How To Make Commands and Requests in Spanish Without the Imperative

Alternative ways of making requests can change the tone of the command

Sign that says 'no smoking' in Spanish
No fumar. (No smoking.).

Juan Francisco Diez / Creative Commons.

Although the imperative mood is frequently used to tell or ask people to do something, other verb forms also are used. This lesson covers some of the most common non-imperative verb forms used to give commands.

Technically, the imperative mood exists as its own verb form only in the second person; to give the command "eat," for example, say coma (singular) or comed (plural). One alternative, given in the third and fourth sections below is to use the subjunctive mood in the first and third persons as given in the final two methods below. This approach is informally often thought of as a type of imperative mood, while the first two below aren't.

Infinitives as Impersonal Commands

The infinitive (the unconjugated verb form that ends in -ar, -er, or -ir) is frequently used, especially in print and online rather than verbally, to give commands to no one person in particular.

You wouldn't use infinitives this way when speaking to specific persons. But it is very common for signs and written instructions to use them. This use of the infinitive is also especially common in cooking recipes.

  • No fumar. (No smoking.)
  • Hacer clic aquí. (Click here.)
  • No tocar. (Do not touch.)
  • Quitarse los zapatos. (Remove your shoes.)
  • Sazonar los frijoles y servirlos en un plato. (Season the beans and serve them on a plate.)
  • Colgar el teléfono y esperar. (Hang up the telephone and wait.)

In these examples, it would be possible to second-person form such as "haz clic aquí" or "haga clic aquí" for "click here" instead of the infinitive without an appreciable difference in meaning. The use of infinitive, however, may come across as more direct and less friendly, however.

English has no direct equivalent use for the infinitive. However, this Spanish use for the infinitive is similar to negative commands given in English using the gerund, as in saying "no touching" for "do not touch."

Use of Present and Future Tenses to Give Commands

As in English, the present and future indicative tenses can be used to issue emphatic commands. Using the present and future tenses in this way normally wouldn't be done when you're trying to be diplomatic; more likely, they would be used when simple persuasion hasn't been successful or if you're trying to be particularly matter-of-fact.

In English, the indicative tenses typically become a command through vocal emphasis and indicated by capital letters below. The same can be done in Spanish, although not as strongly as in English.

  • Comerás el brócoli. (You WILL eat the broccoli.)
  • Te callarás toda la noche. (You WILL be quiet all night.)
  • Me llamas mañana. (You ARE calling me tomorrow.)

Indirect Commands

By using the subjunctive mood in a clause beginning with que, it is possible to indirectly give a command to someone other than the person being spoken to. As the following examples indicate, a variety of English translations can be used, depending on the context.

  • Que Dios te bendiga. (God bless you.)
  • Que vaya él a la oficina. (Have him go to the office.)
  • Que me traiga ella sus archivos. (Tell her to bring me her files.)
  • Que en paz descanse. (May he rest in peace.)

First-Person Plural Commands

There are two ways to give a command to a group that includes yourself: use vamos a followed by the infinitive, or use the first-person plural subjunctive form of the verb. These are typically translated in English by using "let's." In the negative form (let's not), the subjunctive form (not no vamos a) is typically used. To say "let's go," use vamos or vámonos; to say "let's not go," use no vayamos or no nos vayamos.

  • Vamos a comer. (Let's eat.)
  • Comamos. (Let's eat.)
  • No comamos. (Let's not eat.)
  • Vamos a hacerlo. (Let's do it.)
  • Hagámoslo. (Let's do it.)
  • No lo hagamos. (Let's not do it.)

Key Takeaways

  • Although Spanish has an imperative mood to give commands or make requests, other verb forms can be used for the same purpose.
  • Infinitives can be used, especially in writing, to provide directions to people in general rather than to a specific person.
  • Subjunctive forms can be used in making a command or request to a group that includes the person speaking, similar to the use of "let's" in English.
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Erichsen, Gerald. "How To Make Commands and Requests in Spanish Without the Imperative." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Erichsen, Gerald. (2020, August 27). How To Make Commands and Requests in Spanish Without the Imperative. Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "How To Make Commands and Requests in Spanish Without the Imperative." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 27, 2023).