The French imperative tense is one of the most commonly used in daily conversations. It is used for giving commands, orders, advice, or even invitations. In this lesson, I will explain the different rules for imperative mood conjugation, accompanied by examples of sentences.
What is the French imperative tense and how do you conjugate it?
The Imperative tense or mood is used in French in several contexts: to give commands /orders, to express interdiction, advice, invitation, or to express a wish. It is the same as when you use verbs in English without subject to express orders.
The examples of sentences below give you a clear idea about the ways you can make use of the French imperative.
Command: Va au lit! => Go to bed!
Advice : Fais attention à la marche ! => Watch out for your steps!
Order : Sortez de chez moi! => Get out of my house !
Interdiction : Ne fumez pas ici! => Do not smoke here !
Invitation : Entrez! => Enter !
Wish : Fais un bon voyage! => Have a nice trip!
How to form the imperative tense in French?
L'impératif is very similar to the present tense. The imperative is formed with the present tense form of the verb, with the specific personal pronouns subjects tu, nous, and vous, except that there is no subject.
Examples of sentences in the imperative mood
Mange ton repas => eat your food
Allons au supermarché => Let's go to the supermarket
Prenez le train => Take the train.
As you can see, the subjects tu, nous, and vous are omitted while formulating sentences in the imperative.
In the present tense, verbs conjugated with the personal pronoun "tu" takes an "S". (eg. Tu parles anglais). However, for the imperative conjugation, there is no need to add an "S" for verbs of the first group ending with ER, as well as the irregular verb aller. The same goes for verbs of the third group like ouvrir and offrir that are conjugated like the ER Verbs with an "es" ending.
Verbs of the 2nd group ending with IR like finir, or from the third group ending with RE like attendre, don't drop the "S".
Here are examples of sentences with verbs that drop the "s" when they are conjugated in the imperative tense in French.
Example 1: Manger (ER verb)
Present : Tu manges des fruits et légumes => eat fruits and vegetables
Imperative: Mange des fruits et légumes => eat fruits and vegetables
Example 2: Aller (irregular verb)
Present: Tu vas dans ta chambre => You go to your bedroom
Imperative: Va dans ta chambre => Go to your bedroom
Example 3: Ouvrir (irregular verb)
Present : Tu ouvres la porte => You open the door
Imperative: Ouvre la porte => Open the door.
NOTE: when these verbs are used with the pronouns en and y, the "S" is kept to facilitate the pronunciation since we have two vowels next to each other.
Vas-y => go ahead / go for it
Manges-en => eat some
How do you conjugate irregular verbs in the imperative tense in French?
For example, this is how the imperative tense will look for these verbs :
Avoir : aie, ayons, ayez
Être : sois, soyons, soyez
aller : va, allons, allez
Savoir : Sache, sachons, sachez
Vouloir : veuille, veuillons, veuillez
Note that the verb vouloir is rarely used in the French language in its imperative form. Veuillez is the most commonly used form and it is a polite way to address people.
"Veuillez refermer la porte" is less agressive as "refermez la porte" which also means "close the door.
Using the French Imperative with reflexive verbs
With reflexive verbs, the imperative sentence is built like this: verb + the reflexive pronoun (toi, nous, or vous), separated by a hyphen.
Note that in the negative imperative form, we use the regular pronouns te, nous, or vous.
Present tense : tu te lèves tôt. => You get up early
Imperative affirmative : lève-toi tôt ! => Get up early !
Imperative negative: Ne te lève pas tard => Don't get up late!
French imperative exercises for more practice
If you want to challenge yourself, take our exercise below. You have to transform the given sentences from the present tense to the imperative. It's the best way to practice what you have just learned today.
I hope this helps you understand better how to express commands or invitations in French. It takes some time to get used to the conjugation without the personal pronouns but it is worth it as the Imperative tense is one of the must-know elements of French grammar.
For more on imperative tense, you can explore these Practice exercises that I have found interesting.
Exercice - Conjugueur Le Figaro
You might also be interested in learning how to make negative sentences