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Imperative Commands in German Grammar

How to use the imperative in german

Introduction

The imperative expresses requests and commands. We use the imperative to address people in the second person singular (du) and plural (ihr) as well as in the polite form (Sie) and in the first person plural (wir).

The imperative is used to express a command and also exists in English, although its use is the same in both languages. In German it is called Befehlsform and the request sentence: Aufforderungssatz.

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The imperative is very common in German because it allows us to tell someone what to do in as few words as possible. For non-native speakers, this form sometimes sounds a bit rude, but it's not usually meant that way. 

With the imperative, we command someone to do something.
Beispiel:
Warten Sie! Wait!
Steigen Sie ein! Get in the car!
Geben Sie mir das Geld! Give me the money!

To say your sentence more politely, you can use the following particle: 

Use bitte: Komm bitte! Come please!

Use doch: Doch asks your conversation partner to take an action. Mach doch bitte mal das Fenster zu. Please close the window.

Conjugation

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2nd person singular (du)
Normally, we form the imperative for du by removing the ending -en from the infinitive. In elevated speech, an e is added to many verbs, but in colloquial speech we usually leave it out.

Example: Geh(e)!/Sei ehrlich!

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2nd person plural (ihr)
The imperative for ihr is the verb form of the 2nd person plural, but without the pronoun.

Example: Geht!/Seid ehrlich!

Deutsche Verben  (1).jpg

1st/3rd person plural (wir/Sie)
We form the imperative for wir/Sie with the verb in the infinitive form + wir/Sie. For the verb to be, we add an extra -e.

Example:
Gehen Sie!/Seien Sie ehrlich!
Gehen wir!/Seien wir ehrlich!

Quick Tip: Mastering Imperative Conjugation for 'Du,' 'Ihr,' and 'Sie'

 

When conjugating imperative verbs in German for 'du,' 'ihr,' and 'Sie,' keep in mind the variations in endings:

  1. 'Du' Form: For 'du,' the imperative form often mirrors the stem of the verb, and endings are minimal. For example, "gehen" (to go) becomes "Geh!" (Go!).

  2. 'Ihr' Form: For 'ihr,' the imperative usually involves the verb stem without the final "-t" and the addition of "-t" as the ending. For instance, "machen" (to do/make) becomes "Macht!" (Do/make!).

  3. 'Sie' Form: For 'Sie,' the imperative maintains the infinitive form of the verb, but it's capitalized and followed by "Sie." For example, "sprechen" (to speak) becomes "Sprechen Sie!" (Speak!).

Understanding these nuances in conjugation empowers you to seamlessly switch between addressing individuals informally and formally, ensuring your directives are clear and appropriate in various contexts.

Irregular conjugation in the 2nd person singular:

The root vowel change from e to i/ie also occurs in the imperative; but in this case the imperative e ending is never added.

Example: Lies! (lesen – ich lese, du liest)


The change of the root vowel from a to ä does not occur in the imperative.
Example: Fahr! (but: ich fahre, du fährst)

If the stem of the present tense ends in d/t, an e is always added.
Example: Warte!


If the stem of the present tense ends in a consonant + m/n, an e is always added. However, this does not happen if this consonant is an m, n, l, r or h (but not ch).

Example: Atme!/Zeichne! but: Schwimm(e)!/Lern(e)!


If the verb ends in eln/ern, we always add an e. (The e of eln/ern can be omitted).
Example: Fei(e)re!/Ang(e)le!

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