The German imperative is a commonly used form which is used to give commands, orders, requests and instructions. It changes the form of whichever verb is used, however these changes follow set pattens which are fairly easy to get the hang of.
After reading this post you’ll know:
- What the German imperative form is & when it’s used
- How to use the command form for formal & informal German
- Examples of commands, orders & requests
What is the German Imperative?
The German imperative is the form verbs take when used to give orders, commands, instructions or requests such as ‘turn the music down’ and ‘shut the gate’.
It is used far more often 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.
I still have trouble using it myself even after many years as my English brain still feels like I’m being too direct or even rude. I’ll often find ways to avoid using the German command form which can lead to some confusion with German natives.
German speakers are naturally more direct than English speakers, and the German command form is definitely not intended to be rude.
German Imperative: Formal / Informal / Plural
When it comes to forming the 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.)
Depending on whether we’re using formal, informal singular or informal plural German, the imperative is formed in a different way. Let’s take a 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|
|gucken (to look)||du guckst|
|machen (to do / make)||du machst|
To form the imperative, remove the -st and leave off du. This form always uses an exclamation mark.
mach es! (do it)
Top Tip: To make the imperative sound a little softer, German speakers often add the word mal. This word doesn’t really have a translation, but to the German ear it makes these commands just sound more gentle. It’s a bit like the difference between saying ‘look!’ and ‘have a look at that’ or ‘have a quick look’.
- guck mal! (have a look at this)
- komm mal! (come over here)
Separable verbs are always separated and the above rules apply:
|aufräumen||du räumst auf|
|(to clean up)||(you clean up)||(clean up!)|
We can add more detail, always remembering to send the separated prefix to the end of the phrase.
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 now ends in -st, -ßt, -zt or -x, only the -t is omitted.
|vergessen (to forget)||du vergisst|
|putzen (to clean)||du putzt|
In these examples we have verb ending in -st and -zt. So just the -t is removed:
Putzt dein Zimmer!
|Clean your room!|
If you’ve conjugated the verb for its du form, and you find yourself with an -est ending, only the -st is omitted. This is just to make the imperative easier to pronounce:
|finden (to find)||du findest|
Findest den Schatz!
(find the treasure!)
|öffnen (to open)||du öffnest|
Öffnest die Tur!
(open the door!)
If the conjugated verb gains an umlaut, this is not added in the imperative:
|laufen (to run)||du läufst|
|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|
Ihr (Informal Plural)
You’ll be pleased to know that the tough one is out of the way, and the German imperative form 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. Then just omit the ihr and you’re done!
|kommen (to come)||ihr kommt|
Kinder, kommt her!
(children, come here)
|aufschreiben (to write down)||ihr schreibt auf|
Bitte schreibt die Text auf!
(please write down the text)
Haben & Sein
For the ihr imperative form, haben and sein are conjugated as follows:
- haben = habt
- sein = seid
Jungs, habt einen schönen Tag!
|Boys, have a nice day!|
Sie (Formal Singular & Plural)
Now you’re really getting 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.
Put the verb in position 1, the subject in position 2 and any other information after that. Don’t forget to use bitte at the start to be super polite.
|nehmen (to take)||Sie nehmen|
Bitte nehmen Sie Platz
(Please take a seat)
|schließen (to shut)||Sie schließen|
Schließen Sie das Tor
(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!
And that’s it! You’ve managed to navigate your way around the something confusing world of the German command form. Try to learn some of these as set phrases, like hab einen schönen Tag (have a nice day) [informal], vergiss nicht! (don’t forget) [informal] and bitte nehmen Sie Platz (please take a seat) [formal].
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