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


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 faut" + infinitive


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


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


"Il faut" + noun


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.


Q&A Forum 19 questions, 32 answers

KatyC1Kwiziq community member

Using ‘falloir’

I answered ‘il faut que tu fasses ton lit ‘ which was marked incorrect. Just wondering why ? Thanks 

Asked 4 months ago
KatyC1Kwiziq community memberCorrect answer

I found the answer further down ! Pardon 

Using ‘falloir’

I answered ‘il faut que tu fasses ton lit ‘ which was marked incorrect. Just wondering why ? Thanks 

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MaxC1Kwiziq community member

Translation of the English pronoun "one" into/from French

I am confused by some of the answers to quiz questions in this lesson. For me, the construction "Il faut ..." translates well into "One must ..." in English. While we don't use "One must ..." much in modern English, it indicates that we're talking about a general proposition: It means I / you / he / she / we / they must. But some of the quiz answers here seem to say that "Il faut ..." indicates something less than a requirement that should apply to everyone, barring any qualification that might be given in the text, and barring any clarification that might be given by the context. "Il ne faut pas marcher sur la pelouse," for example, means something like "It's forbidden to walk on the grass," or "No one should walk on the grass," not just "You mustn't walk on the grass," doesn't it? What am I missing?

Asked 6 months ago
AlanC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer

As you say, we don't use "one must" much in modern English, it sounds too pompous. Nowadays we usually say "you must" instead, but it means the same thing. If you mustn't walk on the grass, you can reasonably assume that applies to everyone.  

Translation of the English pronoun "one" into/from French

I am confused by some of the answers to quiz questions in this lesson. For me, the construction "Il faut ..." translates well into "One must ..." in English. While we don't use "One must ..." much in modern English, it indicates that we're talking about a general proposition: It means I / you / he / she / we / they must. But some of the quiz answers here seem to say that "Il faut ..." indicates something less than a requirement that should apply to everyone, barring any qualification that might be given in the text, and barring any clarification that might be given by the context. "Il ne faut pas marcher sur la pelouse," for example, means something like "It's forbidden to walk on the grass," or "No one should walk on the grass," not just "You mustn't walk on the grass," doesn't it? What am I missing?

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AlexB1Kwiziq community member

difference between

In the lesson:

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

What is the difference between above and:

Il nous faut une gomme pour effacer des erreurs.

? Is it simply a matter of formality or is it incorrect?

thanks

Asked 9 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Alex,

There is a slight difference  -

'Il faut une gomme...' is a general comment which applies to everyone so I would use the universal 'you' or even a passive to translate this example...

'Il nous faut une gomme...' applies of 'nous' (whoever this is) but it refers to a specific group of people.

Hope that helps!

difference between

In the lesson:

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

What is the difference between above and:

Il nous faut une gomme pour effacer des erreurs.

? Is it simply a matter of formality or is it incorrect?

thanks

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Truc ThanhA2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

How can I find the theme I read before after leaving the page? Thanks

Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq team member

Hi Truc Thanh, 

I don't understand your question, could you elaborate so that I can pass it on to the relevant person?

How can I find the theme I read before after leaving the page? Thanks

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Truc ThanhA2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Bonjour Aurélie

In the examples and resources ,the example:” Il faut ranger sa chambre “ should be translated “ He must tidy his room “ instead of “ you must tidy your room “ .I don’t understand why it is .Maybe it is mistake of typing? Thanks.
Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

You must tidy your room would be:

Il faut ranger TA chambre. 

-- Chris. 

AlanC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
Actually this example is explained in the lesson. When you refers to a specific person you use ta, when you refers to people in general you use sa (i.e you = one).

Bonjour Aurélie

In the examples and resources ,the example:” Il faut ranger sa chambre “ should be translated “ He must tidy his room “ instead of “ you must tidy your room “ .I don’t understand why it is .Maybe it is mistake of typing? Thanks.

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JulieA2Kwiziq community member

its not clear to me when to use il faut and when to use il faut que

Asked 1 year ago
AurélieKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Bonjour Julie !

So...

Il faut partir  
The obligation comes from an outside source : rule, law, time restraint...

Il faut que tu partes     versus       Il te faut partir
In both cases, you want to emphasise who is being compelled here.
The Subjunctive option is actually the most colloquial and common here, whereas the second option is very formal and quite antiquated.

I hope that's helpful!
Bonne journée !

its not clear to me when to use il faut and when to use il faut que

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CrystalMaidenC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Are you not allowed to just use avoir besoin de or maybe on doit in the same context?

Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

On doit is similar to il faut. But the latter is a bit more versatile and sounds more elegant. However, in many contexts you can use either.  I do find the lesson quite exhaustive on this subject. 

-- Chris (not a native speaker). 

AlanC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

You might also want to look at this lesson:

Devoir vs avoir besoin de to express "to need to"

Are you not allowed to just use avoir besoin de or maybe on doit in the same context?

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GaryB2Kwiziq community member

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?

Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer

Hi Gary,

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

-- Chris (not a native speaker).

GaryB2Kwiziq community member
Merci beaucoup!  

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?

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DraganaC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

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

Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer
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.)

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

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JenniferC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Il faut faire son lit

Why is it not il faut faire ton or votre lit, rather than son
Asked 1 year ago
LauraKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

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.

RonC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
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.
JenniferC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
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.
HelenA2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Laura, would you also say this in the subjunctive?: "Il faut que tu fasses ton lit"

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

Is there any difference in the way these are used?

LauraKwiziq team member
Yes, you can use the subjunctive, that makes it a stronger, more specific command.
HelenA2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
Wow! Thank you!
JenniferC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
My thanks too.  Some light dawning
JenniferC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
My thanks too.  Some light dawning

Il faut faire son lit

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

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JohnC1Kwiziq community member

'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?
Asked 2 years ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi John,

In the case of - You don't need to come straight away- you could also say:

"Tu n'as pas besoin de venir tout de suite."

or

"Ce n'est pas la peine que tu viennes tout de suite."

Hope this helps!

RonC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
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

'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?

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DanielB1Kwiziq community member

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
Asked 2 years ago
AndyC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
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.
DanielB1Kwiziq community member
Of course you are absolutely correct! Perhaps I should do these tests wide awake! Thank you!
Daniel asked:View original

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

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AlanC1Kwiziq community member

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

Asked 2 years ago
RonC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
Bonjour Alan, ça marche pour moi.

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

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KathyB1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

"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
Asked 2 years ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Kathy,

You could say:

Il faut que tu nettoies leur chambre

Il te faut nettoyer leur chambre

Tu dois nettoyer leur chambre

 

KathyB1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
It seems the form omitted part of my first sentence: Il *pronoun* faut" + infinitive is very formal

"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

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KatyaB1Kwiziq community member

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".
Asked 2 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
Bonjour Katya ! Merci beaucoup ! These lessons are on the "to-do" list, please bear with us :) À bientôt !

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".

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KatyaB1Kwiziq community member

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

Asked 2 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
Bonjour Katya ! Merci beaucoup !

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

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MerleB2Kwiziq community member

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'
Asked 3 years ago
LauraKwiziq team member
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."

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'

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Jocelyn C1Kwiziq community member

FALLOIR passé composé ?

Asked 3 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
Bonjour Jocelyn ! The verb 'falloir' in Le Passé Composé is : 'il a fallu' e.g. Il a fallu nettoyer l'appartement avant son arrivée. Il m'a fallu trois heures pour venir ici. A bientôt !

FALLOIR passé composé ?

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AntoniosA2Kwiziq community member

Il faut faire *son* lit

In one of the questions the expression `Il faut faire son lit` was translated as "You must make your bed". Is `il faut`, like `on`, requiring the use of the 3rd person? Would it be grammatically wrong to say `Il faut faire ton lit`? What about `Il faut faire mon lit` if it's my bed that you must make? Thanks you in advance.
Asked 3 years ago
LauraKwiziq team member
Bonjour Antonios, Both "il faut faire son lit" and "Il faut faire ton lit" are correct, but there is a slight difference. If I say "ton," that means I'm talking to you, Antonios, specifically. "Il faut faire son lit" is speaking generally - everyone must make his or her bed. In English, we can also use "you" here, meaning not specifically you, Antonios, but you/everyone in general. Yes, you can also say "Il faut faire mon lit, il faut faire notre lit," etc.

Il faut faire *son* lit

In one of the questions the expression `Il faut faire son lit` was translated as "You must make your bed". Is `il faut`, like `on`, requiring the use of the 3rd person? Would it be grammatically wrong to say `Il faut faire ton lit`? What about `Il faut faire mon lit` if it's my bed that you must make? Thanks you in advance.

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Getting that for you now.