The French Imperative and All the Rules for How to Use It
Tired of thinking about how to ask questions, and more interested in getting results in the language?
Then you’re ready to take command!
Take command of the imperative mood, that is.
The imperative mood is used for giving orders or making requests and suggestions. In French, it only comes in the tu, vous or nous form, but without a subject (who’s doing the action).
Time to show French who’s boss by learning all about the imperative!
- When to Use the French Imperative
- Imperative Conjugations
- Imperative Word Order
- How to Practice the French Imperative
When to Use the French Imperative
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.)
French commands are meant to grab your attention, and you need to remember just three conjugated forms (tu, nous and vous). 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.
The imperative mood is only conjugated for three grammatical persons:
- tu (second person singular for the informal “you”)
- vous (second person formal for “you” or the second person plural “you all”)
- nous (first person plural “we”)
For regular -er verbs, the tu form of the imperative is the same as the indicative minus the final s. The imperative conjugations for nous and vous are the exact same as the present indicative.
Piece of cake, right? Let’s take a look at some examples:
donner (to give)
- (tu) donne
Donne cette lettre à Christian, s’il te plaît.
Give this letter to Christian, please.
- (nous) donnons
Donnons les livres que nous ne lisons plus à la bibliothèque.
Let’s give the books we don’t read anymore to the library.
- (vous) donnez
Donnez votre nom complet.
Give your full name.
manger (to eat)
- (tu) mange
Mange ta soupe.
Eat your soup.
- (nous) mangeons
Mangeons avant de sortir.
Let’s eat before going out.
- (vous) mangez
Mangez ce que vous voulez.
Eat what you want.
Note: When the tu command of an -er is followed by the pronoun y or en, the final s is not dropped from the verb conjugation. Manges-en (eat some) is a case in point.
The imperative conjugations for regular -re verbs are the same as for the present infinitive conjugations. Here are some examples:
descendre (to descend)
- (tu) descends
Descends tout de suite !
Come down right away!
- (nous) descendons
Descendons cette montagne lentement.
Let’s descend this mountain slowly.
- (vous) descendez
Descendez la côte.
Go down the hill.
vendre (to sell)
- (tu) vends
Vends ton vélo ; il est trop petit pour toi.
Sell your bike; it’s too small for you.
- (nous) vendons
Vendons notre maison ; elle est trop grande pour nous deux.
Let’s sell our house; it’s too big for the two of us.
- (vous) vendez
Vendez vos tableaux plus chers ; ils sont magnifiques !
Sell your paintings for more money; they’re great!
prendre (to take)
- (tu) prends
Prends ton temps.
Take your time.
- (nous) prenons
Prenons une sieste. Je suis épuisé !
Let’s take a nap. I’m exhausted!
- (vous) prenez
Prenez vos médicaments après manger.
Take your medicine after eating.
Note: Although prendre is an irregular -re verb, in the case of the imperative mood, it follows a “regular” pattern.
Conjugating regular -ir verbs in the imperative mood is also the same as the present indicative conjugations of the tu, nous and vous forms.
finir (to finish)
- (tu) finis
Finis ton petit-déjeuner.
Finish your breakfast.
- (nous) finissons
Finissons ce film plus tard.
Let’s finish this movie later.
- (vous) finissez
Finissez le gâteau sans moi.
Finish the cake without me.
choisir (to choose)
- (tu) choisis
Choisis une date qui te convient.
Choose a date that works for you.
- (nous) choisissons
Choisissons un plat piquant à manger.
Let’s choose a spicy dish to eat.
- (vous) choisissez
partir (to leave)
- (tu) pars
Pars d’ici !
Get out of here!
- (nous) partons
Partons loin d’ici.
Let’s get [far] away from here.
- (vous) partez
Partez d’ici à midi.
Leave here at noon.
Note: Although partir is an irregular verb, it behaves “regularly” in the imperative mood.
Got it? Good. Now let’s move on to some exceptions!
Here is the present indicative and how it works.
aller (to go)
- (tu) va
Va t’allonger dans ta chambre.
Go lie down in your room.
- (nous) allons
Allons nous promener un petit peu.
Let’s walk for a bit.
- (vous) allez
Allez au marché.
Go to the market.
Note: When the tu command of aller is followed by the pronoun y, the final s is not dropped from the verb conjugation. This is why you’d say Vas-y (Go ahead!).
avoir (to have)
- (tu) aie
Aie confiance dans tes instincts.
Have faith in your instincts.
- (nous) ayons
Ayons confiance dans nos capacités.
Let’s trust our abilities.
- (vous) ayez
Ayez une attitude positive.
Have a positive attitude.
être (to be)
- (tu) sois
Sois à l’heure !
Be on time!
- (nous) soyons
Soyons calme !
Let’s be calm!
- (vous) soyez
Soyez vigilant !
savoir (to know)
- (tu) sache
Sache que je suis là pour toi.
Know that I’m here for you.
- (nous) sachons
Sachons garder notre calme.
(Literally translates to “Let’s know how to keep our calm,” but it means “Let’s keep calm.”)
- (vous) sachez
Sachez qu’on vous écoute.
Know that we’re listening to you.
vouloir (to want to)
Vouloir is a bit of a doozy. Only the vous form of the imperative is used in everyday speech and it is used to construct several formules de politesse (polite forms of address) in French.
In the context of formal email exchange, for example, it is not uncommon to see:
Veuillez trouver ci-joint…
Please find attached…
When you enter establishments like banks or doctor’s offices, a secretary may tell you:
Veuillez patienter dans la salle d’attente.
Please wait in the waiting room.
Imperative Word Order
Let’s look at the imperative word order when dealing with the negative form and pronouns.
Forming the negative imperative, in which you tell someone not to do something, is rather easy: just put the negative structure around the pronouns and the verb:
Ne pars pas tout de suite !
Don’t leave right away!
Ne sois pas en retard !
Don’t be late!
Ne mangeons pas trop !
Let’s not eat too much!
Direct and Indirect Object Pronouns
Here’s a quick refresher on direct and indirect object pronouns.
A direct object is a person or a thing that receives the action of the verb. Direct object pronouns replace direct object nouns. They must reflect the gender and quantity of the noun they replace.
An indirect object refers to the noun to/for whom the action of the verb is occurring. An indirect object is usually preceded by pour (for) or à (to, at). The indirect object responds to the question “To whom?” or “For whom?” Indirect object pronouns replace the indirect object.
In the affirmative imperative, the pronouns follow the verb and are connected with hyphens. Let’s take a look:
Mangez le sandwich ! (Eat the sandwich!) becomes Mangez-le ! (Eat it!)
Lisez la deuxième page ! (Read the second page!) becomes Lisez-la ! (Read it!)
Lisons le livre ensemble ! (Let’s read the book together!) becomes Lisons-le ! (Let’s read it!)
The pronouns me and te change to moi and toi in the imperative form:
Leave me alone.
Regarde-toi dans le miroir.
Look at yourself in the mirror.
Now let’s move on to a trickier case—when a sentence has both a direct object and an indirect object. The order of pronouns differs for the affirmative imperative and the negative imperative.
For the affirmative imperative, the order of direct object and indirect object pronouns is as follows:
le, la, les/moi, toi, lui/nous, vous, leur/y/en
Offrons le cadeau à Marie et Jean !
Let’s give the gift to Marie and Jean!
In this sentence, the gift is the direct object and Marie and Jean are the indirect objects. With pronouns, the sentence becomes:
Let’s give it to them!
For the negative imperative, the negative structures ne… pas (not) and ne… jamais (never) surround the pronouns and the verb. There are no hyphens, and the order of the direct and indirect object pronouns is a bit different:
me, te, nous, vous/le, la, les/lui, leur/y/en
N’offrons pas le cadeau à Marie et Jean.
Let’s not give the present to Marie and Jean.
Ne le leur offrons pas !
Let’s not give it to them!
How to Practice the French Imperative
Try out these online resources for getting the hang of the French imperative:
- Quia has at least 7,500 quizzes about French that are made by teachers all over the world. In one exercise, you’ll translate reflexive tu commands into French. Here’s another exercise that’s more story-based, where you’ll use the causative imperative to tell your sister how to show visitors around town.
- Conjuguemos teaches you how to do French conjugation through games. Practice negative tu commands with this timed game hosted by a Caribbean grenouille (frog), complete with several levels! For conjugating nous commands, check out this exercise, which also covers negatives and reflexives.
- ToLearnFrench.com has tons of French exercises to choose from. This exercise will teach you how to use French commands in common conversational situations. Each multiple-choice drop-down presents very similar choices—sometimes only a single letter different—but there’s only one correct choice.
- FluentU lets you learn conjugation naturally through authentic French videos with interactive subtitles—click on any verb in the videos, and you’ll see their definition and tense automatically. You can also look up verbs in their imperative form and find sentence and video examples.
Whew! That’s all folks!
Révisez bien l’impératif (study the imperative well), and your French will immediately sound more confident and poised.