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Imperative Verbs in English, Explained

Updated on April 25, 2023Grammar
Imperative Verbs

Imperative verbs create an imperative sentence (i.e., a sentence that gives an order or command). When you read an imperative sentence, it will often sound like the speaker is telling someone what to do, even if the sentence has a polite tone. Imperative verbs don’t leave room for questions or discussion.

Want to learn more about imperative verbs and how to use them? Read this blog post (psst, we just used one). 

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What are imperative verbs, and what is their function?

Let’s have a quick refresher: Verbs are words used to express action. 

He opened the window. 

Opened is the action that the subject is taking. 

The imperative verb is an action a speaker or writer wants someone else to do. For this reason, they’re occasionally called “command words” or “bossy verbs,” even though that may not be the speaker’s or writer’s intent.

“Open the window” is an example of an imperative sentence, with the imperative verb being open

You can make imperative sentences sound a little softer in tone by adding the word please somewhere in the sentence, such as right before the verb. 

Please open the window.

Although imperative verbs are used to issue commands, they have other functions. You can also use them to: 

  • Give directions or instructions: Turn right on Seventh Street.  
  • Make requests: Play “Free Bird”! 
  • Give advice: Order the salmon. 
  • Warn someone: Look behind you!

Using imperative verbs to create imperative sentences 

No matter how you use an imperative verb, you’ll find there are two types of imperative sentences: affirmative and negative.  

Affirmative imperative sentence: Walk the dog.

Affirmative imperative sentences tell someone to do something.   

Negative imperative sentence: Don’t pet the dog; he bites. 

Negative imperative sentences tell someone not to do something. To form negative imperative sentences, put don’t or stop before the verb.

While imperative verbs are often part of an imperative sentence, they can sometimes stand alone. 

  • Push!
  • Stop! 
  • Jump! 

These are all imperative verbs and are complete sentences even though the subject is only implied. One of the differences between an imperative sentence and other types of sentences is that an imperative sentence requires only a verb. 

The subject in imperative sentences is usually implied, although that’s not always the case.

You can shout “Hey Anthony, make me a pizza” to make it clear whom you’re issuing a command to. 

Difference between imperative sentences and other types of sentences 

There may be times when you think you’re using an imperative verb but are actually using a verb to create another type of sentence.  

These two sentences use the same verb, but only one is an imperative verb. See if you can tell which one: 

  • Timothy needs to stop talking. 
  • Timothy, stop talking.

If you guessed the second one, you’re correct! The speaker in the first sentence is making a statement about what Timothy has to do, making it a declarative sentence. The second sentence is telling Timothy what he needs to do. 

Let’s go for round two: Which sentence uses an imperative verb?  

  • Buy milk and cookies. 
  • Can you buy milk and cookies?

The question mark in the second sentence makes it an interrogative sentence, which asks a question. 

There are also exclamatory sentences, which convey excitement or heightened emotion with the help of an exclamation point. 

They said yes! 

Imperative sentences can also contain exclamation points, such as someone shouting, “Say yes!” at a couple. The speaker or writer may very well be excited, but unless they’re telling someone to do something, they’re not using an imperative verb.  

Writing with imperative verbs 

Even though you may not know it, you probably write with imperative verbs multiple times a day. When you text your friend, “Dump him,” or give directions saying, “Turn left at the corner,” you’re using imperative verbs because you’re telling someone else what to do.

Writing with imperative verbs is fairly simple, but there are a few rules to be aware of. 

There are three parts to an imperative sentence. 

1 Imperative verb: This is the action the speaker or writer is telling someone else to do. 

2 Subject: The subject is the person being told to do an action. Most of the time in an imperative sentence, the subject is implied, but the subject can be named if the speaker or writer needs to specify whom the command is meant for. 

3 Punctuation: This can be a period or an exclamation mark depending on the sentence’s tone. 

Imperative verbs often come at the beginning of a sentence, but that’s not always the case. Consider the following examples: 

  • Please make the bed.
  • Don’t forget your lunch! 
  • On your way home, pick up your sister. 

Imperative verbs may also come later in a sentence if you’re writing a conditional imperative sentence, which is a sentence that has a cause and an effect. 

If you see Caroline, tell her I said hello. 

Unlike most verbs that can be used in all three verb tenses, imperative verbs are almost always in the simple present tense. You cannot command someone to do something in the past. 

You can say, “I told you to cook dinner,” but that would be a declarative sentence since you’re stating what you told that person. “Cook dinner,” on the other hand, is a clear command. 

Imperative verbs can be used in the future tense, but you have to specify what time you want the action done. “You will cook dinner tomorrow” is a statement, while “Cook dinner tomorrow” is a clear command.  

Active vs. passive voice

For the same reason, use imperative verbs only in an active voice. Imperative verbs can be used in a passive voice, but doing so makes them less commanding. 

  • Passive voice: Let the movie be started.
  • Active voice: Start the movie.

We know that the speaker or writer in the first sentence wants the movie started, but it’s not clear if they’re telling someone to start it. The second sentence makes the command much clearer. 

Using adverbs with imperative verbs 

You can also tell someone how you want them to do something by adding an adverb. 

Slowly fold the egg whites into the mixture. 

Imperative verbs vs. other types of verbs 

Imperative verbs are just one type of verb. There are also dynamic (action) verbs, stative (state-of-being) verbs, auxiliary (helping) verbs, modal auxiliary verbs, and phrasal verbs.  

An easy way to tell if a word is an imperative verb or another type of verb is to see what point of view it’s said or written in. Imperative sentences will always be in the second-person point of view because they concern the person being addressed. 

  • Tony walked the dog. 
  • Tony, walk the dog.

The first sentence is written in the third-person point of view. The second sentence may appear to be in the third person, but it’s actually in second person because it’s addressing someone.  

Imperative verb examples 

Here are just a few examples of imperative verbs (each one is bolded):  

  • Turn right. 
  • Hand me the phone. 
  • Stop talking to me. 
  • Clean your room!
  • Give me that book!
  • Do your homework. 
  • Take the dog for a walk, please.
  • Do come visit us when you’re in town. 
  • Push!

Imperative verbs FAQs

What are imperative verbs?

Imperative verbs are words used to create an imperative sentence that gives a command to the person being addressed. The imperative verb is the action that the speaker or writer wants someone to do. An example: “Flip the burger.” Flip is the imperative verb.  

How do imperative verbs work in English?

Imperative verbs work by issuing a command to the person being addressed. They can be part of an imperative sentence that has an implied or named subject, or they can be used on their own. Stop, Push, and Jump are all examples of imperative verbs and imperative sentences. 

When should you use imperative verbs?

You should use imperative verbs when you’re addressing someone and want them to do a certain action. They can also be used in recipes or directions that you’re giving to someone.

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