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 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 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 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"


Q&A

Truc Thanh

Kwiziq community member

12 July 2018

1 reply

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

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

15 August 2018

15/08/18

Hi Truc Thanh, 

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

Truc Thanh

Kwiziq community member

11 July 2018

2 replies

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.

Chris

Kwiziq community member

16 July 2018

16/07/18

You must tidy your room would be:

Il faut ranger TA chambre. 

-- Chris. 

Alan

Kwiziq community member

17 July 2018

17/07/18

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).

Julie

Kwiziq community member

31 May 2018

1 reply

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

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

1 June 2018

1/06/18

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 !

CrystalMaiden

Kwiziq community member

23 April 2018

2 replies

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

Chris

Kwiziq community member

24 April 2018

24/04/18

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). 

Alan

Kwiziq community member

24 April 2018

24/04/18

You might also want to look at this lesson:

https://kwiziq.learnfrenchwithalexa.com/revision/grammar/devoir-vs-avoir-besoin-de-to-express-to-need-to

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

8 replies

Il faut faire son lit

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

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.

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.

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.

helen

Kwiziq community member

6 August 2018

6/08/18

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?

Laura

Kwiziq language super star

7 August 2018

7/08/18

Yes, you can use the subjunctive, that makes it a stronger, more specific command.

helen

Kwiziq community member

7 August 2018

7/08/18

Wow! Thank you!

Jennifer

Kwiziq community member

7 August 2018

7/08/18

My thanks too.  Some light dawning

Jennifer

Kwiziq community member

7 August 2018

7/08/18

My thanks too.  Some light dawning

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.

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