French Grammar Guide for non-francophones

Imperatives/commands (e.g.: Parlez français!)

An Overview of Imperatives

The imperative form of a verb is used to give someone an order or command (i.e.: to tell them what you want them to do directly). For example:

  • Fais-le! ("Do it!").
  • Mange tes carottes! ("Eat your carrots!")
  • Lavez votre auto! ("Wash your car!")
  • Viens ici! ("Come here!")

Since the function of the imperative is to give an order to the person you are speaking to, it is a second person (tu or vous) form. That said, the imperative is not actually used with a subject pronoun (as seen in the examples above).

The imperative can also be used to make a suggestion (with the "nous" form), e.g.:

  • Faisons le projet demain.
  • Allons à la plage!

This latter usage corresponds to the English "Let's ..." or "Why don't we ..."

How to Form the Imperative

Curiously, the "tu" form (i.e.: 2nd person singular) of the imperative does not end in -s for -er verbs, e.g.:

  • Ferme la porte!
  • Parle-moi de tes aventures!
  • Donne-le-lui!
  • Va chercher ta soeur!

In fact, any verb for which the tu form ends in -es in the indicative changes to -e in the imperative. This is, of course, the opposite of what is found for declarative sentences (e.g.: tu fermes, tu parles, tu donnes, tu ouvres, etc.)

For -re and -ir verbs, the ending does end in -s, just like in declarative sentences, e.g.:

  • Finis le devoir!
  • Prends ma main!

 The exception though is -re and -ir verbs that normally end in -es, e.g.:

  • Ouvre ton livre!

As for the "vous" form of the imperative, it is the same as the indicative form, e.g.:

  • Cherchez votre livre!
  • Prenez ce document!
  • Venez ici!

Irregular forms

The verbs avoir, être, savoir and vouloir have irregular imperative forms. These are indicated in the following table:

  tu vous
avoir aie ayez
être sois soyez
savoir sache sachez
vouloir veuille veuillez

You'll often see the imperative of vouloir used in public places and professional correspondences, e.g.:

  • Veuillez attendre!
  • Veuillez trouver ci-joints les documents ...

In both cases, the English translation would be Please ...

Use of Pronouns in an Imperative

Pronominal Forms

When used in an affirmative imperative, use moi and toi rather than me and te, e.g.:

  • Parlez-moi!

The one exception to this is when the next word is en or y, in which case you should write m' and t', e.g.:

Pronoun Order in Imperatives

Any pronoun that is used in an imperative follows the verb and is joined to it by a hyphen, e.g.:

  • Mange-le!
  • Parlez-lui!
  • Attends-moi!

Unlike what is found for declarative sentences (see here), the order in imperatives is direct object + indirect object + other, as illustrated in the following table:

Direct object Indirect object Locative Partitive Example
le moi/toi
    Donne-le-moi!
  nous/vous   en Donne-nous-en!
les lui/leur
    Donne-les-lui!
  m'/ t'
y   Fais-m'y penser!
la        

Of course, the likelihood of having more than two pronouns in a row is, well, nil!. However, two pronoun sequences are common. The main thing to keep in mind is that when there are two, the "thing" comes first and the person who receives comes second (Donne-le-moi).

In negative imperatives, the pronouns are placed before the verb and follow the same order as in declarative sentences, e.g.:

  • Ne me parle pas de cette affaire!
  • Ne le lui donne pas mon livre!
  • N'y va pas demain!

Furthermore, no hyphens are used in negative imperatives.

Tricky stuff

  • verbs having a tu form that ends in -es for the indicative lose their "s" in the imperative, e.g.: Ferme la porte!
  • before en and y, there is indeed an -s for the imperative (Manges-en!, Vas-y!). This makes the pronunciation easier.
Verb conjugation:
 
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