Direct Commands: Using the Imperative Mood in Spanish

Few irregular forms make conjugation easy to learn

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The imperative form of verbs, used for giving commands, is one of the more unusual in Spanish. As a distinctive conjugation, it exists only with "tú" and "vosotros," in the familiar second person. Different conjugations are sometimes used in the affirmative (do something) and negative (don't). Because direct commands sometimes can sound rude or impolite, native speakers often avoid the imperative in favor of other verb constructions.

Easy to Learn

The imperative form of verbs is fairly easy to learn. For regular verbs, the familiar affirmative imperative (the one that goes with "tú" and "vosotros") is formed by dropping the final letter (the "r") of the infinitive, except for verbs ending in "-ir," in which case, the ending is changed to "-e." In the plural, the final letter of the infinitive is changed to a "d." For formal and negative commands, the subjunctive conjugation is used.

The imperative form is equivalent to the use of the unconjugated verb in English without a subject. For example, if you're telling someone in English to look, the command is "look." The Spanish equivalent can be "mira," "mire," "mirad" or "miren," depending on whom you are speaking to.

Direct Commands for "-ar" Verbs

Using "hablar" (to speak) as an example, the conjugations include:

  • Singular familiar: habla tú, no hables tú > speak, don't speak
  • Singular formal: hable Ud., no hable Ud. > speak, don't speak
  • Plural familiar: hablad vosotros, no habléis vosotros > speak, don't speak
  • Plural formal: hablen Uds., no hablen Uds. > speak, don't speak

Use the imperative form only for the familiar affirmative commands. In other cases, use the present subjunctive conjugation. The same is true for "-er" and "-ir" verbs.

Direct Commands for "-er" Verbs

Using "comer" (to eat) as an example, the conjugations include:

  • Singular familiar: come tú, no comas tú > eat, don't eat
  • Singular formal: coma Ud., no coma Ud. > eat, don't eat
  • Plural familiar: comed vosotros, no comáis vosotros > eat, don't eat
  • Plural formal: coman Uds., no coman Uds. > eat, don't eat

Direct Commands for -ir Verbs

Using "escribir" (to write) as an example, the conjugations include:

  • Singular familiar: escribe tú, no escribas tú > write, don't write
  • Singular formal: escriba Ud., no escriba Ud. > write, don't write
  • Plural familiar: escribid vosotros, no escribáis vosotros > write, don't write
  • Plural formal: escriban Uds., no escriban Uds. > write, don't write

The pronouns are included in the above charts for clarity. The familiar pronouns ("tú" and "vosotros") are usually omitted in actual use unless needed for clarity or emphasis, while the formal pronouns ("usted" and "ustedes") are more often used.

Tips for Using the Imperative Mood

Use of the imperative is fairly straightforward, but learning a few guidelines will help you to use it correctly. The singular affirmative familiar imperative (used with "tú") is usually regular. The irregular verbs are these eight, along with verbs derived from them:

  • Decir, di > to say
  • Hacer, haz > to make or do
  • Ir, ve > to go
  • Poner, pon > to put
  • Salir, sal > to leave
  • Ser, sé > to be
  • Tener, ten > to have
  • Venir, ven > to come

All verbs are regular in the plural affirmative familiar imperative. The "vosotros" commands are rarely used in Latin America. Normally, the "ustedes" form is used when speaking even with children or relatives. Object pronouns and reflexive pronouns are attached to the affirmative commands and precede negative commands, for example:

  • Dime. > Tell me.
  • No me digas. > Don't tell me.
  • Escríbeme. > Write to me.
  • No me escribas. > Don't write to me.

When a pronoun is attached, add an accent to the verb to maintain the correct pronunciation. If there is a direct and indirect object, the indirect object comes first, as in:

  • Démelo. > Give it to me.
  • No me lo dé. > Don't give it to me.

In written instructions, use either the familiar or formal forms, depending on the tone you want to convey as well as your audience. The familiar form generally comes across as friendlier, as in:

  • Haz clic aquí. > Click here.
  • Haga clic aquí. > Click here.

You can also use the impersonal command. Some writers put commands between exclamation points to help indicate that they are commands. When you use it this way, the exclamation marks don't necessarily translate to written English, as in, "¡Escucha!" (Listen.)