Imperative Sentence (command)
Imperative sentences are one of the four sentence types.
Imperative sentences give commands.
|verb...||give a command||Stop!|
What is the form of an imperative sentence?
The typical form (structure) of an English imperative sentence uses the base verb with no subject. In fact, many imperative sentences consist of nothing but the verb. Look at these example structures:
The final punctuation is usually a full-stop/period (.) or an exclamation mark/point (!).
Imperative sentences can be in positive or negative form, and can refer to present or future time.
What is the function of an imperative sentence?
The usual function (job) of an imperative sentence is to give a command or instruction. It tells us to do something.
Look at these examples:
- Go now!
- Don't sit there.
How do we use an imperative sentence?
Although we use imperative sentences to give direct commands, we can also use them to give instructions more politely than a straight command. Instructions like this are quite common, for example in a user guide to explain how to operate a machine. Imperatives can also be used with words like "please" or "kindly" to add politeness.
Look at these positive and negative examples. You will notice that some of them refer to present time, some to future time and some to both:
|user guide||Remove the packaging. Open the blue box and connect the two wires.||Do not dispose of battery in the trash.|
|school||Now wash your hands!||Don't forget your homework.|
|airplane||Please remain seated until the seatbelt sign is off.||Do not smoke in the toilets.|
|hotel||Kindly help yourself to fruit.||Please don't forget your belongings.|
|friends||Please be waiting when we arrive.||Don't be late!|
Imperative special cases
Imperative with subject
Normally when we use the imperative there is no subject because the subject is obvious—it's YOU! Sometimes, however, to make the subject clear, we do use a subject, for example:
- Everybody look!
- Relax, everybody.
- Nobody move!
- John sit down; the rest of you go home.
- Somebody answer the phone!
- You keep out of this!
We can also use you as the subject to imply anger, as in:
- You watch your mouth, young man!
- You be quiet!
- Don't you talk to me like that!
We often express hope and make suggestions with the imperative form, but these are not real commands:
- Have a good trip. (hope)
- Enjoy the meal. (hope)
- If there's no olive oil try almond oil. (suggestion)
Imperative with do
If we put do before the imperative the effect is to make requests, apologies and complaints more emphatic but also more polite:
- Do take a seat. (request)
- Do forgive me. I didn't mean to offend you. (apology)
- Do try to keep the noise down, gentlemen. (complaint)
Imperative with always, never, ever
The words always, never, ever come before imperatives, as in:
- Always remember who's boss.
- Never speak to me like that again.
- Don't ever speak to me like that again.
We sometimes make passive imperatives with get, for example:
- Get vaccinated before your holiday.
Imperative with and
We can sometimes use the imperative + and instead of an if-clause, for example:
- Go now and I'll never speak to you again. (If you go now, I'll never speak...)
Imperative with question tag
We sometimes use these question tags after imperatives: can you? can't you? could you? will you? won't you? would you? Look at these examples:
- Lend me a dollar, can you?
- Help me with this, will you?
- Keep still, won't you?
- Cambridge Dictionary. Cambridge University Press, 2017
- Seely, John. Grammar for Teachers. Oxpecker, 2006
- Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage. Oxford University Press, 2009
- Trask, R.L. Penguin Dictionary of English Grammar. Penguin Reference, 2005