Understanding the Imperative for Commands in Spanish

This guide will walk you through the ins and outs of the imperative for commands in Spanish

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In Spanish, the imperative is used for commands, to give instructions or directions, make suggestions or requests, and ask for advice and favors.

In this article, we’ll be going over the basics of using the imperative for commands and how to form it. We will also see how to use it in conversations.

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How to form the imperative for commands in Spanish

More often than not, you’ll need the imperative to form a command. The imperative form will be different depending on whether it’s an affirmative or negative command. To form the imperative, we will also need to consider the subject and level of formality.

Imperative for affirmative commands

These commands imply a positive action. To form the imperative for affirmative commands with regular verbs, follow these general guidelines:

1. Imperative for (2nd person singular, informal)

The simplest way to understand this is to take the present tense form of the verb, and remove the “s” at the end. In other words, verbs ending in -ar in the infinitive will end in -a, and verbs in -er o -ir in the infinitive will end in -e.

2. Imperative for usted (3rd person singular, formal)

The “usted” form uses the same endings, but flipped: verbs ending in -ar will end in -e, and verbs ending in -er or -ir will end in -a.

Imperative for affirmative commands

Verb (2nd persona singular, informal) Usted (3nd person singular, formal)
Hablar (To speak) habla hable
Comer (To eat) come coma
Vivir (To live) vive viva

3. Imperative for nosotros / as (1st person plural)

A simple rule of thumb to follow is to take the imperative form for “usted” and add the termination -mos to it.

For example:

  • Hable -> Hablemos
  • Coma -> Comamos
  • Viva -> Vivamos

4. Imperative for vosotros / as (2nd person plural)

The simple way to understand this is to remove the “r” from the infinitive form of the verb and replace it by a “d”.

For example:

  • Hablar -> Hablad
  • Comer -> Comed
  • Vivir -> Vivid

5. Imperative for ustedes (3rd person plural, formal)

Similar to the “nosotros” variation, use the imperative form for “usted” and add an “n” to it.

For example:

  • Hable -> Hablen
  • Coma -> Coman
  • Viva -> Vivan

As you can see, the imperative form for affirmative commands is relatively straightforward. Let’s take a look now at the imperative form for negative commands.

Imperative form for negative commands

These are almost exactly the same as affirmative commands. The only difference is that you will have to add a “no” before the verb.

The imperative forms of “usted”, “nosotros”, “vosotros” and “ustedes” for negative commands are the same as they would be for affirmative commands, the only one that changes is the imperative form of “tú” , where you will be adding and “s” to the negative command for “usted”.

Imperative for negative commands

Verb (2nd person singular, informal) Usted (3rd person singular, formal) Nosotros Vosotros Ustedes
Hablar (To speak) no hables no hable no hablemos no hablad no hablen
Comer (To eat) no comas no coma no comamos no comed no coman
Vivir (To live) no vivas no viva no vivamos no vivid no vivan

Want to know how to use the imperative for negative commands?

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You can learn which “imperativo negativo” to use when you give commands in Spanish via Busuu’s free online courses and grammar review!

Imperative form of reflexive verbs for commands

In order to form the imperative of reflexive verbs for commands, the reflexive pronouns (me, te, se, nos, os, se) need to be attached to the end of the verb in the imperative for affirmative commands. However, they are placed before the verb in the imperative for negative commands.

For example:

  • Lávate las manos (Wash your hands) / No te laves las manos (Don’t wash your hands)

  • Olvídate de llamar (Forget to call) / No te olvides de llamar (Don't forget to call)

Irregular verbs in the imperative

Some common irregular verbs adopt unique forms in the imperative. It is essential to familiarize yourself with these irregularities.

For example:

  • 2nd person singular, informal => Decir (to say /tell) - Di la verdad (Tell the truth)

  • 2nd person singular, informal => Ir (to go) - Ve a la tienda (Go to the store)

  • Ser (to be) - Sé amable (Be kind).

Mastering the use of the imperative for commands in Spanish empowers you to provide instructions and convey your intentions with clarity. By understanding how to form and use these forms, you can navigate various social contexts and engage in meaningful interactions.

Remember to practice using the imperative for commands in everyday situations. Engage in conversations, and explore Spanish media to deepen your understanding.

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