Impersonal Orders

French impersonal orders
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Ordres impersonnels

In written French, the infinitive is commonly used to give orders in an impersonal way. As opposed to the imperative, which commands specific people to do something, the infinitive issues neutral orders to unknown recipients in various documents, such as

  • Instructions
  • Procedural manuals
  • Recipes
  • Safety advisories
  • Signs
  • Technical documentation
  • User guides
  • Warnings

Par exemple…

En cas d’incendie briser la glace.   In case of fire break glass.
Suivre les consignes de sécurité.   Follow the safety procedures.
Avant de partir, fermer les fenêtres.   Before leaving, close the windows.
Ajouter une pincée de sel.   Add a pinch of salt.

 It might help to imagine a phrase like Il faut or Prière de in front of the infinitive.

Negative commands

In negative impersonal orders, the two parts of the negative structure stay together in front of the infinitive.

Ne pas ouvrir la porte.   Do not open the door.
Ne rien laisser sur la table.   Do not leave anything on the table.
Ne pas manger ni boire   Do not eat or drink, No food or drink

Depersonalization

Imperatives often include possessive adjectives (your children, your umbrella) that, in impersonal orders, must be replaced with impersonal alternatives, such as

1) Definite article

Garder les enfants loin du feu.   Keep children away from the fire.
Attention à ne pas trop serrer la ceinture de sécurité.   Be careful not to over-tighten (your) seatbelt.

2) Indefinite article

En cas de pluie, prendre un parapluie.   In case of rain, bring an umbrella.
Faire une première demande de permis.   Apply for your first license.

3) Third person possessive adjective

En cas de pluie, prendre son parapluie.   In case of rain, bring (your) umbrella.
Faire sa propre lessive.   Make your own laundry soap.

 Related lessons

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French infinitive as imperative

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