French Language Blog

The French Imperative Posted by on May 30, 2016 in Grammar


In my last post, one of my astute readers pointed out that, in a French si clause, the imperative can also result from “si+present tense” (in addition, of course, to the present and future tenses, as I discussed). I hadn’t included the imperative mood in my previous post because I wasn’t sure if readers were familiar with it. But that’s a silly reason to not discuss something on a language blog, right? So, this week, we will be going over the French imperative mood, called l’impératif.

The French imperative is not a tense, like the present tense and past tense. Like the subjunctive and conditional, it is a mood that is typically used as a command, meaning to direct someone to do something, or to express a desire. The French imperative always directly addresses a person or persons to whom the speaker is addressing his or her command.

(It is important to note that while the imperative is usually associated with making a command or order, it can also be used in a less demanding sense. For example, it can sometimes be used to give advice or to make a request or recommendation. I will go over these examples later on in the post.)

The imperative is easy to recognize because it DOES NOT use a subject pronoun. For example, instead of saying: vous courez (you run), the imperative mood would be courez (run)! The vous here is the subject pronoun that is removed from the imperative mood. So, how do you construct the imperative? Easy. Because you are speaking directly to someone, you can only use three implied pronouns: tu, nous, and vous. Making your life even easier is the fact that most imperative conjugations use the present tense endings.

tu (2nd person singular):

For the 2nd person singular form of the imperative, you just use the 2nd person singular present tense for -ER and -IR verbs. Using the example above, this would be cours! (like je cours). For -ER verbs, however, the only difference is that you would delete the final -s. For example: instead of parles, in the imperative mood you would use parle! 

nous (1st person plural):

If you want to include yourself in a command, you would use the 1st person plural form of the imperative. Unlike with tu, you use the present tense for all verb forms. Using the examples above, this would be courons and parlons. Because -IR verbs are typically conjugated with -issons endings, this would be used with the imperative as well (for example, finissons!). The most famous example of this is allons-y, which uses the imperative to express “let’s go!”

vous (2nd person plural):

As with nous, vous follows the present tense forms of these verbs. Thus, as a command, you would say courez!, parlez!, allez!, etc. Because -IR verbs are typically conjugated with -issez endings, this would be used with the imperative as well (for example, finissez!). Vous + imperative mood is a construction that is typically used for polite requests in French. So you would say Veuillez-vous asseoir or asseyez-vous. (Note that, in these examples, the vous is used because it is part of a reflexive verb. For imperative reflexive verbs, the verb comes first followed by the pronoun. This is the only time pronouns are used with the imperative mood.)

Visit the blog next week to learn about irregular verbs in the imperative mood and negatives.


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About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at A la prochaine!