L’impératif – Give Orders and Advice with the French Imperative

If you want to express a wish, give some advice, or even give an order, you need l’impératif in French.

No matter your level, using l’impératif is much easier than you think !

Learning goals: This is what you’ll be able to do after watching this lesson

  • Beginner: Know what l’impératif is for and have a general idea of how to use it
  • Intermediate: Avoid the biggest mistake with l’impératif (→ the “s”) + use être and avoir
  • Advanced: Master the “verbes pronominaux”

Bonjour c’est Géraldine.
Bienvenue sur Comme une Française. C’est parti !

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1) How to use “l’impératif”

Let’s start with a few words on grammar theory:

L’impératif (= the imperative) is not actually a tense, it’s un mode grammatical (= a grammatical mood). Like l’indicatif (= indicative mood) or le subjonctif (= subjunctive) !

In this imperative mood, French language has two tenses:
L’impératif passé (= Past imperative). It’s almost never used, especially in spoken French.
L’impératif présent (= Present imperative). That we’re going to learn today.

Since only “the present” version of l’impératif is used, the imperative is often referred to as a “tense,” even though that’s technically wrong.

How can you use the imperative?
In different situations that often overlap, such as:

Giving an order : Mange tes carottes ! (= Eat your carrots!)
Giving advice : Soyez prudents en traversant la route. (= Be careful when crossing the street.)

Saying a prayer : Priez pour nous, ô Seigneur. (= Pray for us, o Lord)

Sharing a recommendation : Lavez-vous les mains, la prochaine fois ! (= Next time, wash your hands!) (Especially for “near-future” events.

A ban: Ne dis pas de gros mots. (= Don’t say “des gros mots,” rude language and swearing)

We also use “vouvoyer” and “tutoyer” in the imperative!
If you don’t know what those are, or how to make sense of when to use “tu” or “vous,” follow my lesson on “Tu or Vous? 5 Rules to Help you Choose.”

2) How to build “l’impératif”

The first sign of l’impératif is: the subject is hidden!
As you can see in the examples above, there’s no pronom (= pronoun) like “Tu”, “Vous”

It’s easy to understand as it’s the same in English. For instance:
Tu ne dis pas de gros motsPrésent de l’indicatif (= indicative present)
(“You don’t swear”)

Ne dis pas de gros mots !Présent de l’impératif (= imperative)
(“Don’t swear!”)

The second weird thing with l’impératif is:
There are only 3 personnes (= grammatical persons) !
Tu (You singular), Nous (We), Vous (You plural)

The third characteristic of l’impératif is:
Its conjugation is very close to le présent de l’indicatif. And that makes it easy to learn!

Here is the chart for all regular verbs (1st group and 2nd group)

Rule of thumb you can use in a pinch

→ For Beginners: Just use the same conjugation as le présent de l’indicatif, but without the pronoun.

→ For Intermediates: Do the same, except for Tu + 1st group, where you remove the silent “s” (Tu marches → Marche !)

→ For Advanced: Savoir (= to know) and Vouloir (= to want) are two irregular verbs, where the imperative is based on le subjonctif instead of the indicative. So for Vous for instance, we have “Sachez” and “Veuillez” respectively.

Important irregular verbs: “Être” and “Avoir

For Intermediate and Advanced level:
Être(= to be) and “Avoir” (=to have) are special verbs in French. They’re very useful, and irregular in most tenses and moods.

For l’impératif, both are based on the subjunctive (the same conjugation, without the pronoun.)

3) On essaye ?

Let’s try to guess (and build) the imperative conjugation of some French verbs!
If you feel confident, try to do it without the step-by-step explanation, and check if you got the right answer.

Très facile: How would you say…. ?

“Finish your carrots !” (With a singular “you”)

The verb you should use: Finir (= to finish, to end)
It’s a 2nd group verb, so the imperative is the same as the simple present.

Indicative present: Tu finis
So, in the imperative: Finis.

Finis tes carottes ! (= Finish your carrots!)

Facile: How would you say…?

“Let’s get out of here.”

The verb you should use: Sortir (= to leave, to get out)
It’s a 3rd group verb.
Here, the imperative is the same as the simple present.

Indicative present: Nous sortons
So, in the imperative: Sortons

Sortons d’ici. (= “Let’s get out of here.”)

Intermédiaire: How would you say… ?

“Buy 4 croissants at the bakery.” (singular)

The verb you should use: Acheter
It’s a 1st group verb. The imperative is very close to the simple present.

Indicative present: Tu achètes

In correct French, we have to remove the silent “s” to make the imperative.
So, in the imperative: Achète ( =Buy, singular)

Achète 4 croissants à la boulangerie.

Advanced: How would you say… ?

“Get out of bed earlier tomorrow morning.” (singular)

The verb you should use: Se lever
It’s a first-group verb, so the imperative is close to the indicative (without a silent “s”).

But it’s also un verbe pronominal – the verb comes with an added necessary pronoun that refers to the subject. “Se lever” would be literally in English something like: “To rise oneself.Se changes with the subject, just like “oneself / myself / yourself…

In the indicative, this pronoun is placed between subject and verb, and looks like “me / te / se / nous / vous / se” (for all six persons).

But in the imperative, it’s placed after the verb (with an hyphen), and looks like “toi / nous / vous.”

Indicative present: Tu te lèves.
So, in the imperative: Lève-toi.

Lève-toi plus tôt demain matin (= “Get out of bed earlier tomorrow morning.”)

Congrats! You’ve done it!

Et toi ?

Écris une phrase en français avec un impératif (dans les commentaires).
Write one sentence in French with the French imperative (in the comments).

For example, you can write: “Mangez des légumes, c’est bon pour ça santé!” (“Eat some vegetables, it’s good for your health!”)

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And now:
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Allez, salut 🙂

Join the conversation!

  • In college, way back in French 101 or 102, my prof called the dropping of the S the “Silly little S-rule.” One of the few things I remember from college 😉

  • merci Géraldine! je ne savais pas que l’impératif suit (suive?) le subjonctif — très utile pour moi. J’ai envoyé un SMS à mon ami hier: “Alors disons demain à 11h à la piscine!” 🙂

  • La vie peut être très difficile, mais n’abandonnons pas l’espoir ! Soyons reconnaissants quand tout va bien et soyons patients quand ça va mal. Bonne journée 🙂

  • I learned that I haven’t been pronouncing the subjuntive of avoir correctly. I was saying it more like a long “I” than “eh” sound. Merci!

  • I learned that I haven’t been pronouncing the subjuntive of avoir correcty. I was saying it more like a long “I” than “eh” sound. Merci!

  • Just finished this lesson and checked Instagram. The first photo posted on my feed was from LouLou Restaurant in Paris and showed a paper cup: 
    « Emmenez-nous partout avec vous. Toutes nos boissons maisons sont aussi à emporter! » Voilà.

  • Bonjour Géraldine merci pour cet leçon c’est tres utile. Sortons d’ici avant nous achetons les chocolats.
    Bonne journée
    Anne

  • Salut Géraldine
    I have often heard, seen, and written “t’inquiète pas” and also seen and heard “t’inquiète!” and of course the more correct “ne t’inquiète pas”.
    I have not heard or seen before today “ne t’inquite”. Maybe it’s a regional thing as here in the south west we do talk funny!!
    Bises

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