French Imperative (Explained Clearly For Beginners)

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French Imperative (Explained Clearly For Beginners)

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):

Pronoun Form
tu donne*
nous donnons
vous donnez

*Note the dropped on the end -s. This is only for -er verbs.

Listen to audio

Donne-moi le livre.

Give me the book.

finir (to give):

Pronoun Form
tu finis
nous finissons
vous finissez
Listen to audio

Finissez vos devoirs.

Finish your homework.

attendre (to give):

Pronoun Form
tu attends
nous attendons
vous attendez
Listen to audio

Attendons le bus.

Let's wait (for) the bus.

What about irregular forms?

The following verbs have irregular patterns, and the imperative is no exception:

  • être
  • savoir
  • avoir
  • vouloir

Irregular imperative formation charts

être (to be):

Pronoun Form
tu sois
nous soyons
vous soyez
Listen to audio

Sois sage.

Be good.

savoir (to know):

Pronoun Form
tu sache
nous sachons
vous sachez

avoir (to have):

Pronoun Form
tu aie
nous ayons
vous ayez

vouloir (to want):

Pronoun Form
tu veuille
nous veuillons
vous veuillez
Listen to audio

Veuillez patienter.

Please (be so kind as to) wait.

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”).

If it’s a noun, the placement is simple: put the noun (with article) at the end of the sentence.

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.

Do something:

Listen to audio

Excusez-moi.

Excuse me.

Don’t do something:

Listen to audio

Ne me regarde pas.

Don't look at me.

Or abbreviated if the verb starts with a vowel:

Listen to audio

Ne m‘interrompez pas.

Don't interrupt me.

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”:

Listen to audio

*Dites-le–lui!

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! 😊🇫🇷

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek
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