Quick tips to master the French imperative

The imperative is one of the three moods in French, the other two being the indicative and the subjunctive. In today’s article, you’ll learn quick tips to master the French imperative. Used to tell someone to do something, the imperative mood represent commands, requests and instructions.

french imperative

Table of content :

  1. How to form the French imperative
  2. French imperative and pronouns
  3. When do we use the French imperative

How to form the French imperative

First, there are three forms of French imperative, with ‘tu’, ‘vous’ and ‘nous‘. However, this last one is very common. And unlike the other verb forms, the imperative does not use subject pronouns. Instead, object pronouns are being used.

The imperative for the first group verbs

In this case, verbs have the same ending as at the present tense with -e, -ons and -ez. But we don’ have the subject pronouns. Let’s check the French imperative for the verbs manger (to eat), écouter (to listen) and parler (to speak) :

For ‘Tu’ Nous Vous
Mange !  Mangeons ! Mangez !
Ecoute ! Ecoutons ! Ecoutez !
Parle ! Parlons ! Parlez !

Remember : The negative imperative is formed with : NE + Verb + PAS

  • Ne partez pas ! = Don’t leave !
  • Ne viens pas ! = Don’t come !

For the second and third group verbs

Here, the same rule as above applies, with all the irregular verbs at the present tense. Let’s see faire (to do), for example :

Tu Nous Vous
Prends !  Prenons ! Prenez !
Viens ! Venons ! Venez !
Fais ! Faisons ! Faites

The five exceptions are : Avoir, Être, Savoir, Aller and Vouloir

  • Aie ; Ayons ; Ayez
  • Sois ; Soyons ; Soyez
  • Sache ; Sachons ; Sachez
  • Va ; Allons ; Allez
  • Veuille ; Veuillons ; Veuillez

Reflexive verbs

Finally, for the reflexive verbs, you need to add a tonic pronoun :

  • after the verb for affirmative sentences ;
  • before the verb for the negative phrases.
S’asseoir Assieds-toi !  Asseyons-nous ! Asseyez-vous !
Ne t’assieds pas ! Ne nous asseyons-pas ! Ne vous asseyez pas !
Se lever Lève-toi ! Levons-nous ! Levez-vous !
Ne te lève pas ! Ne nous levons pas ! Ne vous levez pas !

Tip : to improve your conjugation, feel free to practice with the Bescherelle. You will have access to every tenses conjugated for any French verb you need.

And for a more customized approach, one-on-one online French courses are available from anywhere.

form french imperative

French imperative and pronouns

Now, pronouns may be difficult because they are expressed differently in your native language. As we’ve seen previously with ‘qui and que’ for instance, French pronouns can cause confusion. But don’t worry, we’ll show you how to avoid ambiguity.

Place of the personal pronoun at the imperative

The personal pronoun is placed either before or after the verb, depending if the sentence is negative or positive. Let’s check a few examples :

  • Demande à ton ami ! > Demande-lui ! = Ask your friend ! > Ask him !
  • Ne lui demande pas ! = Don’t ask him !
  • Appelle tes parents ! > Appelle-les ! = Call your parents ! > Call them !
  • Ne les appelle pas ! = Don’t call them !

The pronouns ‘en’ and ‘y’ when using the imperative

Then, when the imperative is followed by a pronoun, we add an ‘s’ to the affirmative verbs ending with -e or -a :

  • Va à la boulangerie > Vas-y
  • Ne va pas à la boulangerie > N’y va pas 
  • Achète du beurre > Achètes-en
  • N’achète pas de beurre > N’en achète pas

The French tonic pronouns

At last, we replace ‘me’ and ‘te’ by ‘moi’ and ‘toi’ at the imperative tense.

  • For example : Parle-moi (and not parle-me) ! = Talk to me !
  • Tais-toi ! = Shut up !
  • Recap : For affirmative commands, the object pronoun comes after the verb and both are joined by a hyphen.
  • For negative commands, the pronoun comes before the verb.
french imperative and pronouns

When do we use the French imperative

Finally you need to know when to use the French imperative. There are four different ways to use the imperative as follows :

  • Command / Order

ex: Asseyez-vous (formal) / Assieds-toi (informal) = Sit down

  • Request / Recommendation 

Emporte suffisamment de vêtements chauds pour le voyage = Pack enough warm clothes for the trip

  • Instruction / Advice

Tournez à gauche au bout de la rue = Turn left at the end of the street

  • Invitation

Passe (à la maison) à 19 heures = Come over at 7pm

Note : Requests, advices and instructions can all be considered as commands, said nicely !

imperative in french

Now you know how to give commands in French. For hands-on practice with a certified tutor, contact me today ! Whether you are learning French to study, work abroad, or just for fun, French courses for all levels are available.