The use of the imperative in Spanish is very straightforward. It is a direct way of telling someone what to do, whether it is instructions, advice, or recommendation. In fact, the imperative is all about commands, and you will not be relying on: 1) words such as “should” or “have to,”; 2. the conditional (“Would you get me that?”); 3. the subjunctive (“If I were you…”).

When a tourist asks you for directions, use the imperative. When you tell a friend how to make that amazing family dish, use the imperative. Although you can use the imperative with children, generally it is best to rely on the conditional when telling adults what to do, especially those with whom you don’t have a close relationship.

You might be wondering what exactly do I mean by a direct command. “Do that” would be a direct command, as opposed to saying, “Tell him to do that,” which would be indirect and require the subjunctive.

The imperative is an entirely different mood. Remember that these are four moods in Spanish: indicative, subjunctive, imperative, and conditional. Instructors will generally teach the imperative before the subjunctive for two reasons. The first reason why is because, as mentioned above, the imperative is very simple, especially when compared to the subjunctive. The second reason is because once you know how to conjugate verbs in the imperative mood, you can use this for the subjunctive. In fact, imperatives for usted (singular formal second person), nosotros (plural first person), and ustedes (plural second person) all derive from their respective subjunctive forms in the present tense. This is true for both the affirmative as well as negative commands. This will make your transition into the subjunctive much smoother.

Although some instructors and linguists choose not to include nosotros as part of the imperative, I believe it is fair to include it. After all, you are giving a direct command to someone, even if you are part of that group. However, please note that the imperative is not the only form of nosotros commands. Ir + a is another option, as in Vamos a bailar = Let’s go dancing.

 

Conjugating the imperative

AR verbs, such as esperar, which means to wait

Subject pronounImperative
espera
usted espere
nosotros esperemos
vosotros esperad
ustedes esperen

 

ER verbs, such as comprender, which means to understand

Subject pronounImperative
comprende
usted comprenda
nosotros comprendamos
vosotros comprended
ustedes comprendan

 

IR verbs, such as decidir, which means to decide. The conjugation is the same as with er verbs.

Subject pronounImperative
decide
usted decida
nosotros decidamos
vosotros decidid
ustedes decidan

 

Tricks to remember the conjugation

You have two ways of remember the imperative conjugation for : 1. Use the same conjugation as present indicative for él/ella (singular third person); or 2. Use the form from present indicative, and simply drop the s.

VerbTranslationPresent indicative él/ellaPresent indicative tú Imperative
viajar to travelviajaviajasviaja
aprenderto learnaprendeaprendesaprende
escribirto writeescribeescribesescribe

 

Usted

Usted is trickier. First, remember that none of the conjugations end in i. Next, remember that the ending of the verb will correlate with the opposite vowel. If it is an ar verb, drop the ar, and add an e. If it is an er/ir verb, drop the er/ir, and add an a.

VerbTranslationPresent TenseImperative
viajar to travelviajaviaje
aprenderto learnaprendeaprenda
escribirto writeescribeescriba

 

Nosotros

For nosotros, the same rule as with usted applies. Simply go with the opposite vowel. If it is an ar verb, drop the ar, and add emos. If it is an er/ir verb, drop the er/ir, and add amos.

VerbTranslationPresent TenseImperative
viajar to travelviajamosviajemos
aprenderto learnaprendemosaprendamos
escribirto writeescribimosescribamos

 

Vosotros

Drop the r off the infinite form of the verb and add a d. Note vosotros imperative in the affirmative is a completely unique form.

VerbTranslationPresent TenseImperative
viajar to travelviajáisviajad
aprenderto learnaprendéisaprended
escribirto writeescribísescribid

 

Ustedes

You have two options with ustedes. Option 1: Drop the ar/er/ir ending in the infinitive form and add the opposite vowel to the ending + n. For example, the verb beber (to drink) would become beba + n = beban. The verb asistir (to assist, to attend) would become asista + n = asistan. Option 2, also the simplest option: If you know the imperative for usted, add an n.

 

VerbTranslationPresent TenseImperative ustedImperative ustedes
viajar to travelviajanviajeviajen
aprenderto learnaprendenaprendaaprendan
escribirto writeescribenescribaescriban

 

Stem-changing verbs

These are verbs in the yo, tú, él/ella/usted, nosotros, ustedes forms whose ending will be regular, but the stem itself will change in the following way in the present indicative:

E ➡➡I

E ➡➡EI   

O ➡➡UE

Stem-changing verbs will remain as such in the imperative. Nosotros retains its regular stem, with the exception of ir verbs, which become either e i or e o. In the verb dormir, the change is o  u. 

VerbTranslationImperative
dormirto sleepdurmamos
medirto measuremidamos
mentirto liemintamos
pedir to ask for, requestpidamos
repetirto repeatrepitamos
servir to servesirvamos
vestirto dress vistamos

Let’s look at some examples with other stem-changing verbs using the tú, usted, vosotros, and ustedes forms.

 

E ➡➡I, such as the verb pedir.

Subject pronounPresent IndicativeImperative
pidespide
usted pidepida
ustedes pidenpida

 

E ➡➡EI, such as the verb pensar (to think)

Subject pronounPresent IndicativeImperative
piensaspiensa
usted piensapiense
nosotrospensamos pensemos
vosotros pensáispensad
ustedes piensanpiensen

 

O ➡➡UE, such as recordar (to remember)

Subject pronounPresent IndicativeImperative
recuerdasrecuerda
usted recuerdarecuerde
nosotros recordamosrecordemos
vosotros recordáisrecordad
ustedes recuerdanrecuerden

 

Other irregular verbs

Note that vosotros is not listed because all verbs remain regular for affirmative commands.  

VerbTranslationUsted Nosotros Ustedes
decir to saydi digadigamosdigan
hacer to dohaz hagahagamoshagan
ir to govevayavayamosvayan
ponerto putponpongapongamospongan
tenerto haveten tengatengamostengan
saber to knowsabesepasepamossepan
salir to exit, go outsal salgasalgamossalgan
ser to beseaseamossean
venirto comevenvengavengamosvengan

 

The placement of pronouns

All pronouns are attached to the end of the verb in the imperative.

 

Reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are me (yo); te (tú); se (él/ella/usted); nos (nosotros); os (vosotros); se (ellos/ellas/ustedes).

For reflexive pronounsand only for reflexive pronounsnosotros and vosotros follow these rules. For nosotros: Treat the verb as a non-reflexive, drop the s, and add the pronoun. For example: afeitarse afeitemos afeitémonos

For vosotros: Treat the verb as a non-reflexive, drop the d, and add the pronoun. For example: afeitarse afeitad afeitáos. You can also choose to simple take the final r on the infinite form and add the pronoun os.

VerbTranslationUsted Nosotros VosotrosUstedes
bañarseto bathebáñatebáñesebañémonosbañáos báñense
cepillarseto brushcepíllate cepíllesecepillémonoscepilláoscepíllense
quitarseto take offquítatequítesequitémonosquitáosquítense

 

Direct object pronouns

The direct object pronouns are me (yo); te (tú); lo/la (él/ella/usted); nos (nosotros); os (vosotros); los/las (ellos/ellas/ustedes).

 

The examples below use the singular third person direct object pronoun lo. In this case, lo means “it.”

VerbTranslationUsted Nosotros VosotrosUstedes
prometerto promisepromételoprométalo prometámosloprometedlo prométanlo
darto givedalodelodemoslodadlodenlo
explicarto explain explícaloexplíqueloexpliquémosloexplicadloexpliquénlo

 

Indirect object pronouns

The direct object pronouns are me (yo); te (tú); le (él/ella/usted); nos (nosotros); os (vosotros); les (ellos/ellas/ustedes).

 

The examples below use the singular third person indirect object pronoun le.

VerbTranslationUsted Nosotros VosotrosUstedes
prometerto promisepromételeprométaleprometámosleprometedleprométanle
darto givedaledeledémosledadledenle
explicarto explain explícaleexplíqueleexpliquémosleexplicadleexplíquenle

 

Indirect object pronouns + direct object pronouns

When the direct and indirect object pronouns are used in the same sentence, they are always next to one another. In the affirmative commands, they are attached. The indirect object pronoun always comes first. When these two pronouns are together, and when the indirect object pronoun is singular or plural third person, instead of le or les, se will be used.

 

The examples below use the singular third person indirect object pronoun le.

Note that because the nosotros form ends with an s and se also starts with an s, only one s is used. Spanish does not use ss.

 

VerbTranslationUsted Nosotros VosotrosUstedes
prometerto promiseprométeseloprométaseloprometámoseloprométedseloprométanselo
darto givedáselodéselodémoselodadselodénselo
explicarto explain explícaleexplíqueleexpliquémoseloexplicadseloexplíquenselo

 

Irma Cedeno

Irma is an educator, linguist, creativity expert, cultural competence strategist, and the founder of Diáfano, a company responsible for designing and implementing Spanish classes and programs at corporations. From universities and top US institutes to Fortune 500 companies, Irma has been an integral part of language learning and cultural competence training. After travelling to 40+ countries (and counting!) and over 10 years of working in education, she developed and honed her methodology in 2013. The Diáfano Method is student-centered methodology that breaks down language learning into clear and simple steps.
Irma grew up bilingual and is a proud learner of French, Italian, Portuguese, and Japanese. Check her out at www.diafanomethod.com.

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