Imperative forms in Spanish: the definitive guide
You might think that using the imperative in Spanish is not really for you because these forms are just for commands, but it’s not like that. Learning how to use the imperative in Spanish is fundamental for being able to communicate naturally in this language. Knowing when and how to use is crucial if you don’t want to offend the native speakers and you want to get a better grasp of the language and the Hispanic culture.
In this post you'll find:
Imperativo afirmativo: regular verbs (conjugation)
Before starting you should know that the imperative is not a tense, it’s a verb mood. In Spanish we have three verb moods: indicativo, subjuntivo and imperativo.
We need to learn the conjugation first and then we’ll see what we use it for.
Tricks for conjugating the imperative in Spanish
If you’re struggling to remember these forms, you’ll be interested in learning some tricks to remember them more easily.
Conjugate the verb in presente de indicativo and remove the final -s.
PASEAR → tú paseas → pasea
Conjugate the verb in the third person in singular in presente de indicativo.
PASEAR → él / ella pasea
Conjugate the verb in the third person in singular in presente de indicativo and change the final vowel:
a → e / e → a
HABLAR → él / ella habla → hable
COMER / VIVIR → él / ella come / vive → coma / viva
Conjugate the verb in the first person in plural in presente de indicativo and change the vowel: a → e / e → a / i → a
HABLAR → nosotros / nosotras hablamos → hablemos
COMER / VIVIR → nosotros / nosotras comemos / vivimos → comamos / vivamos
Take the infinitive form and replace the -r for a -d
*This trick works even with irregular verbs.
HABLAR → hablad
COMER → comed
VIVIR → vivid
Add an -n to the singular form of the imperative.
HABLAR → hable → hablen
Conjugate the verb in the third person in plural and change the final vowel:
a → e / e → a
HABLAR → ustedes hablan → hablen
COMER / VIVIR → ustedes comen / viven → coman / vivan
It’s time to practice the regular forms with a few exercises:
Cierra, piensen y pidamos are also regular in imperativo. Why? Because to conjugate the imperative we need to look at the conjugated form of the verb in presente de indicativo, not at the infinitive form. This means that most of the irregular verbs in present tense aren’t irregular in imperativo because they have the same irregularity in both cases. The only difference is the ending which is different for present and imperative forms. Here you have some examples:
tú hablas – habla (regular)
tú cierras – cierra (regular)
Attention! Irregular verbs in presente simple such as PEDIR, MENTIR, DORMIR… which end in -ir and have one of these irregularities: E>I, E>IE o U>UE, they are also irregular in the first person in plural (nosotros) in imperativo:
Presente de indicativo Imperativo
Imperativo afirmativo: irregular verbs (conjugation)
There are only 8 irregular verbs in imperative in Spanish. Yes, you’ve read correctly, only 8! We recommend you learning them by heart. Here you have the conjugation of these 8 irregular verbs:
As you have seen in the previous chart, VOSOTROS always follows the trick we’d learned with the regular verbs: you just take the infinitive form and change the ending -r → -d.
The best way of learning these irregular verbs is practicing a lot. Here you have some exercises to help you with the irregular verbs:
The imperativo negativo in Spanish needs NO before the verb and especial endings for each person:
The forms for USTED, NOSOTROS(AS) and USTEDES are the same in the imperativo afirmativo and the imperativo negativo.
Cante – No cante
Bebamos – No bebamos
Sientan – No sientan
If you already know the presente de subjuntivo in Spanish, this will be a piece of cake for you, because all the forms are the same. This also applies to the 8 irregular verbs in imperative.
Now is the time to practice the imperativo negativo. Shall we?
Imperativo: pronoun placement
Now that you know how to conjugate the regular and irregular verbs in imperative, afirmativo and negativo, it’s the moment of taking it to the next level. What happens with reflexive verbs in imperative? And with the direct and indirect object pronouns? Read the following examples:
Levántate y haz la cama. Son las 10 de la mañana.
Cómprala en el supermercado y dásela a Martina.
Dime la verdad.
Reflexive pronouns are used before the conjugated verb: me levanto, te duchas, se maquilla, etc., but what about these verbs in imperative? There are two rules:
Imperativo afirmativo: verb + reflexive pronoun (one word)
Imperativo negativo: no + reflexive pronoun + verb (different words)
no te levantes
Do you remember the reflexive pronouns in Spanish?
Levantados, levantaos or levantaros? Which is the correct option? Possibly, if you have traveled a lot through Spain (the mainland and Baleares) or if you watch movies and shows in Spanish from Spain, you have heard ¡Callaros! However, it’s NOT correct.
In imperativo afirmativo the second person in plural (nosotros, nosotras) loses the final -d before the pronoun os.
levantad + os > levantaos vestid + os > vestíos
Attention! There’s an exception to this rule: IR.
Id + os = idos or, only in this case, iros
Direct and indirect pronouns work in the same way. They’re placed right after the imperativo afirmativo and before the imperativo negativo:
no me la compres
The correct order of the pronouns is always 1. indirect object and 2. direct object:
verb + indirect object pronoun + direct object pronoun
Do you remember the direct and indirect object pronouns?
Attention! You can’t use the indirect pronouns le and les before the direct pronouns lo, la, los and las. In these cases you need to replace le / les for SE.
Compra flores a María Den el libro a los estudiantes
Cómpralelas ✘ Dénleslo ✘
Cómpraselas ✓ Dénselo ✓
It’s exactly the same with the imperativo negativo, but the indirect and direct pronouns go before the verb:
No Compres flores a María No den los libros a los estudiantes
No le las compres ✘ No les los den ✘
No se las compres ✓ No se los den ✓
Remember! Remove the final -d of vosotros(as) before the pronoun os in imperativo afirmativo:
Comprad flores a vosotros Dad los libros a vosotras
Comprádoslas ✘ Dádoslos ✘ Compráoslas ✓ Dáoslos ✓
Miren ustedes a nosotros > Mírennos (double -n)
Maquillemos a nosotros > Maquillémonos (remove the final -s from the verb before the pronoun nos)
Imperative in Spanish: uses
Knowing when to and how to use the imperative in Spanish is very important. What do we use imperativo for? Keep reading and you’ll find that out.
This is the first use that pops into our heads when we think about imperative: giving orders and commands. You can hear many examples of this in conversations between parents and children, bosses and employees, teachers and students, in heated discussions…
No habléis más y terminad ahora mismo el proyecto.
Vete y no vuelvas.
We use imperative forms to say how to do something correctly, to give instructions. What kind of instructions? Recipes, directions, dosage (medicine), assembling furniture…
Pela y lava las papas. Córtalas en trozos pequeños y ponles sal y pimienta.
Sigue recto y gira a la derecha en la primera calle. Después cruza la plaza.
No tome más de 40 gramos al día. Tome las pastillas después de las comidas.
Ponga la tabla A en el suelo e introduzca el tornillo T en …
ASKING FOR SOMETHING
Imperative can also be used to ask for something or to ask someone a favor. Keep in mind that the tone we use is key to avoid offending someone or to differentiate a command from a favor.
Déjame tu chaqueta nueva, por favor.
Préstame tu bolígrafo azul, anda.
DRAWING SOMEONE’S ATTENTION
Imagine you’re at a restaurant and you need to ask something to the waiter, or that you’re in the street and you need to know the time. The first thing you need to do is catch someone’s attention. How do we do that? Well… we use the imperativo afirmativo of verbs like MIRAR, OÍR, ESCUCHAR, PERDONAR or DISCULPAR.
Disculpa, ¿me puedes traer la carta?
Oye, mamá. ¿Me compras una chocolatina?
Attention! This is the only use when you can NOT use the negative forms. It can only be used with imperativo afirmativo.
ADVICES AND RECOMMENDATIONS
In Spanish we have many ways to recommend or give advice and one of them is the imperative. It’s not unusual hearing the doctor or your friends recommending using the imperative forms. Remember, it’s not an order, it’s just a piece of advice.
Beba 2 litros de agua al día y no fume.
Duerme más y no te acuestes tan tarde.
Songs to practice the imperative forms in Spanish
If you want to practice the imperative forms in a fun way, here you have a selection of songs where you can hear examples of all you’ve learned in this post. Let’s sing!
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