An imperative is one of the four main sentence functions in the English language and is most commonly used to give a command or instruction. Imperatives are sometimes referred to as a directive. 

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Imperatives Imperatives

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    There are four main sentence functions in the English language. They are Declaratives (e.g. The cat is on the mat), Imperatives (e.g. Get the cat off the mat), Interrogatives (e.g. Where is the cat?), and Exclamatives (e.g. What a cute cat!).

    Be careful not to confuse sentence functions (also referred to as sentence types) with sentence structures. Sentence functions describe the purpose of a sentence, whereas a sentence structure is how the sentence is formed ie simple sentences, complex sentences, compound sentences, and compound-complex sentences.

    Imperative sentences

    When we form imperative sentences, we use the imperative mood; the imperative mood is a grammatical mood that forms a command or request. Imperatives can be found everywhere, from recipes and user manuals to road signs and advertising; however, they are most common in everyday speech.

    An imperative sentence is formed using a base verb, such as stop, and usually has no subject. There is often no subject present in an imperative sentence because the subject is assumed to be you - the reader or the listener. Imperative sentences end in either a full stop (.) Or an exclamation mark (!), Depending on the urgency of the command.

    To put it simply, an imperative tells you to do something.

    Imperative examples

    Let's take a look at some common examples of imperative sentences. You'll notice that some sentences are very short, even one-word sentences, whereas others are longer and more complex. You may also notice that some sentences create a sense of urgency, whereas others have used the word 'please' to show politeness.

    Here are some imperative sentence examples:

    • Stop!

    • Look out!

    • Close your book, please.

    • Try the other door.

    • Have a nice day.

    • Let the cake cool for 10 minutes.

    • Join us for dinner.

    • Please bring your friends with you.

    See if you can identify the purpose of each sentence. Note that the imperative verbs, such as join and bring, are in bold.

    Not sure how to spot an imperative? Here are a few tricks. Typically, imperative sentences contain verbs that issue a command. Can you see a subject? Imperative sentences generally don't contain a subject.

    Imperative Slow down StudySmarterFig. 1 - Slow down is an example of an imperative.

    How can I form an imperative?

    As you can see from the imperative examples above, the typical form (structure) of an imperative sentence is a verb without a subject. These verbs are called imperative verbs or 'bossy' verbs and are always in the present tense. This means we use the base form of the verb, e.g. give, have, go, and stop, and not to give, to have, to go, and to stop.

    Each sentence is missing a subject because the subject (you) is implied. Take a look at this sentence as an example 'try the other door'. This sentence could also read 'You should try the other door'. However, the subject is obvious and has therefore been removed from the sentence.

    Like most things in the English language, there are some exceptions to the rule. So, let's take a look at some imperative special cases.

    Imperatives with a subject

    Typically, an imperative doesn't have a subject as the subject is considered obvious. However, we can add a subject for emphasis, make the subject clearer, or demand attention.

    Here are some examples of imperative sentences with the subject.

    • Everybody listen!

    • Look this way, everyone.

    • You stay here!

    Imperatives with always, never, and ever

    We can also use the words always, never, and ever when forming an imperative; they usually go before the verb in the sentence. These words are adverbs of frequency and can be used to add further information to an imperative.

    • Always look both ways before crossing the road.

    • Never press that button!

    • Don't ever speak to me like that!

    Imperatives with do

    We can add the word 'do' to the beginning of our imperative sentences to make the command appear more polite.

    • Do take a seat.

    • Do try and be a bit quieter, please.

    • Do hurry!

    What are the different types of imperative?

    There are several different types of imperatives that all serve different purposes. Sometimes we use an imperative to warn someone of danger, and sometimes we use an imperative to simply wish someone a pleasant day. Let's take a look at some of the different types of imperatives and their uses.

    Different types of imperativesImperative examples
    Command or requestGet down from that tree now!
    InstructionTake the first exit on your right.
    AdviceConsider taking public transport home.
    InvitationStay for a drink.
    WishHave a great weekend!
    WarningGet down!

    Command or request imperatives

    The command is one of the most commonly used imperatives. A command directly requests that someone does something or stops doing something. You can turn your command into a polite request by adding the word 'please'.

    • Stop climbing that tree.

    • Get down here now!

    • Please open the window.

    Command imperatives are most commonly used in everyday speech. You will likely hear your parents and teachers using these kinds of imperative! Although, if you take a look at all the different signs around you, I'm sure you will spot many command imperatives.

    Instruction imperatives

    An instruction imperative is similar to a command. However, a command is a direct order to do something, whereas an instruction gives information or knowledge the subject may want or need.

    • Let the cake cool for 10 minutes.

    • Turn the oven to 180 degrees.

    • Take the first street on the left.

    Instruction imperatives are frequently used in both written and spoken English. They are commonly found in user manuals, recipe books, and road signs.

    Advice imperatives

    We can also use imperatives when offering advice to people.

    • Think about your decision carefully.

    • Consider taking an Uber home.

    • Wear your black shoes with that outfit.

    Advice imperatives are most commonly used in everyday speech. You will most likely use them when talking with your friends and family.

    Invitation imperatives

    This type of imperative extends an invitation to someone.

    • Join me for dinner.

    • Stay for a drink.

    • Please, take a seat!

    These imperatives are used regularly in everyday conversation. You will also see them on, you guessed it, invitations!

    Wish imperatives

    Wish imperatives are sometimes referred to as unreal commands - this is because we use them to express hope rather than giving an actual command.

    • Have a nice day.

    • Enjoy your holiday.

    • Have a lovely meal!

    These polite imperatives are well-wishing rather than commands. It is unlikely that the person who said “have a nice day” isn't demanding the subject does anything specific with their day - they are simply hoping it turns out to be a good one.

    Imperatives Have a nice day StudySmarterFig. 2 - Wish imperatives shouldn't be taken literally.

    Warning imperatives

    Warning imperatives are usually very short. They are used to warn others of danger or an incoming problem.

    • Look out!

    • Duck!

    • Watch out!

    Warning imperatives are most commonly used in everyday situations and are usually unplanned.

    Types of imperatives: further examples

    Let's take a look at that list of example imperatives again. Did you manage to identify the purpose of each sentence correctly?

    • Look out! (warning)

    • Close your book, please. (request)

    • Try the other door. (advice)

    • Have a nice day. (wish)

    • Let the cake cool for 10 minutes. (instruction)

    • Join us for dinner. (invitation)

    • Please bring your friends with you. (request)

    • Stop! (command)

    Keep an eye out for reported speech or indirect speech! Reported speech is when we repeat, or report back, something that someone has said. In this case, the sentences are almost always declarative. For example: 'Sit down ' (= imperative) and 'She told me to sit down ' (= reported speech).

    What are some well-known examples of imperatives?

    There are thousands of well-known examples of imperative sentences out there, from song lyrics and speeches to marketing campaigns and road signs. Let's take a look at a few of them:

    You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. -

    'I have a dream' - Martin Luther King Jr., 1963.

    This speech has frequently been described as one of the most imperative speeches in American history. Here Martin Luther King Jr. uses imperative sentences to convey a sense of command and to give advice.

    Get up, stand up (Oh yeah) stand up for your rights (Lord, Lord) Get up, stand up (In the morning) stand up for your rights (Stand up for your rights)

    Get up, stand up (Stand up for your life) stand up for your rights (Stand up for your life) Get up, stand up (Stand up for your life) don't give up the fight! -

    'Get Up Stand Up' - Bob Marley, 1973.

    Here, the singer is using imperative sentences to instruct the audience to stand up for their rights. You will notice that, throughout the lyrics, there is no subject; this is because the subject is anyone listening to the song.

    Just do it. -


    This slogan from Nike is a fantastic example of a brand using an imperative to communicate directly with its customers. This slogan challenges us, and orders us to just do it!

    Imperatives, Image of Nike trainer, StudySmarterFig 3. 'Just do it' is a well-known phrase from Nike.

    Now you have seen some examples of imperative sentences, how many other famous examples can you think of?

    Imperatives - key takeaways

    • An imperative is one of the four main sentence functions in the English language.

    • The main purpose of an imperative is to give a command.

    • An imperative sentence is formed using a base verb, such as stop or wait and typically has no subject.

    • Imperative sentences end with either a full stop or an exclamation mark.

    • An imperative sentence has six main purposes. The examples are: command or request, instruct, advise, invite, wish, and give warning.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Imperatives

    What is an imperative sentence?

    To put it simply, imperative sentences tell people what to do. They can give commands, give instructions, offer advice, extend invitations, or give a warning.

    What is an example of an imperative sentence?

     Here are some examples of imperative sentences: 

    • 'Look out!'
    • 'Come for dinner with me.'
    • 'Stop chewing like that.'

    What are imperative verbs?

    An imperative verb (sometimes referred to as a 'bossy verb') tells someone to do something. Some examples of imperative verbs include stop, wait, come, go, and run.

    What does 'imperative' mean in the English language?

    Imperatives can have different meanings in the English language. Imperatives can be an adjective or a noun. 

    • As an adjective, it means absolutely necessary. 
    • As a noun, it means a command. 

    What is the imperative mood?

    The imperative mood is a grammatical mood that forms a command or request.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Identify the purpose of the imperative:'Look out!'

    Identify the purpose of the imperative:'Have a nice day'

    Identify the purpose of the imperative:'Try the other door'


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