Giving Orders

French orders
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Donner des ordres

The most common and obvious way to give orders in French is with the imperative mood, which has conjugations for tu, nous, and vous.

Par exemple…

Dis quelque chose ! Say something!
Mangeons en ville. Let’s eat at in town.
Asseyez-vous. Sit down.

But the imperative isn’t the only way to give orders – there are several other constructions which offer different nuances and levels of politeness.

1) Present indicative

The present tense is used give orders gently, particularly to children.

Par exemple…

Maintenant tu lis à haute voix. Now (you) read out loud.
Vous vous asseyez, les enfants. Sit down, children.

2) Future tense

The future can take the place of a vous imperative, to be more polite.

Vous patienterez ici, s’il vous plaît. (You will) wait here, please.
Vous vous assiérez, s’il vous plaît. (You will) sit down, please.

3) Subjunctive

Que + subjunctive expresses an order that is generally more hopeful than demanding.

Que je réussisse à l’examen ! Let me pass the test! I hope I pass the test!
Que tu ailles vivre en France ! May you go live in France!

It’s especially useful for third person subjects:

Qu’il pleuve ! Let it rain!
Qu’ils mangent de la brioche ! Let them eat brioche!

This construction is a lot like the regular use of the subjunctive with the triggering verb or expression left off.

Il faut que je réussisse à l’examen. I have to pass the test.
Nous voulons que tu ailles vivre en France. We want you to go live in France.
J’ordonne qu’ils mangent de la brioche. I order them to eat brioche.

4) Infinitive

The infinitive is used to give impersonal orders to unknown recipients in written documents like recipes and user guides.

Ajouter une cuillerée de jus de citron. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice.
En cas d’incendie briser la glace. In case of fire break glass.

5) Impersonalities

a. The impersonal formula prière de is a more polite version of the infinitive as imperative:

Prière de fermer la fenêtre Please close the window
Prière de ne pas fumer Please do not smoke

b. Défense de is typically found on signs.

Défense d’entrer Do not enter
Défense de fumer No smoking

c. Impersonal expressions like il est nécessaire and il est impératif act as indirect imperatives.

Il est impératif de partir à midi. It’s imperative to leave at noon.
Il est nécessaire de briser la glace. It’s necessary to break the glass.

6) Verbs of obligation

Devoir and the impersonal verb falloir also express orders:

Tu dois partir à midi. You have to leave at noon.
Il faut partir à midi.  It’s necessary to leave at noon.

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Giving orders in French

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