Form of the imperative


The Imperative form is the same as the ''bare infinitive'':

Affirmative form (base form of the verb): Wait!

Negative short form (Don't + base form): Don't wait!

Emphatic form (Do + base form): Do wait a moment!

Addressing someone (e.g. pronoun + base form): You wait here!

Imperative + question tag: Wait here, will you?

Imperatives joined by and: Go and play outside.


Some common uses of the Imperative


We use the Imperative for direct orders and suggestions and also for a variety of other purposes. Stress and intonation, gesture, facial expression, and, above all, situation and context, indicate whether the use of this form is friendly, abrupt, angry, impatient, persuasive, etc. The negative form is usually expressed by Don't. The full form (Do not) is used mainly in public notices. Here are some common uses:

1. Direct commands, requests, suggestions:

  • Follow me. Shut the door (please). Don't worry!

2. Warnings:

  • Look out! There's a bus! Don't panic!

3. Directions:

  • Take the 2nd turning on the left and then turn right.

4. Instructions:

  • Use a moderate oven and bake for 20 minutes.

5. Prohibitions (in e.g. public notices):

  • Keep off the grass! Do not feed the animals!

6. Advice (especially after always and never):

  • Always answer when you're spoken to! Never speak to strangers!

7. Invitations:

  • Come and have dinner with us soon.

8. Offers:

  • Help yourself. Have a biscuit.

9. Expressing rudeness:

  • Shut up! Push off!


Uses of the Imperative with 'do'


We use do (always stressed) before the Imperative when we particularly wish to emphasize what we are saying: e.g.

- when we wish to be polite:

  • Do have another cup of coffee.

- or when we wish to express impatience:

  • Do stop talking!

- or when we wish to persuade:

  • Do help me with this maths problem.

In response to requests for permission, offers, etc. do and don't can be used in place of a full Imperative:

  • May/Shall I switch the light off? - Yes, do. No, don't.


The use of the imperative to address particular people


The imperative, e.g. Wait here!, might be addressed to one person or several people: you is implied. However, we can get the attention of the person or people spoken to in the following ways:

1. You + imperative:

  • You wait here for a moment.

Intonation and stress are important. If, in the above example, you is unstressed, the sentence means 'this is where you wait'. If it is stressed, it means 'this is what I want you to do'. When you is stressed, it might also convey anger, hostility or rudeness:

  • 'You mind your own business!

  • 'You try teaching 40 noisy children five days a week!

  • Don't (not you) is stressed in the negative:

  • 'Don't you speak to me like that!

2. You + name(s) or name(s) + you:

  • You wait here, Jim, and Mary, you wait there.

3. Imperative + name or name + Imperative:

  • Drink up your milk, Sally! Sally, drink up your milk!

4. Imperative + reflexive:

  • Enjoy yourself. Behave yourself.

5. We can use words like everybody, someone with the Imperative when we are talking to groups of people:

  • Everyone keep quiet! Keep still everybody!

  • Nobody say a word! Somebody answer the phone please.

Any compounds are used after negative commands:

  • Don't say a word anybody! Don't anybody say a word!


The Imperative with question tags


Tags like will you?, won't you?, can you?, can't you?, could you? and would you? can often be used after an imperative for a variety of purposes: e.g.

- to express annoyance/impatience with will/won't/can't you? (rising tone):

  • Stop fiddling with that TV, will you/won't you/can't you?

- to make a request (can you? for neutral requests; could/would you? for more polite ones); or to sound less abrupt:

  • Post this letter for me can you?/could you?/would you?

- to offer polite encouragement or to make friendly offers and suggestions (will you? and won't you?):

  • Come in, will you/won't you? Take a seat, will you/won't you?

- to obtain the co-operation of others with Don't ... will you?

  • Don't tell anyone I told you, will you?

  • And note why don't you? as a tag in: e.g.

  • Go off for the weekend, why don't you?


Double imperatives joined by 'and'


Some imperatives can be followed by 'and' and another imperative where we might expect a 'to-infinitive':

  • Go and buy yourself a new pair of shoes. (Not *Go to buy*)

  • Come and see this goldfish. (Not *Come to see*)

  • Come and play a game of bridge with us. (Not *Come to play*)

  • Wait and see. (Not *Wait to see*)

  • Try and see my point of view. (Note: Try to is also possible.)


In American English go is sometimes followed directly by a 'bare infinitive':

  • Go fetch some water. (= Go and fetch)


A 'to-infinitive' can follow an imperative to express purpose:

  • Eat to live; do not live to eat.