Wishful thinking doesn’t get you anywhere. Facts and statements only go so far.
So how can you get anything done?
You need some French commands in your tool-belt.
The French imperative can really make things happen.
But if all you do is read the instruction manual, you’re not going to see any action.
How do you go from just learning about commands to wielding them like an expert?
For that, you’re going to need to get out the power tools: Interactive activities for practicing French commands.
At Your Command: The French Imperative Mood
Not sure when to employ French commands? In a nutshell, commands are used to request, recommend or just be bossy.
Use the French imperative to:
- Order someone to do something. Example: Va à la pâtisserie. (Go to the pastry shop.)
- Give someone a suggestion or advice. Example: Restez patient quand tu fais la queue. (Stay patient when you get in line.)
- Make a recommendation. Example: Choisis le pain au chocolat. (Choose the pain au chocolat.)
- Make a request. Example: Donne-moi le pain au chocolat que tu as acheté chez le pâtissier. (Give me the pain au chocolat that you bought at the pastry shop.)
- Communicate your wishes. Example: Allons à la pâtisserie pour acheter plus de pains au chocolat. (Let’s go to the pastry shop to buy more chocolate sweet rolls.)
Half the conjugations, but twice the power. French commands are meant to grab your attention. But for all the extra power they put in your speech, you need to remember just three conjugated forms.
The French imperative only uses the tu, nous and vous verb forms. They’re often the same conjugations found in the present indicative—which is likely the first French verb tense you ever learned, and one you use frequently.
Review and get ready to practice! Has it been a while since you’ve learned commands in French? Not sure about your conjugations? Can’t remember the rules for word order? Check out this comprehensive grammar guide for the French imperative, which thoroughly covers grammar and usage questions.
See the imperative in action. Hearing someone use French commands is a great way to refresh your memory. You can do that with FluentU’s French videos.
Practice French Commands to Perfect Them
Enhance learning. When you exercise your commands, you’ll reinforce your understanding and recall of imperative verb conjugations. Using commands in complete sentences will give you the chance to put all the parts of speech in the correct order.
You’ll also transition from theory to practice, working through multiple examples to help you understand how commands function in different contexts.
Evaluate what you know. As you learn something new, it’s hard to determine how well you’re grasping it. Using interactive tools will power up your learning by giving you the objective feedback you need.
You’ll discover what you need to practice more, and your confidence will get a boost when you see how many correct answers you’ve given.
Practice improves performance. A bit of neuroscience comes in handy for explaining how practicing a skill, such as French commands, enables us to perform it better over time. Practice stimulates our brains to grow more myelin, the white fatty tissue that speeds up and strengthens our nerve impulses. It’s like trading a handsaw for a table saw.
So the more often we practice the imperative in an environment with the proper feedback, the quicker and more powerful our brains become at cranking out correct French commands.
Let’s switch on those power tools and start zipping through the imperative. Allons-y! (Let’s go!)
The Complete Toolkit for Learning and Practicing French Commands
Informally Yours: Tu Commands
Tu commands are used when you’re speaking to one person you know well. It might be your spouse, a friend, a sibling or a close acquaintance.
With a regular -er verb, such as fermer (to close) or laver (to wash), you’ll generally use the present indicative tu conjugation, minus the final s. So, for example, you might tell your son, “Lave l’assiette.” (“Wash the plate.”)
There’s a notable exception: When the -er verb is followed directly by y (there) or en (some, any), the final s from the present tense is retained.
Regular -ir and -re verbs also keep their regular present-tense conjugations in the tu form, and don’t lose their final s the way -er verbs usually do.
Irregular verbs, of course, do their own thing. For instance, the present indicative tu form of savoir (to know a fact or how to do something) is sais. But the imperative tu form is sache (which is the tu form of the present subjunctive, minus the final s.) In cases like this, you’ll just need to grit your teeth and memorize the irregular imperative conjugations separately… or come up with different mnemonics for each special case.
Now that we’ve gone over the basics of the imperative tu form, let’s look at a couple of exercises to help you master its finer points.
Quia: Reflexive tu commands
Give it some reflection. In this exercise, you’ll translate reflexive tu commands into French. This will help you remember important rules for reflexive commands, such as adding the pronoun toi in a positive command after the conjugated verb—as in Mets-toi la casquette (Put on the cap).
Conjuguemos: Negative tu commands
Infinitely negative. When you play Coquitration, hosted by a Caribbean grenouille (frog), you’ll match infinitives to negative tu commands. This timed game, based on Concentration, tests your ability to quickly recognize the negative tu form of an imperative conjugation. To see how long it takes you to make all the pairs, choose the Count Up option. To really put on the pressure, pick Count Down and try to beat the clock.
Want to make the game more challenging? Work your way up from six matches (the 4 x 3 board configuration) to thirteen (the 6 x 6 setup). The more you play, the more you reinforce the correct negative tu form imperative conjugation. Keep it up, and you’ll be bossing around your friends and family like a pro!
Just Between Us: Nous Commands
Nous commands are used when you want to implore your own group of people to do something. For example, Allons au cinéma (Let’s go to the movies) or Prenons le petit déjeuner (Let’s have breakfast). Nous imperative mood conjugations are the same as the present indicative for all regular verbs. As always, your mileage may vary when it comes to irregular verbs.
Conjugemos: Nous commands
Although this nous commands exercise from Conjuguemos comes without explicit instructions, it’s fairly straightforward: Just hit the red Start button in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. A verb to conjugate (such as parler, to speak) will appear above the dialog box. The hint will also tell you whether you should conjugate it in a positive or negative command.
Next to the dialogue box where you enter your answer is a button labeled +Accent. To add a needed diacritical mark, type the letter first (such as an “e”), and then click or tap the +Accent button until you see the right type of accent (acute, grave, etc.). The Hints button to the right of +Accent will help you with the meaning and conjugation of the verb. If you want to automatically track your progress over time, you can register for a free account on the site.
Customize to your taste. Use the Customize button (in the upper right corner) to modify the options. You can enable or disable automatic hints. You can also choose whether the target verb is presented in French or English. If you decide to get the verb in English, you’ll test your vocabulary recall while you practice your nous command conjugations.
The Time me button (next to Start/Stop) toggles between the timed or un-timed modes. (This must be done before the game is started.)
Focus on the conjugation. While context is tremendously important in learning a language, sometimes you need to practice an isolated skill, such as verb conjugation. In this exercise, there is no sentence context, so you can just focus on the conjugation itself.
Negatives and reflexives. Practice forming answers in the negative, using the reflexive or both. This exercise will help you learn the correct word orders for the reflexive pronouns or negation frameworks such as ne…pas (not) or ne…jamais (never).
Formal and Plural: Vous Commands
Vous commands are used for either formal address or when you’re talking to more than one person—and not including yourself as the object of the command. Just like nous commands, regular verbs use the same conjugations for the vous form of the imperative as the present indicative. Irregular verbs, of course, will follow their own rules when it comes to the vous form of the imperative mood.
Quizlet: Vous commands
This set of review and testing activities from Quizlet reinforces your knowledge of vous commands with a full toolkit of resources.
Many modalities. Why just learn in one way, when you can mix it up and strengthen your skills using several different approaches? This Quizlet offers a learning module, in which you can see and hear the target phrases with illustrations, and then test yourself with a multiple-choice quiz. There are flashcards with illustrations and pronunciations, which can be shuffled to make repetition more challenging. The Spell section lets you type the commands and phrases you hear; if you make a mistake, the narrator will literally spell out the answer (with corrections appearing onscreen). There are also written exercises and games.
You’ll notice that a couple of non-commands are included, such as Puis-je aller boire (May I get a drink). This goes along with the theme of commands that are often used in the classroom.
Recall it fast. One of the goals of learning a language is making the grammar and vocabulary second nature, so that speaking and writing become as automatic as your native language. Timed practice with the Matching game and Gravity game forces you to quickly summon the correct command forms of the target verbs.
Track your stats. See which words you miss most often, so you can concentrate on practicing them and getting better. If you create a free account, you can save your scores and compete with other players by name.
Commands in Context
Now the French imperative gets more complicated. Using commands in context means not only conjugating the verb correctly, but understanding the scenario and following the rules for word order in a sentence.
ToLearnFrench.com: Present imperative in context
This exercise will teach you how to use French commands in common conversational situations.
Command word relationships. Learn how imperatives relate in context to other words. Unlike some of the other exercises we’ve tried, this activity doesn’t always present a specific verb and then ask you to conjugate its command form. It sometimes uses sentences like “I don’t understand; repeat it once more” to show the circumstances in which you might use certain commands.
Learn with precision. Each multiple-choice drop-down presents very similar choices. Sometimes, the only difference is a single letter or punctuation mark. However, there’s only one correct choice for both the conjugation and punctuation in a given sentence… so proceed with caution before making your choice.
Making Do: Causative Commands
Why am I making you read about the causative? So you can understand how useful this particular construction can be.
Command with majesty. Want to feel like royalty? Make others do your bidding with the causative imperative.
The causative is generally used to show who instigated an action, especially in cases where that same person did not perform the action. It can also be used in the imperative mood to give a command.
A simple example of the causative imperative is faire voir (to show), used when you want to implore someone to show you something. For instance:
Il y a une nouvelle vidéo sur FluentU? Fais voir! (There’s a new video on FluentU? Show me!)
You can also combine the causative with the imperative mood to tell someone else to make a third party do something. For example:
Fais-la balayer l’entrée! (Make her sweep the entryway!)
In this way, the causative imperative is commanding by proxy.
Quia: the Causative imperative
Les versus leur. One of the trickier parts of using the causative imperative can be figuring out how it fits with object pronouns. This exercise will give you plenty of practice distinguishing between the use of les and leur, which can both mean “them” in different contexts.
You’ll use the causative imperative to instruct your fictional sister on how to show your visitors around town in your absence. A phrase in the infinitive, such as voir le jardin (to see the garden), will appear. Conjugate it in the causative imperative, along with any needed object pronouns.
The exercise provides two examples: Modèle A (Example A) demonstrates the use of les to refer to a group of people, when the verb does not have a direct object. Modèle B (Example B) shows you how leur is used with the causative imperative when the verb takes a direct object.
Remember: The more you use these power tools, the more effortless French commands will become. Just don’t forget to recharge your batteries, and always wear your safety goggles.
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