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Imperative in German

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What is an imperative in German language and how to use it?

As in English, the German imperative form is about asking someone to do or not to do something. You address the person directly. Therefore, there are only several forms of the imperative. It is used only with:

  • 2nd person singular (du)
  • 1st person plural (wir)
  • 2nd person plural (ihr)
  • 3rd person plural (sie)

 

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Usage of the imperative form in German

The imperative is used to give orders, for claims or requests. Here are the main situations in which the imperative is used:

When to use imperativeExampleTranslation
To give orders or when you expect something from someone
  • Komm sofort her!
  • Sprich lauter!
  • Beeil dich!
  • Come here this instant!
  • Speak up!
  • Hurry up!

To make a request in a polite way

For rules or prohibitions.

In this case the courtesy form is used: third person plural (Sie)

  • Rauchen Sie hier bitte nicht.
  • Bitte parken sie hier nicht.
  • Stellen Sie sich bitte kurz vor.
  • Please, do not smoke here.
  • Please, do not park here.
  • Please introduce yourself briefly.

The imperative of the first person plural is equivalent to English "Let's ...".

It is usually used for pleasant proposals.

  • Lass uns singen!
  • Gehen wir!
  • Let's sing!
  • Let's go!

 

enlightenedKeep in mind: the usage of the 3rd person plural is a very polite form of asking someone. It's not to give orders in a tough way.

Formation of the German imperative sentence

The imperative is formed in different ways depending on the subject and the type of verb. Some verbs are irregular to the second person singular. The imperative form is very common in German language. Therefore you should really try to memorize them.

The imperative form of the second-person singular

To form the imperative to the second singular person the root of the verb is used in the present without the endings.

There are some differences depending in the type of the verb, so the following chapters will deal with the specifics of it:

  1. Regular verbs in the present tense
  2. Verbs ending in -e
  3. Verbs that change vowels
  4. Verbs ending on -eln or -ern

Regular verbs in the present tense

Most verbs have regular roots to the second singular person. With these verbs, the imperative is also regular. The imperative form in the colloquial language is built by removing the -en of the infinitive form. See the formation in the table below.

VerbImperativeExampleTranslation
fragenfragFrag deine Schwester!Ask your sister!
kommenkommKomm her!Come here!
trinkentrinkTrink mehr Wasser!Drink more water!

If you want to speak in a very sophisticated way, you add an -e. It must be added when the stem ends in either a, -t, -d, or -ig. 

  • Lauf zur Schule! Laufe zur Schule! - Walk to school!

  • Fahr langsam! Fahre langsam! - Drive slowly!

Verbs ending in -e

When the stem of the verb ends in -d, -t, -m, -n and is preceded by another consonant, the imperative of the second person singular takes the ending -e. Here are some examples.

VerbImperativeExampleTranslation
öffnenöffneÖffne das Fenster!Open the window!
atmenatmeAtme nicht so laut!Don't breath that loud!
antwortenantworteAntworte ihm endlich!Answer him finally!

 

Verbs that change vowels

Some strong verbs modify the root vowel to the second singular person. The imperative is therefore irregular and keeps the vowel modified. To get a deeper understanding of this, you can have a look at how irregular verbs are conjugated in the present tense. To form the imperative, just skip the ending -st of the verb in 2nd person singular, present tense.

InfinitivePresent tenseExampleTranslation
gebendu gibstGib her!Give it to me!
helfendu hilfstHilf mir!Help me!
lesendu ließtLieß das!Read this!
nehmendu nimmstNimm das!Take this!

 

enlightenedAlthough some verbs take the umlaut to the indicative present to the second person singular, the imperative never takes the umlaut.

InfinitivePresent tenseExampleTranslation
fahrendu fährstFahr schneller!Go faster!
schlafendu schläfstSchlaf jetzt!Sleep now!
lassendu lässtLass das!Stop doing this!

 

Verbs ending on -eln or -ern

Verbs with infinitives that end on -eln ou -ern are irregular to the imperative form:

  • the verbs on -eln have the ending -le to the imperative
  • the verbs on -ern have the ending -ere to the imperative
InfintitiveImperativeExampleTranslation
handelnhandleHandle schnell!Act quickly!
lächelnlächleLächle öfter!Smile more often!
ändernändereÄndere deine Gewohnheiten!Change your habbits!
feiernfeiereFeiere deinen Geburtstag!Celebrate your birthday!

 

The imperative form of the first-person plural

To form the imperative to the first plural person, you have to keep the form of the present tense. The personal pronoun is also kept but is placed after the verb.

InfinitivePresent tenseImperativeTranslation
singenWir singenSingen wir!Let's sing!
machenWir machen esMachen wir es!Let's do this!
gehenWir gehenGehen wir!Let's go!

 

The imperative form of the second-person plural

To the second plural person, the imperative is always constructed starting from the infinitive of the verb. The form of the present report is kept by simply removing the subject.

InfinitivePresent tenseImperativeTranslation
machenIhr machtMacht die Tür auf!Open up the door!
öffnenIhr öffnetÖffnet das Fenster!Open up the window!
kommenIhr kommtKommt her!Come here!

 

The imperative form of the third-person plural (courtesy form)

To express a formal request or advice, the courtesy imperative is used: the third person plural (Sie). It is formed in the same way as the imperative of the first plural person: infinitive of the verb + personal pronoun. See this in the table below.

InfinitivePresent tenseImperativeTranslation
antwortenSie antwortenAntworten Sie!Reply to this!
nehmenSie nehmenNehmen Sie das!Take this!
kommenSie kommenKommen Sie her!Come here!

 

The imperative of the auxiliary verbs

Here is the conjugation of the imperative of auxiliaries in German: sein, haben, werden:

 SeinHabenWerden
2nd person singularseihab(e)werde
1st person pluralseien wirhaben wirwerden wir
2nd person pluralseidhabtwerdet
3rd person pluralseien Siehaben Siewerden Sie

 

enlightenedDon't mix up the 2nd person plural of the auxiliary 'sein' (seid) with the temporal preposition 'seit'! 'Seit' means 'since'.

 

The imperative of the separable verbs

When the verb is separable, it divides: the prefix of the verb always goes to the end of the sentence. To understand this, study the following examples:

InfinitiveExample of imperativeTranslation
aus-gehenGehen Sie aus!Go out!
ein-schlafenSchlaf ein!Fall asleep!
auf-hörenHör damit auf!Stop doing this!

 

The imperative of the reflexive verbs

The imperative of reflective verbs is regular. The reflective pronoun follows just the verb.

InfinitiveExample of imperativeTranslation
sich anziehenZieh dich an!Get dressed!
sich waschenWascht euch gründlich!Wash yourself thoroughly!
sich setzenSetz dich hin!Sit down!

 

How to form the imperative in an alternative way

There are also other ways to express the imperative: with modal verbs or with infinitives.

Modal verbs instead of the imperative

Modal verbs give more information about the main verb in a sentence. Modal verbs are used, when the speech is reported (in the case of indirect speech):

  • 'Mögen' for wishes or courtesy
  • 'Sollen', 'dürfen' and 'müssen' for the stronger demands
ImperativeIndirect speechTranslation
"Kommen Sie bitte herein."Sie bittet ihn, er möge hereinkommen."Please, come in." / She kindly asks him to come in.
"Rauchen Sie hier bitte nicht."Er verlangt, dass sie nicht rauchen sollen/müssen/dürfen."Please, don't smoke here." / He demands that they should not/must not/may not smoke.
"Essen Sie doch weniger."Der Arzt meint, ich solle/müsse weniger essen."Just eat less." / The doctor says I should/have to eat less.

 

The infinitive instead of the imperative

To express an impersonal and generic order or rule, the infinitive of verbs can be used:

ExampleTranslation
Bitte anschnallen.Fasten your seat belts.
Rechts fahren.Do drive on the right side.
Nicht aufstehen.Do not get up.
Nicht rauchen.Do not smoke.

 

enlightenedVery often these expressions are found in public places or in instruction manuals.

Review of the chapter 'Imperative in German'

To recap:

  1. At the 2nd person singular and plural, the personal pronoun is not expressed.
  2. In the 1st person plural and in the form of courtesy, the personal pronoun 'subject' is placed after the verb.
  3. To express the negative imperative, 'nicht' or 'kein' is added.
  4. In separable verbs, the prefix is placed at the end of the sentence.
  5. In the case of the inversion, the imperative goes to the second place.
  6. The verb 'lassen' used to the imperative of the 2nd person singular / plural has the value of an exhortation or a proposal.
  7. There is also a form of generic imperative that is used to address orders or instructions to the community and which is expressed with the infinite.
1st position2nd position3rd position4th positionTranslation
Bringbittedeiner Großmuttereinen Kuchen!Please, bring a cake to your grandmother.
Machtdoch endlicheure Hausaufgaben! Finally do your homework!
LesenSiebitteden Text!Please read the text!
Rauchbittenichtso viel!Please do not smoke that much!
TrinkenSiebittekeinen Alkohol!Please do not drink alcohol!
Hörmirdoch malzu!Listen to me!
BitteschließenSiedas Fenster!Please close the window!
Lassunsins Kinogehen!Let's go to the cinema!
Keine Gegenständeaus dem Fensterwerfen! Do not throw any objects out of the window!

 

smileyNow, that you have learned about the usage and the building of the German imperative, test your skills with the free exercises of our website.


Exercises

  1. Exercise of the German imperative
  2. Exercise of the imperative
  3. Fill in the blanks exercise on the German imperative

Exercise of the German imperative


Exercise of the imperative


Fill in the blanks exercise on the German imperative


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