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How to Position French Pronouns in Affirmative and Negative Commands

Commands are unusual verbal forms, because you don’t use the subject of the verbs in a command. The grammatical name for this conjugation is l’impératif (imperative). For now, you just need to know that this conjugation has three forms only: tu (you [singular informal]), nous (we), and vous (you [singular formal or plural formal and informal]), which are borrowed from the present tense conjugation for most verbs.

For parler, the three forms of the imperative are parle (speak [singular informal]), parlons (let’s speak), and parlez (speak [singular formal or plural formal and informal]).

To place the pronoun in an affirmative imperative, you don’t switch anything around as you do in regular sentences. In fact, the position of the pronoun is the same as in English, after the verb, and this is how it’s done:

  1. Find the object of the verb and determine which pronoun should replace it.

    For example, Regarde le chat (Look at the cat), le chat is the direct object of the verb, so use the DOP le.

  2. Replace the object with the correct pronoun and attach it after the verb with a hyphen.

    You wind up with Regarde-le. (Look at it.)

When the pronouns me (me/to me) and te (you/to you) are after the verb, they are replaced by the equivalent stress pronouns moi and toi. For example:

Parle-moi! Talk to me.
Achète-toi une nouvelle voiture. Buy yourself a new car.

In the imperative, the -er verbs (including aller) lose the -s of the tu form of the present tense conjugation. However, when the pronoun following the verb is y or en, you put the -s back on, mainly for pronunciation’s sake. Here's what can happen when y or en follow the tu form of those verbs.

Tu Imperative + En or Y
Present Tense Imperative Imperative with Y or En
tu parles parle (talk) parles-en (talk about it)
tu manges mange (eat) manges-en (eat some)
tu vas va (go) vas-y (go there)

To form negative commands, you still omit the subject pronoun and use only the three relevant forms of the present tense (tu, nous, vous). You use the negatives ne and pas to surround the verb, like in a regular negative sentence: Ne regarde pas le chat! (Don’t look at the cat!) For the pronoun placement, you switch around the object pronoun and the verb like for a regular sentence.

Here are the three forms of the negative imperative in examples (note that ne becomes n’ before a vowel):

Ne le regarde pas. (Don’t look at him/it.)
N’y allons pas. (Let’s not go there.)
N’en mangez pas. (Don’t [you, plural] eat any.)
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