Spanish Grammar Guide

Imperatives/commands (e.g.: ¡Hable español!)

An Overview of Spanish Imperatives

The imperative form of a verb is used to give someone an order or command, i.e.: to directly tell them what you want them to do. For example:

  • ¡Hazlo (tú)! ("Do it!")
  • Come tus zanahorias (tú). ("Eat your carrots!")
  • ¡Lavad vuestro auto (vosotros)! ("Wash your car!")
  • ¡Ven aquí (tú)! ("Come here!")
  • Hablen fuerte (ustedes). ("Speak up.")

Since the function of the imperative is to give an order to the person(s) you are speaking to, the imperative always uses a second person form (tú, usted, vosotros or ustedes). That said, the imperative is not actually used with a subject pronoun except for emphasis/clarification (imagine the speaker could be pointing at who they are speaking to) AFTER the verb (as seen here where the pronoun is given in parenthesis so you can clearly see who is being addressed). It is common to omit first and second person pronouns in Spanish because they are given/understood participants in the discourse and are marked on the verb's ending, making the pronouns redundant.

How to Form the Imperative

To form the imperative, there is always a change involved when compared to the present (indicative) tense. In almost all cases, the changes involves the vowel at the end ("a" changes to "e" or "e" changes to "a". The only change that is a little different is the form in positive commands. Here, the change simply involves dropping the "s" when compared to the present indicative. Let's look at each of the pronouns involved.

Usted(es) Commands

The usted(es) forms of the imperative are based on the present subjunctive. That means the same spelling changes (-gar > -gue, -car > -que, -zar > -ce) and irregular forms (dar, estar, ir, saber, ser) apply (review the present subjunctive if you don't remember these), e.g.:

  • Váyanse ya (ustedes). ("Go already!")
  • Sean más amables (ustedes), por favor. ("Be friendlier, please.")
  • Venga a la fiesta (usted). ("Come to the party.")

To form negative commands, simply add no in front of the verb, e.g.:

  • No pidan (ustedes) el pollo de este restaurante. ("Don't order the chicken from this restaurant.")
  • No toque (usted) el vidrio. ("Don't touch the glass.")

Commands

The negative form of the commands also uses the subjunctive, e.g.:

  • ¡No hagas eso (tú)! ("Don't do that!")
  • No vayas (tú) al bar esta noche. ("Don't go to the bar tonight.")

The exception to the use of subjunctive to form the imperative is the affirmative  form, which rather follows the 3rd person singular present él/ella/usted form, e.g.:

  • Habla de tus viajes (tú). ("Speak about your travels.")
  • Dame uno (tú). ("Give me one.")
  • Escribe tu nombre (tú). ("Write your name.")
  • !Oye (tú)! ("Hey (you)!")

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There are also a number of irregular affirmative tú forms, primarily highly frequent verbs, e.g.: hacer, venir, ser, salir, decir, ir, tener, poner. These are shown in the following table:

Irregular Affirmative  Imperative Forms 
hacer haz
venir ven
ser
salir sal
decir di
ir ve
tener ten
poner pon

Remember, all the negative forms use the subjunctive, e.g.: No pongas tus tenis en el sofá. ("Don't put your runners on the couch.")

Vosotros/Vosotras Commands

Vosotros commands are not common, being used mainly in Spain. A good tip is that you will always be understood no matter where you are if you use the ustedes command instead of the vosotros/vosotras commands.

Affirmative vosotros commands are formed by removing the infinitive -r and adding -d, e.g.:

  • Comprad la comida (vosotras). ("Buy the food.")
  • Abrid la tienda mañana (vosotros). ("Open the store tomorrow.")
  • Bebed la leche (vosotros). ("Drink the milk.")

Negative vosotros/vosotras commands are formed using present subjunctive form, e.g.:

  • No durmáis tarde (vosotras). ("Don't sleep late.")
  • No me preparéis la cena (vosotros), voy a comprar algo de comer. ("Don't prepare me dinner, I'm going to buy something to eat.")
  • No tengáis miedo (vosotros), no pasa nada. ("Don't be afraid, nothing is wrong.")

Nosotros/Nosotras Commands

The imperative can also be used to make a suggestion with the nosotros form, following the subjunctive (ir being irregular), e.g.:

  • Ya vámonos. ("Let's go now!")
  • Hagámoslo. ("Let's do it!")

This latter usage corresponds to the English "Let's ..." or "Why don't we ..."

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To summarize: ALL commands use the present subjunctive form EXCEPT affirmative commands, which use the 3rd person present indicative endings, and affirmative vosotros commands that use -d. The following tables captures the information you need to know:

 

Summary of Imperative Forms
  Form Example
usted(es) same as subjunctive Hable(n)
negative same as subjunctive No hables
positive drop the "s" habla
positive (irregular) unpredictable haz, ven, etc.

 

Use of Pronouns with Spanish Imperatives

When used in an affirmative imperative, all object pronouns are attached to the end of the verb, requiring accents where the naturally stressed syllable of the verb is displaced. For example,

  • ¡Háblame (tú)! ("Speak to me!")
  • Dénsela (ustedes). ("Give it to him/her/them.")
  • Escúchenos (usted), por favor. ("Listen to us, please.")
  • Decídselo (vosotros). ("Say it to him/her/them.")

The order of pronouns, indirect object pronoun BEFORE direct object pronouns, is the same in imperative sentences as it is in declarative sentences.

Reflexive pronouns are also attached to the end of affirmative imperatives, e.g.:

  • Quédate aquí (tú). ("Stay here.")
  • Péinense para salir a la fiesta (ustedes). ("Do your hair to go to the party.")

The reflexive form of the affirmative vosotros commands drops the -d with the os reflexive pronoun, the only exception being the verb ir, e.g.:

  • Sentaos. ("Sit down.")
  • Vestíos. ("Get dressed.") -ir verbs require an accent
  • Idos ya. ("Leave already.")

When used in a negative imperative, any direct or indirect object pronouns or reflexive pronouns go BEFORE the verb as independent words. For example,

  • No me lo pongan (ustedes). ("Don't put it on me.")
  • No se las abras (tú). ("Don't open them for him/her/them.")
  • No se vaya (usted). ("Don't leave.")
  • No te bañes (tú). ("Don't take a bath.")
  • No os riáis de mí (vosotros). ("Don't laugh at me.")
Verb conjugation:
Spanish Grammar Guide » Verbs (e.g.: hablar, venir, ser, tener, hacer) » Mood: indicative, subjunctive, imperative and conditional
 
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