Commands in French: Learn about the Imperative

Do you ever get in a bossy mood when you speak French? Well, I’ve got the perfect French verb conjugations for you!

The French imperative gives you the power to order other people around – everyone from perfect strangers, to groups of people, to a single person you know well. 

The imperative might just become your new favorite way to use French verbs. Not only do you get to be bossy, but you won’t have to learn imperative forms for je (I), il / elle (him/her), or ils / elles (them). That’s because the French imperative only has vous, nous, and tu forms.

Moreover, the French imperative mood only has two tenses: present and past (The past imperative is rarely used, but we’ll give it a glance so you’ll know it when you see it).

Of course, you might want to command someone not to do something, so we’ll go over the rules for making negative commands in French.

Soyez prêt(e)(s) ! (Get ready!)

General rules for French commands

Normally, you would use a subject with a verb in French, whether it’s a proper name or a personal pronoun (such as je, tu, elle, or vous).

When you’re giving commands, though, that’s when you deliberately drop the subject from the sentence:

  • Reste ici. (Stay here.)
  • Aidez-moi ! (Help me!)
  • Donnons des cadeaux à nos amis. (Let’s give gifts to our friends.) 

You’ll notice that the verb is usually the first word in the sentence when someone is using the imperative. Commands, after all, get right to the point.

Command forms: vous, nous, and tu (you, we, and you)

Now, we’ll look at how to form commands, depending on who we’re addressing.

Vous and nous commands

Let’s start out simple. When you’re using regular verbs, the present-tense command forms for vous and nous are generally the same as their usual present-tense conjugations:

Type of regular verb


Personal pronoun

Present indicative

Present imperative


rester (to stay)








finir (to finish)








perdre (to lose)







Again, when you’re giving a command, you won’t use the nous or vous with the verb.

Tu forms of the present imperative

The tu forms mostly follow the same rules as the imperative for the vous and nous forms. The personal pronoun, tu, is not used for commands. Also, with some notable exceptions, the present imperative is almost always conjugated like the present indicative. 

Regular French -ER verbs are an important exception to this rule. In the present indicative, the tu form of regular -ER verbs ends in an S. However, in the imperative tu form, the final S is usually dropped:

Regular -ER Verbs

Present-Tense Indicative (Statement)

Present-Tense Imperative (Command)

Tu chantes sous la douche. (You sing in the shower.)

Chante sous la douche. (Sing in the shower.)

Tu manges le petit-déjeuner. (You eat breakfast.)

Mange le petit-déjeuner. (Eat breakfast.)

Tu étudies à la bibliothèque. (You study in the library.)

Étudie à la bibliothèque. (Study in the library.)

Tu t’en vas. (You’re going away.)

Va-t’en. (Go away.)

There’s an exception to the practice of dropping the final S with regular -ER verbs: If you were to use a preposition such as y (there / to there) or en (it / of it) directly after the verb, then you’d retain the final S in the tu form:

  • Vas-y ! (Go on!)
  • Vas-y mollo ! (Take it easy!)
  • Voilà le pain. Coupes-en douze tranches, s’il te plaît. (There’s the bread. Cut it in twelve slices, please.)

When you’re writing out the commands with these prepositions, the y or en will be connected to the verb with a hyphen.

Avoir and être in the imperative

Remember how we said the conjugations of French verbs in the imperative are just about identical to their normal present (indicative) tense, with a few dropping the final S? Well, here come the exceptions to that rule.

The conjugations for avoir and être in the imperative look quite different from their normal present-tense conjugations:

avoir (to have)

PersonPresent indicativePresent imperativeExample
tuasaieAie de la patience. (Have some patience.)
nousavonsayonsAyons une discussion avec eux. (Let’s have a chat with them.)
vousavezayezAyez de meilleurs résultats la prochaine fois. (Have better results next time.)

être (to be)

PersonPresent indicativePresent imperativeExample
tuessoisSois prête à sortir en cinq minutes !(Be ready to go out in five minutes!)
noussommessoyonsSoyons prudents avec notre épargne. (Let’s be wise with our savings.)
vousêtessoyezSoyez sages à l’école. (Be well behaved at school.)

Other common irregular verbs 

Besides avoir and être, there are a few other common irregular French verbs often used in commands. A few of them have very similar present indicative and present imperative conjugations; some, such as savoir, are somewhat different:



Present Imperative



to make or to do

  • (tu) fais
  • (nous) faisons
  • (vous) faites

Fais tes devoirs avant de regarder la télé. (Do your homework before watching TV.)


to know (a fact or a skill)

  • (tu) sache
  • (nous) sachons
  • (vous) sachez

Sache bien les règles grammaticales. (Know the grammar rules well.)


to go

  • (tu) va
  • (nous) allons
  • (vous) allez

Allons au café cet après-midi. (Let’s go to the coffee shop this afternoon.)


to say; to tell

  • (tu) dis
  • (nous) disons
  • (vous) dites

Dites-moi, laquelle est votre préférée ?

(Tell me, which is your favorite?)

Imperative of reflexive verbs

French reflexive verbs are called such because they “reflect” their action back upon the subject. In their infinitive, or unconjugated form, these verbs will have se or s’ in front of them, like se laver (to wash oneself) or s’amuser (to amuse oneself).

In the imperative mood, the conjugated verb is placed before the pronoun. Instead of the reflexive pronoun (te, nous, or vous), you’ll use the personal pronoun (toi, nous, or vous) – which is only really different for the tu commands:

  • Lève-toi maintenant ! (Get yourself up now!)
  • Rasons-nous. (Let’s shave.) 
  • Taisez-vous. (Be quiet.)  

Notice that the command consists of the verb in the imperative, which is then linked to the pronoun with a hyphen.

Negative imperative

The negative present imperative is formed just like the negative statements in the everyday (indicative) present tense – minus the subject or personal pronoun, of course.

You can see that the construction is very similar in statements and commands, including reflexive pronouns like te, nous, and vous, as well as prepositions like en and y. However, irregular verbs – like sortir (to go out) – are often conjugated differently in their indicative versus imperative forms:

Present-Tense Indicative (Statement)

Present-Tense Imperative (Command)

Tu ne sors jamais. (You never go out.)

Ne sors jamais. (Never go out.)

Nous ne buvons pas. (We don’t drink.)

Ne buvons pas. (Let’s not drink.)

Vous ne marchez plus. (You don’t walk anymore.)

Ne marchez plus. (Don’t walk anymore.)

Nous n’avons aucun pain. (We have no bread.)

N’ayons aucun pain. (Let’s not have any bread.)

Nous ne nous brossons pas les cheveux. (We aren’t brushing our hair.)

Ne nous brossons pas les cheveux. (Let’s not brush our hair.)

Vous n’y allez pas. (You don’t go there.)

N’y allez pas. (Don’t go there.)

Tu ne t’en fais pas. (You don’t worry.)

Ne t’en fais pas ! (Don’t worry!)

Impératif passé (past imperative)

The imperative is almost always used in the present tense. Some conjugation tables don’t even include the past imperative!

Oddly enough, the impératif passé (past imperative) can be used to express something the speaker would like to have done in the future

  • Ayez fait le gâteau avant que la fête d’anniversaire commence ! (Have the cake made before the birthday party starts!)
  • Aie tes vêtements préparés pour demain. (Have your clothes prepared for tomorrow.)
  • Soyons vêtues avant neuf heures. (Let’s be dressed before nine o’clock.)

Like the passé composé (simple past or present perfect) of the indicative mood, the past imperative conjugates with either être (to be) or avoir (to have) as a helping verb*, plus the past participle of the main verb. 

Passé impératif = present imperative of être / avoir + past participle of the main verb

*The time-honored mnemonic, “Dr. & Mrs. Vandertramp,” can help you remember whether avoir or être goes with over a dozen of the most common French verbs.

Final thoughts

Learning the French imperative conjugations gives you the power to command – whether you want someone to wait for you, bring you something, go someplace with you, or give you help in an emergency.

Take command of the imperative, and you’ll be well equipped to get others to do your bidding. Sign up for Lingvist’s online French course today to practice French verb conjugations and pronunciation.

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