imperative mood

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The imperative is a grammatical mood that forms commands or requests, including the giving of prohibition or permission, or any other kind of exhortation.

An example of a verb in the imperative mood is be in the English sentence "Please be quiet". Imperatives of this type imply a second-person subject (you); some languages also have first- and third-person imperatives, with the meaning of "let's (do something)" or "let him/her/them (do something)" (these forms may alternatively be called cohortative and jussive).

Imperative mood can be denoted by the glossing abbreviation Template:Sc. It is one of the irrealis moods.


Imperative mood is often expressed using special conjugated verb forms. Like other finite verb forms, imperatives often inflect for person and number. Second-person imperatives (used for ordering or requesting performance directly from the person(s) being addressed) are most common, but some languages also have imperative forms for the first and third persons (alternatively called cohortative and jussive respectively).

In English, the imperative is formed using the bare infinitive form of the verb (see English verbs for more details). This is usually also the same as the second-person present indicative form, except in the case of the verb to be, where the imperative is be while the indicative is are. (The present subjunctive always has the same form as the imperative, although it is negated differently – the imperative is negated using don't, as in "Don't touch me!"; see do-support.) The imperative form is understood as being in the second person (the subject pronoun you is usually omitted, although it can be included for emphasis), with no explicit indication of singular or plural. First and third person imperatives are expressed periphrastically, using a construction with the imperative of the verb let:

  • Let us (Let's) have a drink! (equivalent to a first person plural imperative)
  • Let him/her/them be happy! (equivalent to a third person imperative; constructions with may are also used)

Other languages such as Latin, French and German have a greater variety of inflected imperative forms, marked for person and number, their formation often depending on a verb's conjugation pattern. Examples can be found in the specific language sections below. In languages that make a T–V distinction (tu vs. vous, du vs. Sie, etc.) the use of particular forms of the second person imperative may also be dependent on the degree of familiarity between the speaker and the addressee, as with other verb forms.

The second person singular imperative often consists of just the stem of the verb, without any ending – this is the case with many verbs in German and in the Slavic languages, for example.

Syntax and negation

Imperative sentences sometimes use different syntax than declarative or other types of clauses. There may also be differences of syntax between affirmative and negative imperative sentences. In some cases the imperative form of the verb is itself different when negated. A distinct negative imperative form is sometimes said to be in prohibitive mood (abbreviated Template:Sc).

Many languages, even not normally null-subject languages, omit the subject pronoun in imperative sentences, as usually occurs in English (see below). Details of the syntax of imperative sentences in certain other languages, and of differences between affirmative and negative imperatives, can be found in some of the other specific language sections below.


Imperatives are used principally for ordering, requesting or advising the listener to do (or not to do) something: "Put down the gun!"; "Pass me the sauce"; "Don't go too near the tiger." They are also often used for giving instructions as to how to perform a task ("Install the file, then restart your computer"). They can sometimes be seen on signs giving orders or warnings ("Stop"; "Give way"; "Do not enter").

The use of the imperative mood may be seen as impolite, inappropriate or even offensive in certain circumstances.[1] In polite speech, orders or requests are often phrased instead as questions or statements, rather than as imperatives:

  • Could you come here for a moment? (politer than "Come here!")
  • It would be great if you made us a drink. (for "Make us a drink!")
  • I have to ask you to stop. (for "Stop!")

Politeness strategies (for instance, indirect speech acts) can seem more appropriate in order not to threaten a conversational partner in their needs of self-determination and territory: the partner's negative face should not appear threatened.[2] As well as the replacement of imperatives with other sentence types as discussed above, there also often exist methods of phrasing an imperative in a more polite manner, such as the addition of a word like please or a phrase like if you could.

Imperatives are also used for speech acts whose function is essentially not to make an order or request, but to give an invitation, give permission, express a wish, make an apology, etc.:

  • Come to the party tomorrow! (invitation)
  • Eat the apple if you want. (permission)
  • Have a nice trip! (wish)
  • Pardon me. (apology)

When written, imperative sentences are often, but not always, terminated with an exclamation mark.

First person plural imperatives (cohortatives) are used mainly for suggesting an action to be performed together by the speaker and the addressee (and possibly other people): "Let's go to Barbados this year"; "Let us pray". Third person imperatives (jussives) are used to suggest or order that a third party or parties be permitted or made to do something: "Let them eat cake"; "Let him be executed".

Imperatives in particular languages

For more details on imperatives in the languages listed below, and in languages that are not listed, see the articles on the grammar of the specific languages.


English usually omits the subject pronoun in imperative sentences:

  • You work hard. (indicative)
  • Work hard! (imperative; subject pronoun you omitted)

However, it is possible to include the you in imperative sentences for emphasis.

English imperatives are negated using don't (as in "Don't work!") This is a case of do-support as found in indicative clauses; however in the imperative it applies even in the case of the verb be (which does not use do-support in the indicative):

  • You are not late. (indicative)
  • Don't be late! (imperative)

It is also possible to use do-support in affirmative imperatives, for emphasis or (sometimes) politeness: "Do be quiet!"; "Do help yourself!".

The subject you may be included for emphasis in negated imperatives as well ("You don't touch these!") There is also a fairly common construction where you (not necessarily emphasized) follows don't: "Don't you touch these!"

Latin languages


Latin regular imperatives include amā (2nd pers. singular) and amāte (2nd pers. plural), from the infinitive amāre ("to love"); similarly monē and monēte from monēre ("to advise/warn"); audī and audīte from audīre ("to hear"), etc. For third-person imperatives, the subjunctive mood is used instead.

Latin also has a future imperative form. The corresponding forms are amātō (singular) and amātōte (plural), monētō and monētōte, audītō and audītōte. Unlike the present imperative, the future imperative also has special forms for the third person (amantō, monentō, audiuntō). See Latin conjugation.


Examples of regular imperatives in French are mange (2nd pers. singular), mangez (2nd pers. plural) and mangeons (1st person plural, "let's eat"), from manger ("to eat") – these are similar or identical to the corresponding present indicative forms, although there are some irregular imperatives that resemble the present subjunctives, such as sois, soyez and soyons, from être ("to be"). A third person imperative can be formed using a subjunctive clause with the conjunction que, as in qu'ils mangent de la brioche ("let them eat cake").

French uses different word order for affirmative and negative imperative sentences:

  • Donne-le-leur ! ("Give it to them!")
  • Ne le leur donne pas ! ("Don't give it to them!")

The negative imperative (prohibitive) has the same word order as the indicative. See Template:P/s for detail.

Other Indo-European languages


Irish has imperative forms in all three persons and both numbers, although the first person singular is most commonly found in the negative (e.g. ná cloisim sin arís "let me not hear that again").


In Sanskrit, लोट् लकार् (lōṭ lakār) is used with the verb to form the imperative mood. To form the negative, न (na) is placed before the verb in the imperative mood.

Non-Indo-European languages


In Finnish, there are two ways of forming a first-person plural imperative. A standard version exists, but it is typically replaced colloquially by the impersonal tense. For example, from mennä ("to go"), the imperative "let's go" can be expressed by menkäämme (standard form) or mennään (colloquial).

Forms also exist for second (sing. mene, plur. menkää) and third (menköön) person. Only first person singular doesn't have an imperative.

Hebrew and Arabic

Generally, in Semitic languages, every word belongs to a word-family, and is, actually, a conjugation of word-family's three consonant roots. The various conjugations are made by adding vowels to the root consonants and by adding prefixes, in front or after the root consonant. For example, the conjugations of the root K.T.B (כ.ת.ב. ك.ت.ب), both in Hebrew and in Arabic, are words that have something to do with writing. Nouns like a reporter or a letter and verbs like to write or to dictate are conjugations of the root K.T.B. The verbs are further conjugated to bodies, times, and so on.

Both in classic Hebrew and in classic Arabic, there is a form for positive imperative. It exists for singular and plural, masculine and feminine second-person. The imperative conjugations look like shortages of the future ones. However, in modern, the imperative is used only in high colloquialism, and many simple persons use the future tense in its place.

The negative imperative in those languages is more complicated. In modern Hebrew, for instance, it contains a synonym of the word "no", that is used only in negative imperative (אַל), and is followed by the future tense.

The verb to write

in singular, masculine

Future Indicative Imperative / Prohibitive
Affirmative tikhtov – תכתוב
(You will write)
ktov – כתוב
اكْتـُبْ- ooktoob


Negative lo tikhtov – לא תכתוב
(You will not write)
al tikhtov – אל תכתוב
(Don't write!)

(In Hebrew, some of the Bs sounds like V, and some like B)

The verb to write

in singular, feminine

Future Indicative Imperative / Prohibitive
Affirmative tikhtevi – תכתבי
(You will write)
kitvi – כתבי
اكْتـُبْي- ooktoobi


Negative lo tikhtevi – לא תכתבי
(You will not write)
al tikhtevi – אל תכתבי
(Don't write!)
The verb to dictate

in singular, masculine

Future Indicative Imperative / Prohibitive
Affirmative takhtiv – תכתיב
(You will dictate)
hakhtev – הכתב


Negative lo takhtiv – לא תכתיב
(You will not dictate)
al takhtiv – אל תכתיב
(Don't dictate!)


Japanese uses separate verb forms as shown below. For the verb kaku (write):

Indicative Imperative
/ Prohibitive
Affirmative Template:Nihongo2 kaku Template:Nihongo2 kake
Negative Template:Nihongo2 kakanai Template:Nihongo2 kakuna

See also the suffixes Template:Nihongo2 (–nasai) and Template:Nihongo2/Template:Nihongo2 (–kudasai).


Korean language has 6 kinds of levels of honorific, all of which have their own imperative endings. Supportive verbs 않다 anh-da and 말다 mal-da are used for negative indicative and prohibitive, respectively. For the verb boda (see):

Level Indicative Affirmative Imperative Indicative Negative Prohibitive
(formal)Hasipsio-style 보십니다 bosipnida 보십시오 bosipsio 보지 않으십니다 boji anheusipnida 보지 마십시오 boji masipsio[vn 1]
Haeyo-style 보세요 boseyo 보세요 boseyo 보지 않으세요 boji anheuseyo 보지 마세요 boji maseyo[vn 1]
Hao-style 보시오 bosio 보시오 bosio 보지 않으시오 boji anheusio 보지 마시오 boji masio[vn 1]
Hage-style 보네 bone 보게 boge 보지 않네 boji anhne 보지 말게 boji malge
Hae-style bwa bwa 보지 않아 boji anha 보지 마 boji ma[vn 2]
(informal)Haera-style 본다 bonda 보라 bora 보지 않는다 boji anhneunda 보지 마라 boji mara[vn 2]
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Verb and adjective stems that end in ㄹ l, including mal-, eliminate the last l before suffixes starting with l (not r), n, o, p, and s.
  2. 2.0 2.1 An imperative suffix -a(ra) contracts mal- to ma- exceptionally. The other verbs are not contracted by -a(ra).


Standard Chinese uses different words of negation for the indicative and the prohibitive moods. For the verb zuò (do):

Indicative Imperative
/ Prohibitive
Affirmative zuò zuò
Negative 不做 búzuo 别做 biézuò


  1. Wierzbicka, Anna, "Cross-Cultural Pragmatics", Mouton de Gruyter, 1991. ISBN 3-11-012538-2
  2. Brown, P., and S. Levinson. ”Universals in language use”, in E. N. Goody (ed.), Questions and Politeness (Cambridge and London, 1978, Cambridge University Press: 56-310)


  • Austin, J. L. How to do things with words, Oxford, Clarendon Press 1962.
  • Schmecken, H. Orbis Romanus, Paderborn, Schöningh 1975, ISBN 3 506 10330.

Template:Grammatical moods