Easy English: Imperatives

What are imperatives?

In English, the imperative is one of three verbal moods. These are the indicative, the subjunctive, and the imperative. We use imperatives to give commands, issue warnings, or provide emphatic instructions. And if we add “please” before an imperative phrase, it can also form a request.

In the examples below, note that an imperative sentence doesn’t require a subject to be explicitly stated. In most cases, the pronoun “you” is implied.

Second-person imperatives

The imperative is made by using the infinitive form of a verb without “to” before it (for example, “to run” is simply “run” in the imperative). Here are some examples:

  • Hurry!
  • Sit down.
  • Go away.

For positive imperatives, we can add the word “do” before it to soften the command or to convey a measure of irritation:

  • Do sit down.
  • Do be reasonable.
  • Do behave.

This is more forceful and less polite than using “please.” Another common option is to use “please do” in combination. This has a more formal tone and can be used either to make a polite request or to express the speaker’s annoyance:

  • Polite: Please do enjoy yourself.
  • Irritated: Please do behave.

For negative commands, we simply add “do not” before the imperative:

  • Do not enter.
  • Don’t run!
  • Don’t stay up late.

If we want to mention the listener directly, we can add their name at either the beginning or (more commonly) the end of the sentence:

  • Wait over here, Jill.
  • Jack, please don’t argue.

First-person and third-person imperatives

First-person and third-person imperatives are formed by using a phrase such as “let X” before the imperative (where “X” is a pronoun, noun phrase, or person’s name). Let’s take a look at the following examples:

First person

  • Let me fetch that for you.
  • Let us try again.
  • Let me go.
  • Let’s call for help.

For the negative version, we add “not” before the imperative:

  • Let me not worry about that today.
  • Let us not get ahead of ourselves.

Third person

  • Let him speak.
  • Let her audition again.
  • Let them come inside.
  • Let Jane ask a question.
  • Let the students stay home tomorrow.

Polite requests

As we’ve seen, we can use “please” before an imperative to make a polite request. However, there are other variations that are commonly used to soften a command or request. For example, we can use either “shall we,” “will you,” or “would you” at the end of an imperative sentence (note the comma that is placed before it):

  • Let’s go home, shall we?
  • Be quiet, will you?
  • Read this letter, would you?

To give commands or make requests with a politer tone, we can frame the sentence as a question:

  • May I open the window, please?
  • Could you please help me?
  • Would you mind talking more quietly?

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6 thoughts on “Easy English: Imperatives

  1. Jun says:

    I’m nervous about using imperatives in English in case I sound rude. What is a good way to make sure my words are polite?

    • Rockwaller Books says:

      Hi Jun,
      A good general rule of thumb if you want to be polite is to phrase your sentence as a question. You can then add in extra phrases such as “please” and “may I” for higher levels of politeness. Just remember that context is important: try to match your level of politeness and formality with the setting you’re in.

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