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I've noticed in French that sometimes to give commands, they won't use the imperative. For example in the Oxford-Hachette dictionary, they have an example sentence; « tu ne vas pas en faire un drame! » which they translate as "Don't make a scene about it!"

So I was wondering if someone could explain when French people prefer to give commands not using the imperative tense and what effects that may have on the sentence.

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  • Well, I disagree 100% with that translation, which, for me would be: You aren't going to make a scene, are you? It is simply not imperative in French. –
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 16:00
  • In English, imperatives can also be affirmatives: You're tidying up your room. can be a command.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 19:42

2 Answers 2

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Without the tone associated with the exclamation mark, using the indicative is more like giving hints to someone, similar to a film director telling an actor what he expect them to do and how before shooting a scene.

With an exclamation mark, it is indeed equivalent to an imperative, possibly slightly stronger:

— Tu ranges ta chambre ! (Tidy-up your room!)
— Range ta chambre !

The Oxford-Hachette example is softer, more like "Let's not make a scene about it!"

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  • @Lambie I have no doubt they can. The question is about French though.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 18:45
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    Shouldn't it be Range ta chambre ! ?
    – psmears
    Commented Apr 29, 2022 at 11:02
  • @psmears Yes, thanks !
    – jlliagre
    Commented Apr 29, 2022 at 11:40
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In addition to the present tense for softened commands, as jlliagre explained, there's another way to give commands without the imperative (which is a mood, not a tense, by the way).

The infinitive is used to give commands impersonally, such as in recipes, instruction manuals, and warning signs.

Ajouter une pincée de sel. (Add a pinch of salt.)

Attacher la ceinture de sécurité (Put on your seat belt)

When it's a negative command, ne pas precedes the infinitive:

Ne pas ouvrir la fenêtre (Do not open the window)

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  • None of those are used in spoken French though directed at individuals. Those are written in cookbooks or on signs.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 15:24

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