French Grammar: The Imperative (Command Form) – Construction

French Grammar: The Imperative Form

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French Grammar: The Imperative (Command Form) – Construction
la grammaire française: l’impératif – conjugaison

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Imperatives (commands) are words that are used to give instructions, or to ask or tell a person to do (or not do) something. If you want to be able to tell someone how or what to do (or not do) or to understand if someone tells you to do (or not do) something in French, you will need to understand Imperatives.

It is important to not only be able to understand commands but also to be able to use them correctly. Imperatives are used in many different situations.

In French, the Imperative is limited to the tu, vous, and nous forms.

The tu form of the Imperative is used to give a direct command to someone you know well (that is, someone you normally address as tu).

The nous form of the Imperative is used when you are including yourself with one or more other people.  It has the sense of “let’s” (or “let’s not”).

The vous form of the Imperative is used to give a direct command to someone you don’t know well or are not on a first-name basis with (that is, someone who you normally address as vous).  The vous form of the Imperative is also used to give a direct command to more than one person at a time (that is, when talking to “y’all”).

All three forms of the Imperative are basically the same as the present tense, except that the subject pronouns tu, nous, and vous are dropped.  For regular ‘-ER’ ending verbs, as well as the verb aller, the tu form of the Imperative drops the final ‘-s’.  For example, the present tense form “Tu donnes” becomes “Donne” in the Imperative.

Here are some examples of tu commands:

[-ER] VERB:

Étudie!
Study!

[-IR] VERB:

Choisis!
Choose!

[-RE] VERB:

Attends!
Wait!

VERB “ALLER”:

Va!
Go!

Note that the tu form of regular ‘-ER’ ending verbs in the Imperative will keep the final ‘–s’ when followed by “y” or “en” .  The same is true for the verb ALLER :

Joues-y!
Play there!

Achètes-en!
Buy some!

Vas-y!
Go on!

Here are some examples of nous commands:

[-ER] VERB:

Étudions!
Let’s study!

[-IR] VERB:

Choisissons!
Let’s choose!

[-RE] VERB:

Attendons!
Let’s wait!

Note that, even though the nous form of the Imperative exists, it’s no longer used much in spoken French.  Instead, people are more likely to use either “ON”, the construction “SI” + imperfect tense, or the construction “POURQUOI” + infinitive.

On va au cinéma ce soir?
Shall we go to the movies tonight?

Et si nous allions au cinéma ce soir?
How about going to the movies tonight?

Pourquoi ne pas aller au cinéma ce soir?
Why don’t we go to the movies tonight?

Here are some examples of vous commands:

[-ER] VERB:

Étudiez!
Study!

[-IR] VERB:

Choisissez!
Choose!

[-RE] VERB:

Attendez!
Wait!

There are only three complete exceptions to the above rules – the verbs ÊTRE, AVOIR, and SAVOIR :

ÊTRE:

Tu form -> Sois … !
Be … !

Nous form -> Soyons … !
Let’s be … !

Vous form -> Soyez … !
Be … !

AVOIR:

Tu form -> Aies … !
Have … !

Nous form -> Ayons … !
Let’s have … !

Vous form -> Ayez … !
Have … !

SAVOIR:

Tu form -> Sache … !
Know … !

Nous form -> Sachons … !
Let’s know … !

Vous form -> Sachez … !
Know … !

To form the negative Imperative, simply surround the Imperative verb with “ne … pas” :

Ne regarde pas!
Don’t watch (informal)!

Ne finissons pas!
Let’s not finish!

Ne répondez pas!
Don’t answer (formal or plural)!

The verb VOULOIR has a kind of Imperative only in the vous form.  That form is Veuillez and it is always followed by an infinitive.  It has the meaning of “Would you please … ?” or “Would you be good enough/kind enough to … ?”  Veuillez is very formal!

Veuillez patienter ici.
Would you please wait here?

OTHER WAYS OF EXPRESSING COMMANDS:

In French, commands can be expressed in other ways besides the Imperative.

(a) In formal language (for example, on public signs, notices, or packages), instructions are sometimes given in the infinitive form.

Ouvrir ici.
Open here.

Défense de fumer.
No smoking.

Ne pas stationner.
No parking.

(b) In cases where using the Imperative sounds too brash, you can soften its effect by instead using a construction such as Pourriez-vous … ?  (Could you / Would you … ?) or Vous devriez (You ought to / You should …).  (We do this in English, too!)  In formal writing, you can use Veuillez … or Ayez la bonté de … (Kindly…).  Eah of these formal expressions must be followed by an infinitive.

Pourriez-vous répondre avant vendredi?
Could you / Would you please respond by Friday?

Vous devriez répondre avant vendredi.
You ought to / should respond by Friday.

Veuillez répondre avant vendredi.
Would you please respond by Friday?

Ayez la bonté de répondre avant vendredi.
Kindly respond by Friday.

(c) Sometimes the future tense is used in place of the Imperative.

Vous laisserez les clés sur la table.
(You will) Leave the keys on the table.

Adapt: 

Ouvre les fenêtres!
Open the windows (informal!

Fermez les fenêtres!  Il pleut!
Close the windows (formal)!  It’s raining!

Mange tes épinards!
Eat your (informal) spinach!

Commençons les devoirs!
Let’s start the homework!

Allons à la fête!
Let’s go to the party!

Ne sortez pas tôt!
Don’t leave early (plural)!

Lis le livre!
Read the book (informal)!

Étudiez!
Study (plural)!

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