What is the French imperative?
In a nutshell: imperatives are verb forms that are used to give commands or orders to someone. They can often stand alone as a complete, logical sentence.
Examples of imperatives are “be quiet”, “turn around”, “don’t eat it”. They can be directed at one person (tu/vous), or a group of people (vous/nous).
When used with nous (we), the imperative basically translates to “let’s + verb”.
How to conjugate the imperative (present) tense in French (regular verbs)
The imperative is quite simple when dealing with regular verbs, as it’s basically identical to the present tense form for tu, vous and nous, minus the preceding pronoun.
The silent -s ending for -er verbs is removed (addressing tu).
However, if the imperative verb is followed immediately by y or en, then the -s is kept (but it is pronounced more like -z).
Regular imperative verb formation examples
donner (to give):
*Note the dropped on the end -s. This is only for -er verbs.
Donne-moi le livre.
finir (to give):
Finissez vos devoirs.
attendre (to give):
Attendons le bus.
What about irregular forms?
The following verbs have irregular patterns, and the imperative is no exception:
Irregular imperative formation charts
être (to be):
savoir (to know):
avoir (to have):
vouloir (to want):
Dealing with direct object pronouns and the French imperative
When using an imperative verb, you’ll often want to include the object of the action (e.g. “eat the cake”).
But what about object pronouns?
As a general rule:
- if you’re telling a person to do something, then the object pronoun (me, him, them, etc.) is placed after the imperative verb with a hyphen.
- if you’re telling a person not to do something, then the object pronoun is placed after ne but before the verb.
Don’t do something:
Ne me regarde pas.
Or abbreviated if the verb starts with a vowel:
Ne m‘interrompez pas.
What if there’s an indirect object pronoun as well?
The direct object always precedes the indirect object. For example, if you want to say “tell it to him”:
*Note the multiple hyphens too.
Start with imperatives
Here’s a tip for learning French verbs:
Start with imperatives.
One imperative verb can exist on its own and be its own sentence.
They’re the easiest and most straightforward verb form to learn in French (and most languages). Conjugation is, for the most part, simple.
Not only that, we learn imperatives before anything else in our first language, so it’s a naturally good starting point.
Bonne chance! 😊🇫🇷