imperative spanish

The Imperative and the Spanish Verb Moods

Along with the indicative and the subjunctive, the imperative Spanish mood is one of the three Spanish verbal modes.

These are the diverse forms in which the action of the verb can be expressed. Therefore, each verb conjugation changes depending on the mood.

The verb mood manifests the speaker’s attitude towards what it’s being said. It is also the grammatical category which classifies the action or the verb tense, from the speaker’s perspective.

Thus, the mood reveals the speaker’s point of view: factual, subjective or appellative.

The indicative mood is used to express statements of facts. Hence, we can infer that the speaker perceives the situation (that is being expressed) as a concrete reality.

Examples:

  • Nina Mae es una bebé hermosa. – Nina Mae is a beautiful baby.
  • Su hermano llegará mañana en la tarde. – His/her brother will arrive tomorrow afternoon.

The subjunctive mood is used to reveal an individual’s wishes, conjectures or suggestions and hypothetical situations. It exhibits the speaker’s desires, theories, premises, speculations or assumptions. That is why it is considered subjective information.

Examples:

  • El doctor dijo que será mejor esperar los resultados de los exámenes de laboratorio. – The doctor said that it will be better to wait for the laboratory tests’ results.
  • Me gustaría que me miraras a los ojos cuando te hablo. – I would like you to look me in the eyes when I speak to you.

The imperative Spanish mood is used to draw attention to people or circumstances; it displays a specific call to action or warns against it.

Examples:

  • Pedro y Carlos, tiendan sus camas antes de irse a la escuela, por favor. – Pedro and Carlos, please make your beds before going to school.
  • Estrictamente prohibido tirar basura. – Littering is strictly prohibited.

Use of the Imperative in Spanish

mandatos spanish

The imperative is also popularly known as the mode for Spanish commands because it is specifically used for the following situations:

  • Give orders.

Habla más alto. – Speak louder.

  • Indicate prohibitions.

Señor, aquí no se puede fumar. – Sir, you are not allowed to smoke in here.

  • Deliver instructions.

Cocinar a fuego lento por tres minutos. – Cook over low heat for three minutes.

  • Provide advice.

Podría mandarle flores a su novia. – You could send flowers to your girlfriend.

  • Make requests.

Póngame ahí las maletas, por favor, joven. – Put my bags there, please, young man.

  • Extend invitations.

Querido amigo, ven a mi casa esta Navidad. – My dear friend, come to my house this Christmas.

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Affirmative and Negative Commands in Spanish

The structure of the imperative depends if it is an affirmative or negative command as well as it is a regular or irregular verb.

Let’s look at the following regular verbs ending in –ar, –er, and –ir:

AFFIRMATIVE
  CANTAR COMER VIVIR
Canta Come Vive
Usted Cante Coma Viva
Vosotros Cantad Comed Vivid
Ustedes Canten Coman Vivan
NEGATIVE
  CANTAR COMER VIVIR
Cantes Comas Vivas
Usted Cante Coma Viva
Vosotros Cantéis Comáis Viváis
Ustedes Canten Coman Vivan

As you can see in the second person singular () the –ar is substituted for an –a, the –er for –e, and the –ir for an –e too.

  • Cantar -> canta
  • Comer -> come
  • Vivir -> vive

Here are some illustrations of the differences between an affirmative and a negative imperative using the same verb.

Examples:

  • AFFIRMATIVE: Canta una canción, por favor. – Please sing a song.
  • NEGATIVE: No cantes, por favor. – Please don’t sing.
  • AFFIRMATIVE: Comed rápido. – Eat quickly.
  • NEGATIVE: ¡No comáis tan de prisa! – Don’t eat so quickly!

Some familiar irregular verbs include estar, hacer, dar, decir, tener, poner, salir, venir, and ser. In the table below you can observe their conjugation for the second person singular () for both affirmative and negative imperatives.

INFINITIVE AFFIRMATIVE IMPERATIVE NEGATIVE IMPERATIVE
Estar Estate No estés
Hacer Haz No hagas
Dar Date No des
Decir Di No digas
Tener Ten No tengas
Poner Pon No pongas
Salir Sal No salgas
Venir Ven No vengas
Ser No seas

Spanish Imperative and Pronouns:

The imperative forms allow the use of clitic pronouns.

Examples:

  • Cántale una canción de cuna antes de dormir. – Sing him/her a lullaby before bed.
  • Cómanse su sopa. – Eat your soup.
  • Dame la chaqueta roja. – Give me the red jacket.
  • ¡Ábrelo! – Open it!
  • Dejadle en paz. – Leave him/her alone.
  • No lo molesten. – Do not disturb him/her.
  • Vívanlo al máximo. – Live it to the fullest.
  • Préstame tu libro, por favor. – Lend me your book, please.

But where do the clitic pronouns go?

The positioning of clitic pronouns in Spanish imperatives can be memorized as follows:

  • AFFIRMATIVE: Pronouns go behind and jointed to the verb.
  • NEGATIVE: Pronouns appear before the verb.

Examples:

  • AFFIRMATIVE: Escríbele una carta. – Write him/her a letter.
  • NEGATIVE: No le escribas una carta. – Do not write him/her a letter.
  • AFFIRMATIVE: Díganlo en voz alta. – Say it out loud.
  • NEGATIVE: No lo digan en voz alta. – Do not say it out loud.

Formal and Informal Commands in Spanish: Usted or ?

commands in spanish

As you have noticed, imperatives are often employed to give ‘mandatos’ or directives in Spanish so let’s clarify when to utilize the informal you ‘’ and the formal you ‘usted’. 

We use the imperative ‘’ when we are close to the person we are giving the instructions to.

Contrary, we use the imperative ‘usted’ when the people we are talking to are perfect strangers or an elderly person, an official, a professional higher in rank, a public service provider, a waiter, a future father-in-law, or simply we have just been introduced.

Therefore, ‘’ applies for friends, close and extended family members, love partners, and colleagues. Instead, ‘usted’ applies for family-in-law members, your boss, the waitress, all kinds of sales agents, your school teachers, doctors and other health providers, and any unfamiliar person. 

Remember that ‘ustedes’ (as in ‘you guys’) is commonly used in many Latin American countries like Mexico as the plural for the third person, instead of the ‘vosotros’ used in Spain.

Examples:

  • TÚ: Juega con tu pelota de fútbol. – Play with your football.
  • USTED: Juegue con su pelota de fútbol. – Play with your football.
  • USTEDES: Jueguen con sus pelotas de fútbol. – Play with your footballs.

‘Mandatos’ and other Commands in Spanish

imperative spanish

Besides the intonation, there are ways to soften the orders so you don´t sound like an angry colonel when asking others to follow your instructions or take your advice.

Instead of saying ‘you should’ try softening your commands by doing the next things:

Including ‘please’ at the end of the command.

  • TÚ: Pásame la sal, por favor. – Pass me the salt, please.
  • USTED: Páseme la sal, por favor. – Pass me the salt, please.
  • Starting the phrase with ‘could you’ and ending with ‘please’.
  • TÚ: ¿Podrías ayudarme con las bolsas del mandado, por favor? – Could you please help me with the shopping bags?
  • USTED: ¿Podría ayudarme con las bolsas del mandado, por favor? – Could you please help me with the shopping bags?
  • Beginning the question with ‘would you mind’ and ending with ‘please’.
  • TÚ: ¿Te importaría esperarme afuera del consultorio, por favor? – Would you mind waiting outside the office, please?
  • USTED: ¿Le mportaría esperarme afuera del consultorio, por favor? – Would you mind waiting outside the office, please?

Finally, if you are providing some suggestions it is possible to utilize the next formulas:

  1. ‘You have to’ for more personal opinions or counsels.

Pronoun + tener + que + infinitive verb

Tener + pronoun + que + infinitive verb

Examples:

  • ELLA: María tiene que decirle que lo ama. – María has to tell him that she loves him.
  • TÚ: Tienes que decirle que lo amas. – You have to tell him that you love him.
  • USTED: No tiene que decirle que lo ama. – You do not have to tell him that you love him.
  • ‘One must’ or ‘one should have to’ for impersonal advice.

Uno + debe + verb

Uno + debería + tener + que + verb

Examples:

  • MUST: Uno debe cepillarse los dientes diariamente. – One must brush their teeth daily.
  • SHOULD HAVE TO: Uno debería tener que lavarse los dientes diariamente. – One should have to brush their teeth daily.
  • ‘It is important to’ for general warnings and impersonal guidance aimed for the general public.  

Es importante + verb

The term ‘important’ could be substitute for others such as ‘compulsory’, ‘necessary’, ‘ideal’, ‘required’, etc.

Examples:

  • Es importante comer frutas y verduras. – It is important to eat fruit and vegetables.
  • Es obligatorio portar casco en esta zona. – It is mandatory to wear a helmut in this area.
  • Es necesario devolver los libros a su lugar. –  It is necessary to return the books to their place.

Finally, for prohibitions the most common formula is:

Está + prohibido + infinitive verb

   Examples:

  • Está prohibido fumar. – Smoking is not allowed.
  • Está prohibido consumir drogas. – Consuming drugs is not allowed.

If you are keen to learn more about Spanish imperative so you can master the comandos en español, check out our FREE Spanish Survival Crash Course. For a few days, we’ll send you a daily email with audio guides and handy learning material right to your inbox, totally free!

spanish imperative

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