Spanish Imperative: Learn This Useful Tense, Now!

Spanish ImperativeAnyone who’s ever had to deal with rambunctious children, rowdy sports spectators, or professional movers knows that commands, or, more formally, the imperative tense, are incredibly important and very useful. In the English language, this tense is very easy to form, with the verb not changing much from the infinitive form to the imperative form: the command form of the infinitive “to go” is simply “Go!”. In Spanish, there are many more things to consider when telling someone what to do, and a somewhat involved conjugation process is necessary when using commands.

Today we are discussing how to form commands in the Spanish language, covering the different types of regular and irregular verbs, as well as the formal and informal, and affirmative and negative forms of these verbs. They require some time to become familiar with, and won’t just roll off the tongue for the non-native speakers out there, but we’ll do our best to make it clear for you. If you still need to learn the basics of this language, we have a few useful tools to help out: this article on the best ways to learn Spanish, along with this course on Spanish for beginners, should be good places to start.

Commands in Español

Like we mentioned above, there are a lot of things to consider when using the imperative tense in Spanish, so we’ll break it down as systematically as possible, so as not be overwhelm you. We’ll divide the command forms up by who they are referring to. Because you can’t command yourself, there are no first person commands, leaving out the 1st person singular (yo) and the 1st person plural (nosotros), leaving: 2nd person singular (tú), 3rd person singular (usted), 2nd person plural (vosotros), and 3rd person plural (ustedes). If you need a reminder of how to deal with verbs in Spanish, this article on conjugating Spanish verbs will jog your memory.

Within these sections, we will show both the affirmative (“Do something!”) and the negative (“Don’t do something!”) forms of the commands, as well how to deal with -ar, -er, and -ir verbs. It’s a lot to take in, but after some studying, it should all fall into place. To brush up on your Spanish conversation skills, check out this course on basic Spanish sentence patterns.

2nd Person Singular [Tú (Informal)] Commands 

These commands, being singular and informal, are used when speaking to one person who is a friend, or anyone who is around your age, or younger.

  • Affirmative: The 3rd person singular (él/ella/ud.) indicative form is used here.
    • -ar verbs: The ending -a is added to the end of the verb root. Example: Toma {from “tomar”} una foto. (Take a photo.)
    • -er and -ir verbs: Both -er and -ir verbs have the same ending in the 3rd person singular, adding -e to the verb root. Example: Come {from “comer”} la cena. (Eat your dinner.); Abre {from “abrir”} la puerta. (Open the door.)
  • Negative: The 2nd person singular (tú) subjunctive form is used, with the word “no”.
    • -ar verbs: The ending -es is added to the root. Examples: No fumes {fumar} en la casa. (Don’t smoke in the house.)
    • -er and -ir verbs: The ending -as is added to the root. Example: No bebas {beber} el agua.  (Don’t drink the water.); No escribas {escribir} en la mesa. (Don’t write on the table.)
  • Irregular Tú Commands: There are a handful of irregular verbs that have unusual command forms. We can’t go through all of them here today, but we can list the negative and affirmative forms of the most often used irregular verbs. We will list each of the verbs, then its meaning in parentheses, its affirmative command form, and finally, its negative command form:
    • decir (to say/tell) –> di, no digas
    • hacer (to do/make) –> haz, no hagas
    • ir (to go) –> ve, no vayas
    • poner (to put) –> pon, no pongas
    • ser (to be) –> sé, no seas
    • tener (to have) –> ten, no tengas

2nd Person Plural [Vosotros (Informal)] Commands Like the tú commands, the vosotros form is used when giving a command to multiple people that you are friendly with, or who are close to your age or younger.

  • Affirmative This command form is unusual but easy to conjugate and remember. Simply remove the -r at the end of the infinitive, and add the letter -d.
    • -ar, -er, and -ir verbs: This rule applies to all verbs when using them as commands in the 2nd person plural form.
    • Examples: Hablad {hablar} más fuerte. (Speak louder.); ¡Corred {correr} al doctor! (Run to the doctor!); Asistid {asistir} a las clases. (Go to your classes.)
  • Negative The vosotros subjunctive form of the verb is used for negative 2nd person plural commands.
    • -ar verbs: The ending -éis is added to the root. Example: No dejéis {dejar} el perro. (Don’t leave your dog.)
    • -er and -ir verbs: The ending -áis is added to the root. Examples: No sorprendáis {sorprender} a la abuela. (Don’t scare your grandmother.); No confundáis {confundir} a los niños. (Don’t scare the children.)
  • Irregular Vosostros Commands There are only three verbs that have irregular negative command forms in the 2nd person plural:
    • ir (to go) –> no vayáis
    • saber (to know) –> no sepáis
    • ser (to be) –> no seáis

If all of this command business is too involved for you, and you want to learn to speak Spanish today, this course on quick Spanish will have you speaking in no time.

3rd Person Singular and Plural [Usted/Ustedes (Formal)] Commands

These commands are used when speaking with people in a position of power or respect, such as a teacher, parent, priest, etc., or anyone that is older than you. We will cover both the singular and plural forms in one section, as they are very similar to each other, and are easy to remember.

  •  Singular Affirmative: For this command, use the 3rd person singular form (él/ella/ud.) of the subjunctive.
    • -ar verbs: -e is added to the root. Example: hablar –> hable
    • -er and -ir verbs: -a is added to the root. Examples: tener –> tenga; vivir –> viva
  • Plural Affirmative: The plural formal affirmative command is simply the 3rd person plural form (ellos/ellas/uds.) of the subjunctive form, OR simply add an -n to the singular form.
    • -ar verbs: -en is added to the root. Example: hablar –> hablen
    • -er and -ir verbs: -an is added to the root. Examples: tener –> tengan; vivir –> vivan
  • Singular Negative: This command is formed exactly the same way as the singular affirmative command, but simply add a “no” in front of it.
    • -ar verbs: no hable
    • -er and -ir verbs: no tenga; no viva
  • Plural Negative: This form follows the others: it’s the 3rd person plural form of the subjunctive, OR just add an -n to the singular, THEN add a “no” to make it negative.
    • -ar verbs: no hablen
    • -er and -ir verbs: no tengan; no vivan
  • Irregular 3rd Person Commands Below are some of the more widely used verbs that have irregular forms when used as formal commands:
    • ir –>(no)  vaya(n)
    • ser –> (no) sea(n)
    • saber –> (no) sepa(n)
    • dar –> (no) dé(n)
    • estar –> (no) esté(n)

If you found this command lesson too easy, this course on the Massey Method of Spanish is taught by a former NSA agent, and will whip you into shape.

The Spanish command forms may be a lot to take in all at once, but just like when speaking English, you’ll find you use them often – just make sure you’re paying attention and don’t use the tú form with someone’s grandmother. A little studying should get you proficient in these commands, and if you really want a challenge, this course on beginner to expert Spanish will cover this, and many other Spanish topics.