Spanish Commands (the Imperative Mood)

       

As you get better and better at Spanish (and the more contact you have with Spanish speakers) it becomes more and more likely that you'll need to tell someone to do something. This is a command and it requires it's own special conjugation. (Command conjugations are also known as the "imperative" mood.)

Thinking of a command as being a conjugation is a hard concept to grasp for the average English speaker. We don't need to conjugate a verb. We just change the inflection in our voices in order to tell someone to do something. For example:

subject:

command:

You (singular)

Leave!

You (plural)

Leave!

We

Let's leave!

Here subject refers to the person being commanded. In English we only have three options; the singular "you," the plural "you," and "we." We don't differentiate between a formal and an informal "you" like we do in Spanish. (The exclamation point isn't really necessary for a command to be a command but it does help for demonstration purposes.)

Spanish commands on the other hand are very complex because we have a separate verb conjugation for each subject and we have more subjects due to our distinction between formal and informal. Here are all the subject possibilities for Spanish commands in our familiar chart:

--

nosotros

vosotros

usted

ustedes

You'll notice that there is no command corresponding to yo. This is because you simply can't command "I" to do something. Likewise there is no él, ella, ellos, or ellas because we can't command "he," "she," or "they" to do something. All the commands are either first person plural, or second person.

Here's what you need to know:

Usted and Ustedes Commands

Usted and ustedes commands are used in situations where you would tell someone or a group of people with whom you have a formal or respectful relationship to do something. These commands are a good place to start because they're the easiest and also because it's better to treat someone as usted when you're supposed to use than the other way around. Also, outside of Spain (where vosotros is used), the only way to command a group of people is to use an ustedes command.

Affirmative Usted and Ustedes Commands

To change a verb into an affirmative usted or ustedes command simply use the appropriate subjunctive conjugation:

hablar:

correr:

repetir:

usted:

hable

corra

repita

ustedes:

hablen

corran

repitan

There are no irregular usted or ustedes commands. However, there are many irregular subjunctive conjugations that would be useful to remember. A few or them:

dar:

ser:

ir:

usted:

sea

vaya

ustedes:

den

sean

vayan

Negative Usted and Ustedes Commands

Usted or ustedes commands are easy to change into negative commands (where you tell someone not to do something). Simply add no:

hablar:

correr:

repetir:

usted:

no hable

no corra

no repita

ustedes:

no hablen

no corran

no repitan

Let's practice! Conjugate usted and ustedes commands on ¡Practiquemos!

Form Commands

form commands are commands which you would use when telling a friend or equal to do something. They are considerably more difficult than usted and ustedes commands for three reasons: first, they use a form that seems unnatural for a conjugation; second, they have a number of irregular conjugations; and third, the negative form is completely different from the regular (affirmative) form.

Affirmative Form Commands

It seems very strange, but to conjugate an affirmative command, we're actually going to use the indicative él/ella/usted form (not the form) of the verb:

hablar:

correr:

repetir:

hablo

hablamos

hablas

habláis

habla

hablan

corro

corremos

corres

corréis

corre

corren

repito

repetimos

repites

repetís

repite

repiten

So how is this different form an usted command? Remember, the usted command uses the subjunctive form, the form command uses the indicative. Here's a chart of both for comparison purposes:

hablar:

correr:

repetir:

tú:

habla

corre

repite

usted:

hable

corra

repita

As you can see, there is usually only a difference of one letter between an usted command and a command. (The difference between a polite apology and an insult is the difference between perdóneme and perdóname.)

There are eight irregular affirmative commands. And as you might expect with irregulars, they are fairly common verbs:

decir:

hacer:

ir:

poner:

salir:

ser:

tener:

venir:

di

haz

ve

pon

sal

ten

ven

After you learn these, don't get fooled into thinking that the rule for conjugating is to shorten the verb to one syllable. These are only the irregular conjugations.

Negative Form Commands

Changing regular (affirmative) commands into negative ones is more difficult than changing usted and ustedes commands. In addition to adding a no, we're going to conjugate the verb in the subjunctive form.

hablar:

correr:

repetir:

hable

hablemos

hables

habléis

hable

hablen

corra

corramos

corras

corráis

corra

corran

repita

repitamos

repitas

repitáis

repita

repitan

So how do affirmative and negative tú form commands compare? Here are some examples:

hablar:

correr:

repetir:

affirmative:

habla

corre

repite

negative:

no hables

no corras

no repitas

There are no irregular negative form commands, however there are many irregular subjunctive conjugations such as:

dar:

ser:

ir:

no dés

no seas

no vayas

Let's practice! Conjugate form commands on ¡Practiquemos!

Nosotros Commands

A nosotros command is the kind of command you make both to yourself and other people around you. In English it usually involves the word "let's." For example, "Let's go to the baseball game"

Nosotros commands are constructed like usted and ustedes commands. They use the subjunctive and it only takes a no to make it a negative command:

hablar:

correr:

repetir:

affirmative:

hablemos

corramos

repitamos

negative:

no hablemos

no corramos

no repitamos

There is one irregular nosotros command you should worry about. Ir is conjugated in the indicative vamos in affirmative commands. (It's still the subjunctive vayamos in negative commands):

ir:

affirmative:

vamos

negative:

no vayamos

By the way, the word "vamoose" is an English corruption of the Spanish vamos.

Let's practice! Conjugate nosotros commands on ¡Practiquemos!

Vosotros Commands

Vosotros commands are commands given to a group of friends or equals. They are primarily used in Spain. In other parts of the Spanish-speaking world, ustedes commands are used instead (regardless of the relationships involved). Like the form commands, vosotros commands are a bit complicated. To form an affirmative vosotros command, we're going to do something simple but unusual: replace the "-r" at the end of the infinitive with a "-d." To form a negative vosotros command, simply use the subjunctive and a no:

hablar:

correr:

repetir:

affirmative:

hablad

corred

repetid

negative:

no habléis

no corráis

no repitáis

Since the affirmative commands all end in "d," now would be a good time to refresh your memory on correctly pronouncing a "d" in Spanish. Remember that it is pronounced much softer in Spanish than it is in English, almost like a "th." When pronouncing the "d" place your tongue on your upper teeth rather than the roof of your mouth.

Let's practice! Conjugate vosotros commands on ¡Practiquemos!

Using Object Pronouns with Commands

Pronouns have some special rules when being used along with commands. The basic rule is that any pronoun needs to be attached to the end of an affirmative command but come in front of a negative command. Consider the command, "Tell me!" The verb we will use is decir and me is our indirect object pronoun:

tú form:

usted form:

ustedes form:

affirmative:

dime

dígame

díganme

negative:

no me digas

no me diga

no me digan

If you look closely, you may have noticed that some accent marks suddenly appeared in the affirmative usted and ustedes commands . These are not typos. We don't want to change the natural pronunciation of our command (diga and digan) even though we're adding a syllable to it. To preserve the original stress, we write an accent mark on the vowel that would be stressed if there weren't an object attached. The "i" in dime does not need an accent mark because even with the object attached, the stress still falls in the proper place (See more on Accent Marks & Special Characters).

The same rules apply for commands with both indirect and direct object pronouns. Consider the command, "Tell it to me!" In addition to our IOP, "me," we're going to add a DOP, "it." (Since we're not sure what "it" refers to, we'll use lo.):

form:

usted form:

ustedes form:

affirmative:

melo

dígamelo

díganmelo

negative:

no me lo digas

no me lo diga

no me lo digan

This time we can't avoid using an accent mark on the form command, because now we're adding two syllables to the di.

The same rules apply to nosotros and vosotros commands. Consider the commands, "Let's do it!" and "Do it!" (as well as their negative counterparts):

nosotros form:

vosotros form:

affirmative:

hagámoslo

hácedlo

negative:

no lo hagamos

no lo hagáis

Using Reflexive Pronouns with Commands

Occasionally we'll want to use a reflexive verb as a command. The reflexive pronouns follow the same pattern as object pronouns. Let's look at alegrarse (to be happy) in command form (we'll look at the negatives as well even though that wouldn't be very nice):

form:

usted form:

ustedes form:

affirmative:

alégrate

alégrese

alégrense

negative:

no te alegres

no se alegre

no se alegren

Note: If you've ever heard the expression, ¡Vámonos, muchachos! you've heard a nosotros command conjugation of irse (to leave).

The nosotros and vosotros commands are slightly different when using a reflexive pronoun. To make pronunciation a bit easier, we're going to drop the "-s" from the affirmative nosotros command and the "-d" from the affirmative vosotros command before adding the reflexive pronoun. The negative commands are unaffected:

nosotros form:

vosotros form:

affirmative:

alegrémonos

alegraos

negative:

no nos alegremos

no os alegréis

One exception to the last rule is the verb irse. The vosotros command form retains the "d": idos. Also, reflexive "-ir" verbs require you to add an accent mark in the vosotros form:

irse:

divertirse:

sentirse:

vestirse:

idos

divertíos

sentíos

vestíos

Infinitive Commands?

Yep. It happens. Read about it at Using Infinitives as Commands.

Creative Commons License  This work by Spanish411.net is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.