What is the German Imperative?
The German imperative is a form verbs take when used to give orders, instructions or requests such as ‘turn the music down’ and ‘shut the gate’.
It is used far more commonly in German than it is in English, and as such, can be difficult for us English speakers to get the hang of. It can even sound a little direct or bossy to English speakers, but is used all the time in German.
Of course, Germans can be far more direct than English speakers, and the German imperative form is not intended to be rude.
So with the explanation out of the way, let’s dive right in to our German imperatives! Auf geht’s!
Which Form To Use? Sie, Du or Ihr?
When it comes to forming the German imperative, we firstly need to decide which personal pronoun to use. This depends on who we are talking to, so let’s establish that first:
- du = you (informal singular)
- ihr = you (informal plural)
- Sie = you (formal sing. & plur.)
Each of these forms requires the imperative to change slightly, so let’s look at each of them in turn.
Du (Informal Singular)
The du form is the most complicated of the three, so let’s get it out of the way. Firstly, conjugate the verb you want to use for du:
- kommen (to come) = du kommst
- schauen (to look) = du schaust
- machen (to make) = du machst
Then to form the imperative, remove the -st and leave off du:
- du kommst = komm! (come!)
- du schaust = schau! (look!)
- du machst = mach es! (do it!)
Separable verbs are always separated and the above rules apply:
- aufräumen (to clean up) =
- du räumst auf (you clean up) =
- räum auf! (clean up!)
We can add more detail:
- räum die Küche auf! (clean the kitchen up!)
And because German speakers are very polite, bitte (please) is often added, either at the beginning or after the verb:
- bitte räum die Küche auf!
- räum bitte die Küche auf!
And because this is German, there are a few other rules and exceptions. Once you’ve conjugated the verb for the du form, if the verb stem now ends in -s, -ß, -z or -x, only the -t is omitted. Let me show you, the verb stem is shown [in brackets]
- vergessen (to forget) = du [vergiss]t
- putzen (to clean) = du [putz]t
In these examples we have verb stem ending in -s and -z. So just the -t after the verb stem is removed:
- vergiss es (forget it!)
- putz dein Zimmer! (clean your room!)
If you have conjugated the verb for it’s du form, and you find yourself with an -est ending, only the -st are omitted. This is just to make the imperative easier to pronounce:
- finden (to find) = du findest
- finde den Schatz! (find the treasure!)
- öffnen (to open) = du öffnest
- öffne die Tür! (open the door!)
If the conjugated verb gains an umlaut, this is not added in the imperative:
- laufen (to run) = du läufst
- lauf! (run!)
- fahren (to drive) = du fährst
- fahr nach Hause! (drive home!)
However any conjugated verb that takes a vowel change, keeps this change and we just omit the -st as usual:
- nehmen (to take) = du nimmst
- nimm das Geld! (take the money!)
Haben & Sein
Haben (to have) and sein (to be) are irregular, and are used quite a lot in the imperative. For the du imperative form they are conjugated as follows:
- haben = hab
- sein = sei
- Hab einen schönen Tag (have a nice day)
- Sei pünklich! (be punctual!)
Ihr (Informal Plural)
You’ll be pleased to know that the tough one is out of the way, and the German imperative gets a lot easier from now on. If you are talking to a group of people informally, just conjugate the verb for the ihr form. Usually this involves adding a -t to the [verb stem]:
- [komm]en (to come) = ihr kommt (you come)
- [aufschreib]en (to write down) = ihr schreibt auf (you write down)
Then just omit the ihr and you’re done!
- Kinder, kommt her! (Children, come here!)
- Bitte schreibt die Text auf (please write the text down)
Haben & Sein
For the ihr imperative form, haben and sein are conjugated as follows:
- haben = habt
- sein = seid
- Seid ruhig! (be quiet!)
- Jungs, habt einen schönen Tag (Boys, have a nice day)
Sie (Formal Singular & Plural)
Now you’ve really got the hang of this! Let’s finish on another easy imperative form, Sie. Conjugate the verb for the Sie form, normally no conjugation is required, just use the infinitive + Sie.
- nehmen (to take) = Sie nehmen
- schließen (to shut) = Sie schließen
Put the verb in position 1, the subject in position 2 and any other information after that:
- Nehmen Sie meinen Kuli (take my pen)
- Bitte schließen Sie das Tor (please shut the gate)
Haben & Sein
For the Sie imperative form, haben and sein are conjugated as follows:
- haben = haben
- sein = seien
- Haben Sie einen schönen Tag (have a nice day)
- Seien Sie pünklich! (be punctual!)
Gut gemacht! (well done!) You made it! Now you know how to form the imperative in German. You’ve seen it in action with lots of example sentences.