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Il faut : expressing necessity and obligation

The verb falloir is only ever used in the third person singular impersonal expression Il faut
You will NEVER see je faux or nous fallons for example!

Depending on context, it can express either necessity or obligation.

1-

When you use il faut, you are talking about a general rule, or a general statement that applies to people.

Look at these examples:

Il ne faut pas marcher sur la pelouse.
You mustn't walk on the grass.

Il faut un accent sur le premier 'e' de "école"
You need an accent on the first 'e' of "école"

Il faut une gomme pour effacer des erreurs.
We need a rubber / eraser to erase mistakes.

Indeed, it can mean you must (in general), we (people) must or one must OR you need (in general), we (people) need or one needs.

Il faut can be followed by a verb in the infinitive or a noun:

Il faut + infinitive = to need to [do something] OR must / to have to [do something]

Il faut + noun = to need [something]
ATTENTION: 

Il faut faire ses devoirs.
One must do one's homework.

Note that when using the general il faut, the possessive pronoun will be son, sa, ses as it is quite similar to saying One must... 
 
 
2- 
You can also use il faut in a personal way, to state things that a specific person has to do or needs (to do), but the structure changes slightly.
Look at these examples:

Il me faut un crayon.
I need a pencil.

Il lui faut de l'aide.
He needs some help.She needs some help.

Il vous faut trois œufs pour cette recette.
You need three eggs for that recipe.

Il leur faut quitter cet endroit.
They must leave this place.They need to leave this place.

Note that to use il faut for specific people, you need to use an indirect object pronoun (me, te, lui, nous, vous, leur), as such:

Il [pronoun] faut + noun = to need [something]

(Literally, it needs to me/ to him / to them OR it must to me/ to him/ to them)

Il [pronoun] faut + infinitive = to need to [do something] OR must / to have to [do something]

Note that the latter structure sounds very formal in French! In everyday language, you would usually use one of the alternatives listed below.

 
ATTENTION:

Il faut ranger ta chambre.
You must tidy your room.


Il faut ranger sa chambre.
You must tidy your room.

-> In the first case, you refers to a specific person, therefore you need to use the possessive ta, whereas in the second case, you refers to people in general, and you'll use the impersonal possessive sa.

 

And see also other ways to express necessity or obligation: 

Avoir besoin de = To need

Conjugate devoir in Le Présent (present tense)

and the more advanced usage of il faut:

Il faut que is always followed by Le Subjonctif Présent (subjunctive mood)

 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Slang/Expression/Highly Idiomatic

Examples and resources

Il faut ranger sa chambre.
You must tidy your room.


Il vous faut trois œufs pour cette recette.
You need three eggs for that recipe.



Il faut ranger ta chambre.
You must tidy your room.


Il lui faut de l'aide.
He needs some help.She needs some help.


Il me faut un crayon.
I need a pencil.


Il leur faut quitter cet endroit.
They must leave this place.They need to leave this place.


"Il faut" + infinitive


Il ne faut pas marcher sur la pelouse.
You mustn't walk on the grass.


Il faut faire ses devoirs.
One must do one's homework.


"Il faut" + noun


Il faut une gomme pour effacer des erreurs.
We need a rubber / eraser to erase mistakes.


Il faut un accent sur le premier 'e' de "école"
You need an accent on the first 'e' of "école"


Micro kwiz: Il faut : expressing necessity and obligation
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Q&A

Gary

Kwiziq community member

3 April 2018

2 replies

Il faut que?

Please refresh my memory.  Is there a construction:  "Il faut que vous (subjunctive)?  E.g. Il faut que vous soyez ici demain?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

3 April 2018

3/04/18

Hi Gary,


yes, the construction "Il faut que + subject + subjunctive" exists. And your example looks OK to me.


-- Chris (not a native speaker).

Gary

Kwiziq community member

7 April 2018

7/04/18

Merci beaucoup!  

Dragana

Kwiziq community member

20 January 2018

1 reply

Il faut une gomme pour effacer des erreurs - I get confused with "des" and "les" .

Chris

Kwiziq community member

20 January 2018

20/01/18

Hi Dragana!

1) Il faut une gomme pour effacer des erreurs. -- One needs an eraser to erase mistakes.
2) Il faut une gomme pour effacer les erreurs. -- One needs an eraser to erase the mistakes.

You see, both are corrrect, but they mean different things. The first one is a general statement about erasers and mistakes. The second sentence speaks about some specific mistakes. "Des" is here the indefinite article and "les" the definite one.

-- Chris (not a native speaker.)

Jennifer

Kwiziq community member

17 December 2017

3 replies

Il faut faire son lit

Why is it not il faut faire ton or votre lit, rather than son

Laura

Kwiziq language super star

18 December 2017

18/12/17

Bonjour Jennifer,


Il faut is an impersonal expression, so when talking about making one's bed in general, you need son.
If you were telling a specific person to make their bed, you'd use ton or votre.


Il faut faire son lit. = You (as in everyone/peoplemust make his (one's) bed.


Il faut faire ton lit. = You (specifically) must make your bed.

Ron

Kwiziq community member

18 December 2017

18/12/17

Bonsoir Jennifer,
I think that we have a possessive pronoun issue here.
ton --> your
votre --> your (formal or plural)
SON --> his
This lessons concerns the shortcut to avoid the use of the subjunctive. Using le subjonctif one would say:
Il faut QU'il (elle) fasse son lit. --> It is necessary that he makes his bed.

I hope this helps.

Jennifer

Kwiziq community member

18 December 2017

18/12/17

Thank you both. The question came in the quiz and the translation I think was you must make your bed , which sounds as if it is directed at a specific person, hence my question. I think the problem is English uses ‘one’ in theory, but in ptactice much more rarely than in French and you then can be ambiguous, is it an impersonal usage or not.

John

Kwiziq community member

24 July 2017

1 reply

'You don't have to'

Something I've always struggled with in France is when I don't want to say 'You must not', but rather 'You don't have to', for example: I don't want to say, 'You must not come straight away', but rather, 'You don't have to come straight away'. Can somebody point me to a good lesson on this, or let me know how to do it?

Ron

Kwiziq community member

25 July 2017

25/07/17

Il ne faut pas de venir tout de suite or il n'est pas nécessaire de venir tout de suite. This would be two options that I have read that would seem to suffice. Pardon any misspelling.
J'espère que cela vous aidera

Daniel

Kwiziq community member

22 June 2017

2 replies

Please....

Can someone explain the difference between il faut va á l'école and il faut aller á l'école? I keep getting the test question wrong using va...... thanks

Andy

Kwiziq community member

24 June 2017

24/06/17

In French, whenever a verb directly follows another verb in sequence, the first verb is conjugated but the second verb never is, and must always be in the infinitive.

The difference In the example you give is 'va' is a conjugated form of the verb aller, and so since it is following another verb, it is incorrect.

I hope this helps you to see the difference, and understand why the sentence is constructed this way.

Daniel

Kwiziq community member

24 June 2017

24/06/17

Of course you are absolutely correct! Perhaps I should do these tests wide awake! Thank you!

Alan

Kwiziq community member

8 June 2017

1 reply

Hi, The next button for this question does not work properly.

Ron

Kwiziq community member

8 June 2017

8/06/17

Bonjour Alan, ça marche pour moi.

Kathy

Kwiziq community member

22 January 2017

1 reply

"You must clean their room"

Bonjour, I understand that using "Il faut" + infinitive is very formal, but if I want to express "You must clean their room" I believe this would be "Il te faut nettoyer sa chambre". Or, to sound less formal, would it be more common to say "Tu dois nettoyer sa chambre" ? Merci en avance ! Kathy

Kathy

Kwiziq community member

22 January 2017

22/01/17

It seems the form omitted part of my first sentence: Il *pronoun* faut" + infinitive is very formal

katya

Kwiziq community member

6 December 2016

1 reply

But i can't seem to find a lesson on "il a fallu" or "il fallait" or "il faudra" which i hear a lot

Is it possible to add those lessons on the different tenses of falloir. In particular when to use the passe compose and the imparfait. And when to use the future and the conditionnel. Don't they both mean "i should".

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

8 December 2016

8/12/16

Bonjour Katya !

Merci beaucoup ! These lessons are on the "to-do" list, please bear with us :)

À bientôt !

katya

Kwiziq community member

6 December 2016

1 reply

Bonjour, merci pour cette leçon. Elle est très informative.

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

6 December 2016

6/12/16

Bonjour Katya !

Merci beaucoup !

Merle

Kwiziq community member

2 October 2016

1 reply

This one's got me beaten.... Why does 'il te faut de l'aide' translate as 'you need help'?

It sounds like you are saying 'he (or she) needs to help you'. If you need help then I would want to say 'tu a besoin de l'aide'

Laura

Kwiziq language super star

2 October 2016

2/10/16

Bonjour Merle,

You can read "il te faut de l'aide" as "il faut de l'aide à toi" --> it is necessary for help for you.

You can also say "tu as besoin de l'aide."


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