Grammar: Spanish verbs

Imperative mood – Imperativo

When we need to give someone an instruction or order (for example, “read!”), We use the imperative mood. In Spanish, only the affirmative form of the imperative mood (directions) is called imperativo. We will talk about the negative form (prohibitions) a little later. Let’s first look at how to phrase directions in imperative:

Pronoun -ar: hablar (to speak, to talk) -er: correr (to run) -ir: escribir (to write)
habla (Speak!) corre (Run!) escribe (Write!)
vosotros hablad (Speak! plural) corred (Run! plural) escribid (Write! plural)
nosotros hablemos (Let’s speak!) corramos (Let’s run!) escribamos (Let’s write!)
usted hable (Speak! – polite singular) corra (Run! – polite singular) escriba (Write! – polite singular)
ustedes hablen (Speak! – polite plural ) corran (Run! – polite plural) escriban (Write! – polite plural)

4 ways of saying “speak!”

As you can see from the table below, when telling someone “speak…!” you need to choose between 4 different forms: habla, hablad, hable, and hablen. Let’s take a look at the following examples to understand who we are talking to in each case:

  • tú (singular): Sandra, habla con tu madre – Sandra, talk to your mother.
  • vosotros (plural): Niños, hablad más bajo por favor. – Children, lower your voice, please.
  • usted (polite singular): Señor López, hable por favor. – Mister López, you may speak now.
  • ustedes (polite plural): Señores, hablen más claro por favor. – Gentlemen, please speak more clearly.

Please note that verbs which have irregular forms in the present tense will have corresponding changes in the imperative mood:

Pronoun o ⇒ ue: dormir (to sleep) e ⇒ ie : entender (to understand) e ⇒ i : repetir (to repeat)
duerme entiende repite
vosotros dormid entended repetid
nosotros dormamos entendamos repitamos
usted duerma entienda repita
ustedes duerman entiendan repitan

About Spanish Culture
Why repeat words twice?

Spaniards like to repeat words in order to be polite, for example, “Come in, come in!”:

  • Deja, deja, no hace falta hacerlo. – Don’t worry, leave it, there’s no need to do this.
  • ¡Pase, pase!Come in!

These are the most important irregular forms :

Pronoun decir (to say) hacer (to do, to make) ir (to go) oír (to hear) tener (to have) traer (to bring) venir (to come) salir (to go out)
di haz ve oye ten trae ven sal
vosotros decid haced id oíd tened traed venid salid
nosotros digamos hagamos vayamos oigamos tengamos traigamos vengamos salgamos
usted diga haga vaya oiga tenga traiga venga salga
ustedes digan hagan vayan oigan tengan traigan vengan salgan

The infinitive is often used to express directions and prohibitions in Spanish. You can see similar phrases on street signs and signs (especially in negative form).

  • No pasar – Do not cross
  • No fumar – Do not smoke
  • No usar el teléfono – Do not use the phone

Now let’s look at how the NEGATIVE form of the imperative is formed (prohibitions).

When we ask someone NOT to do something, in Spanish we use the subjunctive . If you are not familiar with the subjunctive yet, remember the simple rule of “opposite endings” : Verbs with -ar endings form the subjunctive with the letter “e”, and verbs ending in -er or -ir form it with the letter “a”. Look at the table and you will immediately understand:

Pronoun entrar (to come in) comer (to eat) escribir (to write)
no entres no comas no escribas
vosotros no entréis no comáis no escribáis
nosotros no entremos no comamos no escribamos
usted no entre no coma no escriba
ustedes no entren no coman no escriban

Let’s speak correctly!
Where to put the pronouns?

When we use the AFFIRMATIVE form of the imperative (directions), the pronoun is placed after the verb and they are written together:

  • ¿Ves este vaso? Dámelo. – Do you see that glass? Pass it to me.
  • Cuéntamelo. – Tell me.

When we use the NEGATIVE form of the imperative, the pronoun is placed before the verb and is written separately:

  • No lo comas. – Don’t eat this.
  • No te preocupes. – Don’t worry.

… and the last rule:

If a reflexive pronoun is added to the form of the imperative, then in the form “vosotros” the letter “d” is dropped , and in the form “nosotros” – the letter“s”:

  • Sentaos aquí. – Sit here (pl).
  • Vámonos. – Let’s go.

To understand the logic behind dropping the letter “d” in the form “vosotros”, think about the fact that if it remained in the word, then the form of the imperative could be confused with the form of the participle:

  • Estamos sentados en una terraza. – We are sitting on a terrace.
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