In English, when we give instructions, advice or orders, we say things like: Add water; Come here; Keep it up, Don’t stop; Let’s keep going; Look both ways before crossing; Turn to page 15, Join now, etc. This is what linguists call the imperative mood. Using the imperative mood in English is very easy. You simply put the verb at the head of the phrase. If necessary, you put Do not, Don’t, Let us or Let’s in front of the verb.
In French, unfortunately, it’s a lot more complicated. The most common way of expressing the imperative mood in French is with a special form of the verb. Let’s first look at how this verb form is constructed. First you take the present conjugation with TU (singular informal you), NOUS (we) and VOUS (formal you and all plural you). Remember that French verbs are divided into groups according to the ending of their infinitive form.
parler (to speak): tu parles, nous parlons, vous parlez
choisir (to choose): tu choisis, nous choisissons, vous choisissez
lire (to read): tu lis, nous lisons, vous lisez
We next drop the pronouns. Then, in the case of the -er verbs (like parler), we drop the s from the tu form. So the imperative forms of the above verbs would be:
parle, parlons, parlez
choisis, choisissons, choisissez
lis, lisons, lisez
To make a negative form, put ne in front of the verb and pas or rien (nothing) after the verb.
The major complication here is the distinction between the informal you and the formal you or plural you. Since English does not make this distinction, a very common mistake of English speakers in French is to use the singular informal you all the time. For example, a orchestra conductor will say Tiens la note ‘Hold the note’ to the entire orchestra when he or she should really say Tenez la note Here are some examples of the imperative form:
Parle plus fort. Speak louder.
Chante moins fort. Sing less loud.
Choisis la date. Choose the date.
Lis tout le livre. Read the entire book.
Partons tout de suite. Let’s leave right now.
Allons au bureau. Let’s go to the office.
Ne disons rien pour l’instant. Let’s not say anything for now.
Ne parlons pas de religion. Let’s not talk about religion.
Venez maintenant. Come now.
Donnez-moi de l’air. Give me some air.
Ne partez pas avant demain. Don’t leave before tomorrow.
As is usual in French, there are some irregular verbs with their special forms. The two most important verbs in the French language with their imperatives are:
ETRE (to be): sois, soyons, soyez
AVOIR (to have): aie, ayons, ayez
Here of some examples of their usage:
Sois courageux. Be brave.
Soyez vigilants. Watch out.
Soyons prudents. Let’s be careful.
Ne soyez pas modestes. Don’t be modest.
Aie du plaisir. Have fun.
Ayez du coeur. Have heart.
Ayons de la force. Let’s be strong.
N’ayons pas peur de lui parler. Let’s not be afraid of talking to him.
Then there are the so-called reflexive verbs where you have to insert a pronoun. Here are some examples:
Couche-toi ici. Lie down here.
Lave-toi les mains. Wash your hands.
Levons-nous plus tard.Let’s get up later.
Allongeons-nous ici .Let stretch out here.
Parlez-vous maintenant.Talk to each other.
Notice how the negative is formed
Ne te couche pas ici. Don’t lie down here.
Ne te lave pas les mains. Don’t wash your hands.
Ne nous levons pas plus tard. Let’s not get up later.
Ne vous parlez pas maintenant. Don’t talk to each other now.
Using the imperative in French is not easy. There’s a lot to learn. Once you understand how it works, keep practicing until it becomes second nature.