The Imperative in French is used to give commands or to make requests. It can also be used to give warnings, directions, or advice. The imperative is used in many different situations in our every day lives, so it’s important to know how it works in French if you are learning the language.
Luckily, this topic is easy to grasp and simple to remember, and we’ve laid it all out for you in our guide below. Let’s get started!
How does the French Imperative work?
In French, Imperatives are formed using the present tense of the verb, and only used in the tu (2nd person singular), nous (1st person plural) and vous (2nd person plural) forms. Let’s take a closer look with examples:
- Réfléchis! (Think!). Here we are in the tu form. The verb réfléchir (to think) is conjugated in the present tense in the 2nd person singular (tu).
- Allons voir (Let’s go and see). Here we are in the nous form. The verb aller (to go) is conjugated in the present tense in the 1st person plural (n0us).
- Ecoutez-moi (Listen to me). Here we are in the vous form. The verb écouter (to listen) is conjugated in the present tense in the 2nd person plural (vous).
Now, imperatives also come in handy if you were to ask someone to ‘Call her right now!’ or to ‘Drink it’ – all you need to do is add a hyphen after the verb followed by the corresponding pronoun. For example:
- Appele-la maintenant! (Call her right now! – in the tu form)
- Buvez-le (Drink it – in the vous form)
- Libérons-les (Let’s free them – in the nous form)
Note: You might come across a sentence that includes both direct (le, la, les) and indirect (moi, toi, nous, vous, lui, leur) object pronouns. In this case, the direct object pronoun comes first.
Laissez-les m’atteindre! (Let them get to me!)
Simple enough. But what of the inevitable regular and irregular verbs? We’re glad you asked!
Rules of the Imperative Verb in French
1. Regular verbs ending in -er, -ir, and -re
Turning regular -er,-ir and -re verbs into imperatives is thankfully very straightforward. Like we saw earlier, imperatives are comprised of a present tense verb in either the tu, nous, or vous form.
|Verbs Ending in -er|
|Verbs Ending in -ir|
|Verbs Ending in -re|
That’s about how complicated as it gets for now, but one thing that’s imperative (no pun intended!) to remember is that when you are turning a regular -er verb into a tu form imperative, you have to drop the “s”. Here’s an example:
- Parle moi! (Talk to me!)
Here, parler is a regular -er verb so when it’s conjugated in the present tense tu form you get tu parles. To turn it into an imperative, you then need to lose the “s” which leaves you with parle moi as is shown in the example above.
- Mange tes légumes! (Eat your vegetables!)
Here manger is also a regular -er verb, so when it’s conjugated in the present tense tu form you get tu manges. Once we lose the “s” we are indeed left with mange.
That being said, the “s” does remain in only two cases:
- When the verb is followed by y – vas-y! (go!)
- When the verb is followed by en – donnes-en (give me some)
2. Irregular verbs
With affirmative imperatives, the direct object pronoun is placed after the verb instead of before it (where it usually is). A hyphen separates the two.
Regarde-le (chat) – Look at it (talking about the cat)
In this example the direct object pronoun is le which replaces the object of the sentence –le chat (the cat)
This is the reverse of affirmative imperatives, as the object pronouns are placed before the verb. You’ll also find the structure ‘ne…pas’ in negative imperative sentences.
S’il-te-plaît, ne me quitte pas! (Please, don’t leave me!)
Here, me is the object pronoun which comes before the imperative verb quitte.
And there you have it – the complete lowdown on French Imperatives! Why not try our quiz below to put what you’ve learnt today to the test?
See you next lesson – and in the meantime, don’t forget to practice! If you need any help don’t hesitate to get into contact with one of our French tutors.