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Imperative Sentence (command)

Imperative sentences are one of the four sentence types.

Imperative sentences give commands.

form function example
verb... give a command Stop!
imperative sentence = command

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:

verb
Stop!
  ...verb...  
Please sit here.

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:

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:

example context positive negative
army Shoot! Don't move!
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!

Unreal commands

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.

Passive imperative

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?

Mini Quiz

1. Which of these sentences is in imperative form?

Are you quiet?
You be quiet.
You are quiet!
a) Are you quiet? b) You be quiet. c) You are quiet!

2. The imperative form can

give instructions
express surprise
make statements
a) give instructions b) express surprise c) make statements

3. Imperative sentences end with

an exclamation mark/point
a full-stop/period
either
a) an exclamation mark/point b) a full-stop/period c) either

Your score is:

Correct answers:

Contributor: Josef Essberger

References: