Imperative mood

Imperative mood

The imperative mood is a grammatical mood that expresses direct commands or requests. It is also used to signal a prohibition, permission or any other kind of exhortation.


The English imperative is formed simply by using the bare infinitive form of the verb. "Be" is the only verb whose infinitive form is different from the second-person present indicative form. The subject of the sentence can only be "you" (the second person). Other languages such as Latin, French and German have several inflected imperative forms, which can vary according to grammatical categories like:

* Distinct conjugation patterns;
* Grammatical number;
* Distinct grammatical persons.

For instance, Latin regular forms can be:

* "amā" (singular); "amāte" (plural) ← from infinitive "amāre", to 'love'
* "monē" (singular); "monēte" (plural) ← from "monēre", to 'warn'
* "audī" (singular); "audīte" (plural) ← from "audīre", to 'hear'
* "cape" (singular); "capite" (plural) ← from "capĕre", to 'take'
* "rege" (singular); "regite" (plural) ← from "regĕre", to 'reign'.

This richness of forms can be useful for a better understanding, particularly because no subject pronoun is normally specified with the imperative.


The use of imperative mood can easily be considered offensive or inappropriate in social situations due to universal recognized politeness rules. Therefore, exhortations are often formulated indirectly, as questions or assertions:

* "Could you come here for a moment?"
* "I beg you to stop."

and not as commands like in the following examples:

* "Come here."
* "Stop!"

As a matter of fact, politeness strategies (for instance, indirect speech acts) can be much more appropriate in order not to threaten a conversational partner in his needs of self-determination and territory: according to Brown-Levinson 1978, the partner's "negative face" shouldn't be threatened. As a result, the imperative mood isn't necessarily the most used form to express a request or prohibition.

On the other hand, the risk of threatening someone’s needs of self-determination isn’t always really serious. The imperative mood's appropriateness depends on several factors like psychological and social relationships, as well as the speaker’s basic communicative intention (illocutionary force).For example, the speaker may have the simple intention to "offer" something, to "wish" or "permit" something, or just to "apologize", and not to "manipulate" his conversational partner. In these cases, no restriction will be placed on the use of imperative:

* "Come to the party tomorrow!"
* "Just smoke if you want."
* "Have a nice trip!"
* "Excuse me!"

Note, however, in the last example (Excuse me!), the literal meaning has separated from everyday usage. Originally, "excuse me" would have been preceded with "Please", meaning, in full, "If it pleases you, excuse me." "Excuse me!" on its own is actually not much of an apology, whereas the original version is much more humble, even when used in the imperative mood.

Prohibitive mood

The prohibitive mood is the negative imperative mood. The two moods are often different in word order or in morphology.


In English, the imperative mood uses the same word order as the indicative mood, while the prohibitive mood uses a different word order if "you" is added.

See also

*Procedural knowledge


* Austin, J. L. "How to do things with words", Oxford, Clarendon Press 1962.
* Brown, P.-Levinson, S., ”Universals in language use”, in E. N. Goody (ed.), "Questions and Politeness," Cambridge and London, 1978, Cambridge University Press: 56-310.
* Schmecken, H. "Orbis Romanus", Paderborn, Schöningh 1975, ISBN 3 506 10330.

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