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.

  • 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


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!"

  • @Lambie I have no doubt they can. The question is about French though.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 18:45
  • 1
    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

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)

  • 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

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.