Imperative sentences are commonly used in English, so you'll want to know what they are and how to use them. And that's exactly what this article will teach you.
This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.
If you look up the word imperative in the dictionary, you'll find that it's a noun that stands for :
That's pretty much what imperative sentences enable you to do: they allow you to give a command or order.
You can also use them to:
Fun fact! The shortest possible sentence in the English language is an imperative sentence, as it consists of just one verb.
But wait a minute, doesn't a complete sentence need a subject and a verb? That's right. In imperative sentences, though, the subject is implied. More on that later.
Imperative sentences can be either affirmative or negative. If they're affirmative, they're instructing to do something. If they're negative, they're instructing not to do something.
So how do you build an imperative sentence? It's actually pretty straightforward because the structure is relatively straightforward, and unlike many things when it comes to English grammar, there aren't that many exceptions. Let's look at the ingredients required to make an appealing imperative sentence.
The main ingredient for an imperative sentence is a verb in the imperative mood. Verb mood allows you to change the way a verb sounds in order to get your point across. With the imperative mood, you're basically showing that you're expressing a command or dishing out instructions.
Here are some examples:
As I mentioned earlier, the other important thing to know about imperative sentences is that they don't have an explicit subject. It's implied. Take a look at the following sentence, which is an example of a sentence in the imperative form:
Wait until the plane comes to a full stop before standing.
There's seemingly no subject. But actually, there is. It's 'you.' Whether that's the singular 'you' or the plural 'you,' imperative sentences always address the second-person personal pronoun. You just don't need to say it. The person you're speaking to will know your command is directed at them.
I want them to listen carefully.
A common error I see people making is using the reflexive pronoun 'myself' in imperative sentences. This is ungrammatical. You can, however, use it as the object of another verb in the sentence.
Allow me to introduce myself. ✅
In the sentence above, 'myself' is the object of the verb 'introduce,' which isn't the imperative verb, so it's okay to use it here.
But you couldn't say:
Allow myself to introduce myself. ❌
Imperative sentences can either end with a full stop or an exclamation mark. It depends on the impact you want to have or the sense of urgency you want to impart.
For instance, saying 'sit' with a full stop and saying it with an exclamation mark will have completely different effects. You might use the former if you're calmly instructing your dog to sit. You might use the latter if you're a teacher who's authoritatively instructing a room full of children to take a seat.
Another feature of an imperative sentence is that they almost always begin with the verb imperative mood form.
Look at the following sentences:
Look at me when I talk to you.
Don't use that pen.
Sit down, please.
This is not a hard-and-fast rule, however. There will be many instances where an imperative sentence has other words come before the imperative verb.
Here are a few instances of that being the case:
Please can you water the plants?
Make sure you clock in when you arrive at the office.
If you don't mind, sit down on that chair over there.
Preceding the imperative verb with other words is a way to soften an imperative sentence when you want to come across as more polite, which brings me to my next point.
Imperative sentences can come across as quite abrupt. Sometimes that might be what you want. But if you don't want to alienate people or sound rude, there are ways you can soften them.
Here are some great tools to help do that:
Let's have a look at some sentences using these tools:
Please join me in the conference room.
Pass the salt, buddy.
Call me when you get this 😊
Wet paint, don't touch!
You could also use phrases like 'could you' or 'would you mind,' as long as you're aware your sentence becomes interrogative and is no longer imperative. That's perfectly fine, and a common reason for people to use an interrogative sentence instead of an imperative one: to soften the tone.
Would you mind printing this out for me?
Alright! That's all the basics covered. I think you're ready for some examples. Examples are a great way to consolidate your understanding of a new topic. That, and practicing, of course. I invite you to start noticing when you're using imperative sentences and practice using the tips and tricks you've learned in this article.
Without further ado, let's have a look at some examples sentences of imperative sentences.
Hands off! The cookies are for dessert.
Please leave now; you're not welcome here.
Don't forget to hang the washing to dry.
Get over here now!
Tell me what to do because I really don't know.
That concludes this article on imperative sentences. I hope you found it helpful and that you feel your understanding of how to use them has increased.
Let's summarize what we've learned.
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