Imperative is the grammatical structure to express an order, request, instruction or wish.
Imperative only applies to situations where the grammatical second person is implied; in other words, someone to whom the imperative is addressed.
The basic forms implying the grammatical second person are ‘tú’ (singular ‘you’) and ‘vosotros’ (plural ‘you’).
In the ‘tú’ form, we just need to conjugate the verb as if it was the grammatical singular third person of indicative.
Let’s see an example with the verb ‘cantar’ (to sing):
- Indicative form
- Yo canto (I sing)
- Tú cantas (You sing)
- Él/Ella/Ello canta (He/She/It sings)
- Nosotros cantamos (We sing)
- Vosotros cantáis (You sing)
- Ellos/Ellas cantan (Theysing)
- Hence, to make the imperative form of ‘cantar’ for ‘tú’, we just use the indicative form for ‘él/ella/ello’: canta.
- To make the imperative form of ‘vosotros’, we just change the infinitive ‘r’ for a ‘d’: cantad.
Let’s see some other examples:
|Cerrar (to close)||Cierra||Cerrad|
|Comer (to eat)||Come||Comed|
|Escribir (to write)||Escribe||Escribid|
|Despertar (to wake up)||Despierta||Despertad|
|Correr (to run)||Corre||Corred|
|Abrir (to open)||Abre||Abrid|
Some verbs are irregular in the imperative ‘tú’ form, but never in the ‘vosotros’ form:
|Ser (to be)||Sé||Sed|
|Hacer (to do, to make)||Haz||Haced|
|Decir (to say)||Di||Decid|
|Ir (to go)||Ve||Id|
|Venir (to come)||Ven||Venid|
|Tener (to have)||Ten||Tened|
|Poner (to put)||Pon||Poned|
|Salir (to getout)||Sal||Salid|
As for the negative form, both singular and plural second person are conjugated just like in present simple subjunctive.
Let’s see some examples:
|Cerrar||No cierres||No cerréis|
|Comer||No comas||No comáis|
|Escribir||No escribas||No escribáis|
|Correr||No corras||No corráis|
|Abrir||No abras||No abráis|
|Ser||No seas||No seáis|
|Hacer||No hagas||No hagáis|
|Decir||No digas||No digáis|
|Ir||No vayas||No vayáis|
|Venir||No vengas||No vengáis|
|Tener||No tengas||No tengáis|
|Poner||No pongas||No pongáis|
|Salir||No salgas||No salgáis|
First person plural:
There is also an imperative conjugation for the plural first person, similar to the English let’s + verb form.
We just need to conjugate the verb as the plural first person of subjunctive present simple.
Another way to express the let’s + verb form in Spanish is with the vamos a + infinitive form.
Let’s see how this forms work with the same example verbs:
|Infinitive||Subjunctivepresentform||Vamos a + infinitiveform|
|Cerrar||Cerremos||Vamos a cerrar|
|Comer||Comamos||Vamos a comer|
|Escribir||Escribamos||Vamos a escribir|
|Correr||Corramos||Vamos a correr|
|Abrir||Abramos||Vamos a abrir|
|Ser||Seamos||Vamos a ser|
|Hacer||Hagamos||Vamos a hacer|
|Decir||Digamos||Vamos a decir|
|Ir||Vayamos||Vamos a ir|
|Venir||Vengamos||Vamos a venir|
|Tener||Tengamos||Vamos a tener|
|Poner||Pongamos||Vamos a poner|
|Salir||Salgamos||Vamos a salir|
But vamos a + infinitive form can also mean we are going to + verb, so depending on the context it could be less clear than the other form.
For the negative form of the plural first person imperative, we just need to add ‘no’ or other negative adverb before: no vayamos, no salgamos, no seamos, no tengamos, etc. There is not a negative vamos a + infinitive form.
Formal second person:
As for the formal second person in Spanish, we just use the third person of subjunctive present:
Once more, the negative form is the same, just adding ‘no’ or other negative adverb before: no coma, no escriban, no corra, no sean, no venga, no tengan, etc.
Formal imperative was immortalized in an anecdote with Francisco de Quevedo, one of the greatest Spanish writers, as the main character.
The queen Mariana de Austria had a limping. To make Quevedo prove his acclaimed poetry skills, his friends challenged him to call her lame in her face. He replied that she would even thank him for the words.
Hence, he took a white carnation and a red rose and showed them to the queen. While holding those flowers at each side of her, he said the rhyme ‘Entre el clavel blanco y la rosa roja, su majestad escoja’, which means ‘between the white carnation and the red rose, your majesty is lame’. The trick was that ‘es coja’ (is lame) sounds exactly the same as ‘escoja’ (the formal imperative conjugation for the verb to choose/ to pick, ‘escoger’). So, to the ears of the queen, he had said ‘between the white carnation and the red rose, your majesty may choose’, and he received her words of thanks.
Some common imperative phrases are:
- Escucha esta canción (listen to this song)
- No hagas nada (do nothing)
- Haced los deberes (do your homework)
- Vamos a lavar los platos (let’s wash the dishes)
- No hablemos demasiado (let’s not talk too much)
- ¡Mire ahí! (look there!)
- Vengan a comer (Come to eat)
Author: Álvaro Albatros, Spanish teacher in Vamos Academy Madrid