Easy Learning German

The imperative - Easy Learning Grammar German

What is the imperative?
An imperative is a form of the verb used when giving orders and instructions, for example, Shut the door!; Sit down!; Don’t go!

1 Using the imperative

  • In German, there are three main forms of the imperative that are used to give instructions or orders to someone. These correspond to the three different ways of saying you: du, ihr and Sie. However, it is only in the Sie form of the imperative that the pronoun usually appears – in the du and ihr forms, the pronoun is generally dropped, leaving only the verb.
Hör zu!Listen!
Hören Sie zu!Listen!

2 Forming the present tense imperative

  • Most weak, strong and mixed verbs form the present tense imperative in the following way:
PronounForm of ImperativeVerb ExampleMeaning
du (singular)verb stem (+ e)hol(e)!fetch!
ihr (plural)verb stem + tholt!fetch!
Sie (polite singular and plural)verb stem + en + Sieholen Sie!fetch!
  • Note that the -e of the du form is often dropped, but NOT where the verb stem ends, for example, in chn-, fn-, or tm-. In such cases, the -e is kept to make the imperative easier to pronounce.
Hör zu!Listen!
Hol es!Fetch it!
BUT:Öffne die Tür!Open the door!
Atme richtig durch!Take a deep breath!
Rechne nochmal nach!Do your sums again!
Grammar Extra!Weak verbs ending in -eln or -ern also retain this -e, but the other -e in the stem itself is often dropped in spoken German.
wandernto walkwand(e)re!walk!
handelnto acthand(e)le!act!
  • Any vowel change in the present tense of a strong verb also occurs in the du form of its imperative and the -e mentioned above is generally not added. However, if this vowel change in the present tense involves adding an umlaut, this umlaut is NOT added to the du form of the imperative.
VerbMeaning2nd Person SingularMeaning2nd Person Singular ImperativeMeaning
nehmento takedu nimmstyou takenimm!take!
helfento helpdu hilfstyou helphilf!help!
laufento rundu läufstyou runlauf(e)!run!
stoßento pushdu stößtyou pushstoß(e)!push!

3 Word order with the imperative

  • An object pronoun is a word like es (meaning it), mir (meaning me) or ihnen (meaning them/to them) that is used instead of a noun as the object of a sentence. In the imperative, the object pronoun comes straight after the verb. However, you can have orders and instructions containing both direct object and indirect object pronouns. In these cases, the direct object pronoun always comes before the indirect object pronoun.
Hol mir das Buch!Fetch me that book!
Hol es mir!Fetch me it!
Holt mir das Buch!Fetch me that book!
Holt es mir!Fetch me it!
Holen Sie mir das Buch!Fetch me that book!
Holen Sie es mir!Fetch me it!
  • In the imperative form of a reflexive verb such as sich waschen (meaning to wash oneself) or sich setzen (meaning to sit down), the reflexive pronoun comes immediately after the verb.
Reflexive verbMeaningImperative FormsMeaning
sich setzento sit downsetz dich!sit down!
setzt euch!sit down!
setzen Sie sich!do sit down!
  • In verbs which have separable prefixes, the prefix comes at the end of the imperative.
Verb with SeparableMeaningImperative ExampleMeaning Prefix
zumachento closeMach die Tür zu!Close the door!
aufhörento stopHör aber endlich auf!Do stop it!

4 Other points about the imperative

  • In German, imperatives are usually followed by an exclamation mark, unless they are not being used to give an order or instruction. For example, they can also be used where we might say Can you… or Could you … in English.
Lass ihn in Ruhe!Leave him alone!
Sagen Sie mir bitte, wie spät es ist.Can you tell me what time it is please?
  • The verb sein (meaning to be) is a strong, irregular verb. Its imperative forms are also irregular and the du, Sie and less common wir forms are not the same as the present tense forms of the verb.
Sei ruhig!be quiet!
Seid ruhig!be quiet!
Seien Sie ruhig!be quiet!
TipThe words auch, nur, mal and doch are frequently used with imperatives to change their meanings in different ways, but are often not translated since they have no direct equivalent in English.
Geh doch!Go on!/Get going!
Sag mal, wo warst du?Tell me, where were you?
Versuchen Sie es mal!Give it a try!
Komm schon!Do come/Please come.
Mach es auch richtig!Be sure to do it properly.
Grammar Extra!There are some alternatives to using the imperative in German:
  • Infinitives (the to form of a verb) are often used instead of the imperative in written instructions or public announcements
Einsteigen!All aboard!
Zwiebeln abziehen und in Ringe schneiden.Peel the onions and slice them.
  • Nouns, adjectives or adverbs can also be used as imperatives
Ruhe!Be quiet!/Silence!
Vorsicht!Careful!/Look out!
Some of these have become set expressions
Rauchen verboten!No smoking.
Key points
  • The imperative has four forms: du, ihr, Sie and wir.
  • The forms are the same as the ihr, Sie and wir forms of the present tense for most strong, weak and mixed verbs, but the du form drops the -st present tense ending and sometimes adds an -e on the end.
  • Any vowel change in the stem of a strong verb also occurs in the imperative, except if it involves adding an umlaut.
  • Object pronouns always go after the verb, with the direct object pronoun coming before the indirect object pronoun.
  • Reflexive pronouns also come after the verb, while separable verb prefixes come at the end of the imperative sentence.
  • Sein has irregular imperative forms.

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