I never stop being amazed at how basic some of the mistakes that I still make are, even after three and a half years of intensive study of la langue de Molière. Case in point: the spelling of the tu form of the imperative. The thing that you have to remember is that it doesn’t have an s at the end–except when it does.
The wonderful Lawless French web site gives this explanation of the general rule (keep going for some exceptions):
The imperative tu conjugation for –er, –frir, and –vrir verbs is the present tense minus the final s.
Here are some examples from the Nouvel Obs’s (the form of this genitive explained below in the English notes) description of the informal imperative:
- Rentre immédiatement !
- Ne discute pas !
- Va voir tes grands parents !
OK, an exception: when the verb is followed immediately by y or en, you have an s at the end. Here’s the explanation from the Français Facile web site:
Cependant, devant « en » et « y » qui suivent immédiatement le verbe, on ajoute un « s » au verbe en « er » à l’impératifsingulier, et on le joint par un trait d’union comme tous les pronoms qui suivent un impératif.
Ex. Amènes-y ta soeur.
Cette règle s’applique aussi au verbe « aller »
Fiez-vous à votre oreille. Si vous prononcez le verbe et que le son vous paraît étrange, il peut y avoir un problème.
Mange-en, sans « s » sonnerait d’une façon étrange à l’oreille.
À Londres, vas-y si tu veux, mais amènes-y ta soeur et rapporte-moi un cadeau.
OK: that’s the “first group” verbs (-er)–we’ll return to the –frir and -vrir verbs that Laura mentions in a bit. For -ir and -re verbs, the s is always present.
- Finis ta soupe. (Je Révise web site)
- Choisis une date qui te convient. (FluentU web site)
- Prends ton stylo. (Je Révise web site)
- Tais-toi ! (self-evident)
- Descends tout de suite ! (FluentU web site)
Now: some exceptions. First, as we’ve seen before, verbs that end in -frir or –vrir sometimes have odd behaviors. (See this post if you want some insights into what they have in common, and how they differ phonologically from other –ir verbs.) These verbs do not have an s in the informal imperative…
- Couvre ta bouche quand tu tousses, dégueu !
…except when they do, which is the same as when the first-group (-er) verbs do, i.e. when followed by en or y.
- Couvres-en un peu avant d’attraper une pneumonie. (Reverso)
(Native speakers: do you have dissenting opinions about this? I had to ask around a bit…)
Almost at the end! Just four verbs that are totally irregular in this respect:
- Aller: Va te faire voir, but vas-y !
- Être: always s-final: Sois beau et tais-toi.
- Avoir: N’en aie pas marre, c’est bon pour les pépitos ! …but Aies-en de meilleures (notes), tes profs te féliciteront
- Savoir: Sache qu’elle a vomi ce matin, alors que le thon était frais, but saches-en plus pour réussir ton examen.
So, the Jewish mother: here’s the first joke I ever understood in French. I’m minding my own business in the basement of a bar near the St-Sebastien Froissart metro station (none of your business why I was in the basement of a bar near the St-Sebastien Froissart metro station, or why I’m ever in the basement of any bar anywhere, for that matter) when I heard the following from the table behind me: La station de métro d’une mère juive, c’est laquelle ? Monge, parce qu’elle dit “mange, mange, mon fils.” In English: what’s a Jewish mother’s favorite metro station? Monge, because she says “eat, eat (in French, mange, mange), my son.” Now, this is interesting on a number of levels; the one that I’d like to point out is that it might only make sense to someone who does not speak hexagonal French, and that might be the only reason that I got it. As a monolingual native speaker of English, I can’t hear the difference between the vowels of mange and Monge–we don’t have contrasting nasalized vowels in English, and those two in particular are particularly impossible for me to hear, and pretty tough to pronounce, too, leading me to say things like marde, je t’ai trempée (“shit, I got you wet”–marde is a Canadianism that I can’t seem to get past) and getting responses like “but we’re not going out together!”…which suggests that I pronounce it as je t’ai trompée, “I cheated on you.” I’ll throw in to the mix the fact that I’m told that pieds-noirs (the pieds-noirs, “black feet,” are the French who returned to France after France lost Algeria as a colony in 1962–maybe 800,000 people) don’t differentiate between the nasalized vowels an and on, either. Not surprising–differences in the nasalized vowel inventory are a common feature of francophone dialect differentiation, including in France. What does this joke have to do with the subject of this post? It only works with the informal imperative, i.e. mange, mange (“eat, eat”)–with the formal or plural imperative (mongez, mongez), “eat” doesn’t sound anything at all like the name of the metro station (Monge), and you have no joke.
Here’s a video that has approximately a bazillion examples of the informal imperative. There’s a bit of vocabulary that might help you out here, if you’re not a native speaker of French:
- le furet : ferret.
- relou : here’s the best I can do for a definition of this word, which I haven’t found in a French-English dictionary as of yet: “Relou” est un mot verlan (langage des rues semblable à un ver lent grignotant doucement… ) signifiant “lourd”. Dans un contexte particulier, désigne une action/personne qui a fait/dit une chose qui a déplu à l’émetteur de ce mot. Source: lachal.neamar.fr. The source gives these synonyms: casse-couille (familier), chiant (familier), casse-pied, and lourd. So: maybe irritating, or “pain in the ass?”
PITA: a less-shocking way of saying “pain in the ass.” This is something somewhat more than annoying. Assembling the appropriate forms in order to be able to fill out the forms that you need in order to get permission to ask for (more) permission from the Dean’s office before doing any international travel is a PITA. (I’m talking about America here–everything you’ve ever heard about French bureaucracy being worse than American bureaucracy is bullshit, period.) My old neighbor was a PITA–always complaining if anyone parked in front of her house, although she didn’t have a car. The constant flood of papers that you have to review when you’re on Christmas vacation is a PITA. The ferret in the video is being a PITA to the cats–hence relou.
An excellent example, both using and defining the abbreviation:
Steven is saved in my phone as Bae…Biggest Asshole Ever. I’m in his as Pita. Pain In The Ass.
— Jesci (@JustJesci) 24 avril 2017
Of course, if we can have an example with a cat, all the better, seeing as how we’re on the Interwebs and all…
— JudiBootie (@flwr6pwr9_) 18 février 2017
A geeky example, but a very good one–you could hear this around my lab in the US any day of the week:
— Jeff Jones (@JeffJonesInMT) 8 juin 2017
… and now you have to know what this means:
Any day of the week: (at) any time.
— Beth Schwartz (@BethSchwartzND) 8 juin 2017
I’ll believe Trump over any politically connected elites or CNN, ANY DAY of the week.
— Mom (@sunnynodak) 7 juin 2017
Gratuitous picture of a guy with no shirt on:
— HollyMcInnes (@holly_mcinnes) 7 juin 2017