The Imperative in Spanish

Information for Teachers about the Spanish Imperative

Beginner to intermediate Spanish learners often struggle with the Spanish imperative. This is something our teachers pay special attention to with the classes on our school trips to Spain.

The imperative is the form of the verb which commands someone to do something. It’s often written with an exclamation mark in textbooks – the imperative of “to eat” is “eat!”.

However, it doesn’t necessarily sound rude or commanding. mfor example, recipes use imperatives like “Cut the onion in half”, and you can easily use a polite imperative such as “Please take a seat”.

In English we just use one word for the imperative, such as”eat”, but in Spanish the verb form changes depending on who how many people are being spoken to and how well the speaker knows them.

Let’s take a simple verb like “beber”, to drink. If you were telling someone to drink, the word you’d use would vary in different situations.

One person who you know  well or who is younger than you: Bebe (third person single in the present tense).

Two people you know well: Bebed (the infinitive with a “d” instead of “r” on the end).

One person who you don’t know well or who’s older than you: Beba (third person single present subjunctive).

Two people you don’t know well: Beban (third person plural present subjunctive).

However, just as important is the negative imperative, when you’re commanding someone not to do something.

One person you know well: No bebas (second person single form of the present subjunctive).

Two people you know quite well: No bebáis (second person plural form of the present subjunctive).

One person you don’t know well: No beba. Rather nicely, this is just the positive imperative with “no” in front of it.

Two people you don’t know well: No beban. Just like the singular, the positive with an added “no”.

Finally, you’ll sometimes see the positive or negative imperative used as a general instruction to anyone who happens to read it, for instance on a sign: No beber (infinitive).

One last thing: if the verb has an object, the object pronoun joins together with the imperative. For instance, “Lo bebe” would mean “he/she drinks it”, and if  you were asking somome to drink a particular drink, you’d say “Bébelo” — the same verb form as “Bebe” but with the “lo” at the end.

However, in the negative imperative the pronoun stays in front of the verb, so you’d still say “No lo bebas” to tell someone not to drink something.

We hope that you and your students understand the imperative better and feel more confident using it. ¡Úsalo bien!

Please don’t hesitate to consider our school group tours to Spain. Lessons in our school trips can be catered exactly to your group’s needs. Customise your own tour here.

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