You need to read this post (on English imperatives)! Posted by on Apr 21, 2015 in English Grammar

Image "Listen to your Heart" by Olivia Alcock on

Image “Listen to your Heart” by Olivia Alcock on

It is time for a good old-fashion grammar review; in this post we will be looking at the use of the imperative tense in English. For beginner learners, this post will be a comprehensive introduction to the imperative tense.  For more seasoned ESL learners this post will hopefully be more than just a review, as more advanced aspects of using the imperative will be addressed as well.

Imperatives are formed using the base form of a verb, i.e. the present simple verb tense. Imperative sentences always address someone else, and the subject of imperative sentences is always ‘you.’  Here is the tricky part, the subject is almost never written, or spoken, in imperative sentences. We call this ‘the understood you.’ Since commands are always spoken to someone or something, the subject just doesn’t need to be included; it is understood or implied. When a command begins with a noun or direct address, like a name, you might get confused, because didn’t I just say the subject is always ‘you’? Don’t be confused! In this case the subject ‘you’ is simply being named, we are picking a specific ‘you’ to address. Here take a look.

Hey James, get me that paper.  This is the same as:  Hey you, James, get me that paper.

Kelly, please read aloud.  This is the same as:  You, Kelly, please read aloud.

The imperative tense in used for the following purposes:

To give direct orders or commands.
Hand that over.
Give it to me straight.

To give instructions or directions.
Open your books to page 45.
Turn right at the corner.

To give friendly informal advice.
Talk to her. You’ll feel better afterwards.
Do something nice for yourself.

To give an invitation.
Have as much tea and coffee as you like.
Start without me. I’ll be there shortly.

On signs or notices.
Pull or Push (on a door)
Pay before you pump. (at a gas station)

Of course, English imperatives, or commands, can also be made in the negative. Here is how we do that.

do + not + base verb

Do not come in here.
Don’t start without me!

Imperative sentences usually end with a period, but they can also end with an exclamation point (!) to give emphasis.

As I’m sure you have noticed from the examples, imperative sentences are direct. Sometimes imperatives are used by people who are angry, but even when they are used simply as commands, they can seem too direct or harsh in English. In using imperatives, native English speakers tend to make their commands as polite as possible whenever they can. Too much directness in English is sometimes seen as impolite. One way to make imperatives more polite is to just add the word “please” the beginning of an imperative statement.

Please close the door.  vs.  Close the door.
Please wait for me.  vs.  Wait for me.

In English ‘please’ is called ‘the magic word.’ This is because when you use it people are more likely to listen to you and do what you want. Remembering to use the word ‘please’ with the imperative tense in English is an important cultural custom.

Another way to make commands more polite or “softer” is to use modal verbs. When you do this you are no longer using the imperative tense. It is very common to give indirect “commands” with modals in English, so let me show you what this looks like.

Could you close the door?  vs.  Close the door.
Would you please sit down?  vs.  Sit down.
Can you open your books now?  vs.  Open your books now.

Here is a review of what we have covered in this post.

An imperative sentence begins with the base form of a verb. The subject ‘you’ is implied or ‘understood’ most of the time. Sometimes though the subject ‘you’ is specified by name, but he subject is still ‘you.’ Imperative sentences end with either a period or an exclamation point, for emphasis. The imperative tense is used to give commands, advice, instructions or makes a request. Imperatives can be made negative by adding ‘do + not’ at the beginning of the sentence. Imperatives can, and at times should, be made polite by adding ‘please’ to the beginning of the sentence.

Now, here is some “imperative advice” about learning English.

Practice often.
Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.
Use Transparent Language as a resource!
Have fun.

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About the Author: Gabriele

Hi there! I am one of Transparent Language's ESL bloggers. I am a 32-year-old native English speaker who was born and raised in the United States. I am living in Washington, DC now, but I have lived all over the US and also spent many years living and working abroad. I started teaching English as a second language in 2005 after completing a Master's in Applied Linguists and a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults' (CELTA). Since that time I have taught ESL in the United States at the community college and university level. I have also gone on to pursue my doctorate in psychology and now I also teach courses in psychology. I like to stay connected to ESL learners around the world through Transparent Languages ESL Blog. Please ask questions and leave comments on the blog and I will be sure to answer them.


  1. ReelCarina:

    That’s a nice and well explained summary, thank you. Happy English Language Day 🙂