Imperative in French (l’Impératif) – Conjugation and examples

french-imperatif

We will go through the areas of application and the conjugations in this article.

Let’s begin with the areas of application.

It will help you understand why the imperative form is useful.

The basic form is relatively easy to understand. However, it can get a bit more complicated when we add more pronouns.

When to use

1. An order

  • Fais-le! – Do it!
  • Donnez-moi le stylo! – Give me the pen!
  • Fais attention! – Be careful!

2. A proposition/a wish

  • Finissons les devoirs maintenant. – Let’s finish the homework now.
  • Restons deux heures de plus – Let’s stay 2 more hours.

3. A request

  • Veuillez enlever vos chaussures. – Please take of your shoes.
  • Soyez attentif. – Pay attention.

Conjugation

We will only use three conjugations to create the imperative mood.

Thus, we will focus on the conjugations for:

  • Tu
  • Nous
  • Vous

We will also divide the conjugations into the 3 different verb groups. This will make it easier for you to understand the concept.

Let’s begin with ER (verbs ending in ER, for instance, parler)

ER-verb

3 commons verbs ending in ER:

  • Regarder (to watch)
  • Parler (to speak)
  • Manger (to eat)

We can take any of these 3 verbs to create the imperative mood.

1. We will begin by looking at the conjugations for ”manger” in the present tense:

  1. Je mange
  2. Tu manges
  3. Il/elle/on mange
  4. Nous mangeons
  5. Vous mangez
  6. Ils/elles mangent

We will now pick number 2, 4 and 5.

2. Now we will remove the pronouns:

  • Tu manges
  • Nous mangeons
  • Vous mangez

This will give us:

  1. Manges
  2. Mangeons
  3. Mangez

Voilà, these are the verbs that we will use for the imperative form .

Attention! Just one more (boring) detail to cover.

The ”S” will disappear from number 1. I have put this letter in bold, and this will be the case for every ER-verb.

Now we can create some phrases with these verbs in the imperative form:

  1. Mange! – Eat!
  2. Mangeons au restaurant? – Let’s eat at the restaurant?
  3. Mangez plus! – Eat more!

Did you find this process difficult to follow? Let’s do the same thing with IR-verbs.

I am sure it will be easier to understand if we go through the process again.

IR

 We will now focus on verbs ending in IR. Let us look at three common members of this group:

  • Finir= To finish
  • Réussir= To succeed
  • Investir= To invest

1. We begin by looking at the conjugations for ”finir” in the present tense:

  1. Je finis
  2. Tu finis
  3. Il/elle/on finit
  4. Nous finissons
  5. Vous finissez
  6. Ils/elles finissent

We will go ahead and pick the same conjugations as we did before. I have put them in bold.

2. Now we will remove the pronouns:

  • Tu finis
  • Nous finissons
  • Vous finissez

This gives us:

  1. Finis
  2. Finissons
  3. Finissez

Voilà, now we have “finir” in the imperative form. We don’t have to remove an “s” for the IR-group, sometimes there are no exceptions in French :-).

Now we can put them in different contexts:

  1. Finis ton repas! – Finish your meal!
  2. Finissons la course ensemble – Let’s finish the race together.
  3. Finissez vos devoirs – Finish your homework.  

Are you starting to get the hang of it? We only have one more verb group to cover. We will follow the same process as we did for ER and IR.

RE

This group is quite small based on the number of verbs.

However, it contains some verbs that are very common in the French language.

We can pick ”attendre= to wait” as an example.

1. We begin by listing the verb conjugations in the present tense (same process as before):

  1. J’attends
  2. Tu attends
  3. Il/elle/on attend
  4. Nous attendons
  5. Vous attendez
  6. Ils/elles attendent

We pick the same ones as we did in previous examples.

2. We continue by removing the pronouns:

  • Tu attends
  • Nous attendons
  • Vous attendez

We remove the pronouns:

  • attends
  • attendons
  • attendez

Let’s put them in a context:

  • Attends! – Wait!
  • Attendons 4 minutes – Let’s wait 4 minutes.
  • Attendez madame! –  Wait madame!

The negative form

The negative form does not give us many problems. It follows the same pattern as the verbs in the present tense. Do you remember how it’s done?

  • Je ne peux pas – I can’t
  • Elle ne sait pas – She doesn’t know.

We just need to put the negation around the verb. Let’s see how it looks like in the imperative mood:

  • N’attends pas – Don’t wait!
  • Ne finissez pas vos tâches – Don’t finish your duties!
  • Ne mange pas! – Don’t eat!

This is usually quite easy to understand. However, it will be more difficult when we add more pronouns in the sentence.

Don’t worry about this for now. We will go through it later in this article. But, first, we need to look at the placement for the reflexive verbs.

Reflexive verbs

Before beginning, do you remember how we use the reflexive verbs?

It reflects the action back to yourself or someone else.

For instance:

  • Je me réveille – I wake up (I wake myself up)
  • Elle se lave – She washes (herself)

Thus, we use different pronouns to create reflexive verbs.

We need to keep these pronouns when creating the imperative mood.

Let’s go through the conjugation process.

We can use the reflexive verb “se lever= to get up” as an example.

1. List the conjugations for ”se lever” in the present tense:

  • Je me lève
  • Tu te lèves
  • Il/elle/on se lève
  • Nous nous levons
  • Vous vous levez
  • Ils se lèvent

2. Remove the pronouns:

  • Tu te lèves
  • Nous nous levons
  • Vous vous levez

3. ”Te” becomes ”toi” when the reflexive verb stands alone.

  • Toi-lèves
  • Nous-levons
  • Vous-levez

4. Last but not least, we need to change the order of the verb and pronoun:

  • Lèves-toi = Get up!
  • Levons-nous = Let’s get up.
  • Levez-vous= Get up!

Thus, the process of creating the imperative form requires one more step in comparison with “regular” verbs.

It can be a bit difficult to remember all the steps, but as long as you know the basics, it will become easier over time.

Irregular verbs in the imperative mood

You are probably already aware of the many irregular verbs in the French language.

This also applies to the imperative mood.

Some of them are actually highly irregular. Let’s go through a couple of important irregular verbs in the imperative mood:

Être – To be

  • Sois
  • Soyons
  • Soyez

Examples:

  • Sois prêt! – Be ready!
  • Soyez vigilant!*– Be careful!
  • Soyons honnêtes- Let’s be honest.

*You could also say:

  • Soyez prudent – Be careful!

Avoir – To have

  • Aie
  • Ayons
  • Ayez

Examples:

  • Aie un peu de respect!* – Have som respect!
  • Ayons un peu de compassion* – Let’s have some compassion.
  • N’ayez pas peur! – Don’t be scared.

*The French and English vocabulary share many words.

Vouloir – to want

  • Veuille
  • Veuillons
  • Veuillez

Example:

  • Veuillez préciser que vous voulez dire – Please specify what you want (to say).

Savoir – To know

  • Sache
  • Sachons
  • Sachez

Example:

  • Sachons identifier nos problèmes – Let’s identify our problems.

Many of these verbs are highly irregular in the imperative form.

You might be wondering, “how on earth will I be able to remember them?”

Don’t worry too much about using them in your own conversations.

Recognizing them is, however, important.

It should also be mentioned that these conjugations are used to create the subjunctive mood. Thus, learning these irregular stems will help you understand the subjunctive mood.

Let’s continue by looking at the placement when we add more pronouns.

Pronouns

We often use different pronouns in relation to the imperative form.

Let us look at a couple of examples:

  • Donnez-lui un soda!= Give him a soda!
  • Ecrivons-lui un poème= Let’s write him a poem.
  • Allons-y= Let’s go!

Some of these sentences are very common in everyday life. For example, you have probably already seen the expression “Allons-y”?

Adding pronouns to the imperative form becomes a bit more complicated if you want to put the sentence in the negative form. In this case, we need to rearrange the pronouns.

  • Ne lui donnez pas un soda= Don’t give him a soda!
  • Ne lui-ecrivons pas un poème= Let’s not write him a poem.
  • N’y allons pas= Don’t go (there)!

How do we use the imperative mood?

We have gone through the theory behind this concept in this article.

I added many examples to make it more tangible.

But how do we incorporate this concept into everyday life?

Being able to express order, a wish or a proposition are important parts of any language.

You could, for instance, say:

  • Disons à 15 heures? – Let’s say at three o’clock?
  • Donnez-lui quelque chose à boire! – Give him something to drink!
  • Partons maintenant – Let’s leave now.

It can also be important to give a strict order to someone:

  • Fais-le! – Gör det!
  • Écoutez-moi – Listen to me!

Personally, I did not focus on the imperative mood at the beginning of my studies.

I was able to express myself in a basic way without using the imperative- and subjunctive mood.

However, I knew that this part of the French language was missing in my toolbox as I was starting to express myself in a more advanced way.

It should also be mentioned again that it will be difficult to understand spoken and written French without knowing the meaning of this grammatical mood.

2 Comments

  1. Suzuke Nergui September 27, 2023
    • Gustav Dahlman September 27, 2023

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