending on the kind of command being issued.

Quick tip: object pronouns are words such as la (her/it), me or moi (me), and leur (them). These often appear in the object part of the sentence, but in the case of the imperative, these are the pronouns being used.

FOR AFFIRMATIVE COMMANDS, THE OBJECT PRONOUNS COME AFTER THE VERB.

The verb and the pronoun are then linked together with a hyphen.

Examples: 

Excusez-moi. (Excuse me.)

Aide-nous. (Help us.)

So, remember:

affirmative - after

FOR NEGATIVE COMMANDS, THE OBJECT PRONOUNS COME BEFORE THE VERB.

Ne… pas is used in this case.

Examples: 

Ne leur parlons pas. (Don’t speak to them.)

Ne le regardez pas. (Don’t look at him/it.)

Again, remember:

negative- before

  • There are cases when both direct and indirect object pronouns are present. During these scenarios, the DIRECT OBJECT PRONOUNS always come BEFORE the INDIRECT OBJECT PRONOUNS.

Direct object pronouns are: le, la, les

Indirect object pronouns are: moi, toi, lui, nous, vous, leur.

Examples:

Donnez-la-nous! (Give it to us!)

Prête-les-moi! (Lend them to me!)

Remember:

direct before indirect

  • The irregular verbs avoir, être, savoir and vouloir have their own imperative forms. These are the following:

tunousvous
Avoir (to have)aieayonsayez
Être (to be)soissoyonssoyez
Savoir (to know)sachesachonssachez
Vouloir (to want)veuilleveuillonsveuillez

A QUICK WRAP UP OF THE TOPIC

  • The three forms for the imperative are: tu, nous, and vous.
  • The conjugation is same as the present tense except that for -er verbs, the last -s is dropped in the tu form.
  • Object pronouns are used in the imperative.
  • For affirmative commands, the object pronoun comes after the verb and both are joined by a hyphen.
  • For negative commands, the object pronoun comes before the verb.
  • In cases where both direct and indirect object pronouns are present, direct object pronouns come first before the indirect.

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About the Author Frederic

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Twitter and Google +

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  • Ali says:

    this web is useful
    Merci beaucoup

  • ahmed says:

    this helped me alotttt

  • Jacqui says:

    This was so helpful Frederic – we covered this at my community group yesterday and you made it all sound sense. Merci !

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