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Commands in Spanish: The Formal Imperative

Let's continue learning the Spanish imperative. On a previous lesson we explored the use of the informal imperative used with  (singular "you"), vosotros (plural “you” in Spain) and ustedes (plural “you” in the Americas). Now let's see how to give orders with the formal usted (singular "you"), and ustedes (plural “you” in Spain and in the Americas). 

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Actually, the formal commands are very easy in Spanish, we just need to use the present subjunctive.  

For usted (formal you singular):

Vaya y coma todo el plancton que quiera,
Go and eat all the plankton that you want,
Caption 5, Kikirikí - Animales - Part 6

For ustedes (formal you plural):
Vayan y coman todo el plancton que quieran,
Go and eat all the plankton that you want,

Actually, this is a great example that gives us the opportunity to introduce an important irregular verb, ir (to go) and it's formal imperative vaya (go).Let's see some variations of the example using the informal imperative. Pay attention to the verb ir (to go):

For  (you singular informal):
Ve y come todo el plancton que quieras,
Go and eat all the plankton that you want,

For vosotros (you plural informal in Spain):
Id y comed todo el plancton que queráis,
Go and eat all the plankton that you want,

For ustedes (you plural informal in the Americas*):
Vayan y coman todo el plancton que quieran,
Go and eat all the plankton that you want,

But let's continue with another regular verb and the formal imperative:

Sí, no espere (usted) que me ría. -No, ni por un momento, Madre.
Yes, don't expect me to laugh. -No, not even for a moment, Mother.
Caption 13, Muñeca Brava - 33 El partido - Part 5

This is also another great example because it's showing us how to use the formal imperative with negation, which, good news, also uses the present subjunctive, so you only need to add the word "no," that' it! Here are examples using the regular verbs amar (to love), temer (to fear), partir (to leave) as models:

Ame (usted) a su hermano - No (ame) usted a su hermano | Love your brother - Don't love your brother
Tema (usted) a su hermano - No (tema) usted a su hermano | Fear your brother - Don't fear your brother
Parta con su hermano - No parta con su hermano Leave with your brother - Don't leave with your brother

Finally, an example of formal imperative with ustedes (you plural) that uses the regular verbs caminar (to walk) and perdonar (to forgive), this last one with a suffix pronoun!

¡Caminen! - ¡Perdónenos la vida, patrón!
Walk!, Spare our life, boss!
Caption 32, El Ausente - Acto 3 - Part 3

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And thus we have also learned that you can use the imperative to supplicate as well!

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Commands in Spanish: The Informal Imperative

Do you enjoy giving orders? Let's study the imperative mood in Spanish so you can do it correctly and guarantee obedience from your subjects. 

Imperatives are phrases used to tell someone to do something. One easy way to give commands in Spanish is using the verbs mandar and ordenar (to command) with the phrases ordeno que or mando que + a verb in subjunctive (2nd person). For example, ordeno que bailes (I order you to dance), or les mando que vayan a la tienda (I order you guys to go to the store). However, and this is true in English as well, giving commands in such way may be adequate for a king or a general, but not for nice regular folks like us. So how do people normally give commands in Spanish? Usually with a single verb, just like in English. Check out the following quote:
 

¡Pues vente aquí a la cocina, anda, que no sé lo que estás haciendo!
Come here to the kitchen, come on, I don't know what are you doing!
Caption 31, Club de las ideas - Seguridad en internet - Part 1

 

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This example shows two variations of single-word commands in Spanish: the first one, vente (come), includes a suffix pronoun, and the second one, anda (come), doesn't. It’s also correct to say ¡Pues ven aquí a la cocina, andate, que no sé lo que estás haciendo! These suffixes are very common but not always necessary: sometimes they point to the existence of direct and indirect objects, sometimes they indicate you are using a reflexive verb, etc. In many occasions they are simply used to add emphasis, as in the example above. Saying ¡Pues ven aquí a la cocina, anda, que no sé lo que estás haciendo! is perfectly correct.

To learn how to conjugate imperatives is a different story. There are basically three possibilities: Informal  and vosotros (you singular and plural), formal usted and ustedes (you singular and plural), and nosotros (we) commands. It's also important to make a distinction between regular verbs (like andar, "to go") and irregular verbs (like venir, "to come"). For now, let’s stick to regular verbs. We can revisit the subject in a future lesson to learn the imperative form of some common irregular verbs.

The imperative for the informal  (singular you) and vosotros (plural you) is the most common and perhaps the more challenging. Let's use the regular verbs amar (to love), temer (to fear), partir (to leave) as models to learn how to build these imperative forms.

For  (you) we must use the same form of the verb that we use for the third person of the indicative:

(tú) ama, teme, parte - (you) love, fear, leave

To create the imperative for vosotros (plural you) we have to substitute the letter "r" from the infinitive with a "d:"

(vosotrosamad, temed, partid - (you plural) love, fear, leave

in the Americas people use ustedes instead of vosotros, right? Well, to make the imperative for ustedes use the present subjunctive for the same person:

(ustedes) amen, teman, partan - (you plural) love, fear, leave

Let's take a moment to test the rules we mentioned above. Is it true that ama is the imperative of amar for  and also the third person of the indicative (he, she, it)?

Ama a tu esposa (love your wife) - Imperative tú (you)
Él ama a su esposa (He loves his wife) - Indicative third person (he, she, it)

It's true. Now, that you can transform the infinitive form of amar (to love), temer (to fear), partir (to leave) into the imperative for vosotros by replacing the r for a d is self evident: amad, temed, partid. Here’s an example using the regular verb mirar (to see):

mirad lo que vamos a hacer ahora.
and look what we are going to do now.
Caption 71, Cómetelo - Crema de brócoli - Part 7

 
Perfect. Now let's see if the imperative for ustedes and the present subjunctive share the same form:

Teman al dios de fuego (Fear the god of fire) - imperative ustedes (you plural)
Yo dudo que ustedes teman al dios de fuego (I doubt that you fear the god of fire) - present subjunctive ustedes (you plural).

It's true as well. Here are more examples of the imperative for vosotros, and ustedes:
Aprende el sentido de las tres erres.
Learn the meaning of the three Rs.
Caption 21, 3R - Campaña de reciclaje - Part 2

Escuchad, escuchad, queridos súbditos.
Hear, hear, worthy subjects.
Caption 31, Cuentos de hadas - La Cenicienta - Part 2 
 
Pregúntenle primero al corazón, hablen primero con Cupido
First ask the heart, speak first with Cupid
Caption 7, Mennores - Enamorarme Quiero

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A final note: it’s also possible to use negative sentences to give orders. For example: Niños, no coman insectos (Kids, don’t eat bugs). As you can see, the negative command for ustedes (you plural) has the same form than the positive command: coman (eat).  But the negative commands for  (you singular) and vosotros (you plural) use different conjugations. The negative commands for  and vosotros use instead the present subjunctive: no comas pan (don’t eat bread) and no comáis porquerías (don’t eat junk food). Let’s transform the last examples above into negative sentences:
 
No aprendas el sentido de las tres erres.
Don’t learn the meaning of the three Rs.
 
No escuchéis, no escuchéis, queridos súbditos.
Don’t listen, don’t listen, worthy subjects.
 
No le pregunten primero al corazón, no hablen primero con Cupido
Don’t ask the heart first, don’t speak first with Cupid

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Combining the Subjunctive with the Imperative

Can you give orders or express requests using the subjunctive? In this lesson, we are going to answer that question. Let's analyze some model sentences to learn how to combine the subjunctive with other moods and tenses. You can read our previous lesson on subjunctive and indicative here.

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You can combine the imperative (which is only conjugated in the present tense) with two different tenses of the subjunctive. The easiest and the most common case is when you use the imperative with the present subjunctive. Here are two examples (remember we're using bold for the subjunctive):

 

Tú haz lo que quieras y yo también.

You do whatever you want and so do I.

Caption 74, Jugando a la Brisca En la calle

 Play Caption

 

Y decile a tu amigo que deje de llamarme Vicky.

And tell your friend to quit calling me Vicky.

Caption 19, Muñeca Brava 1 Piloto - Part 4

 Play Caption


Keep in mind that decí (tell) is typically Argentinian. In other countries, you would hear di (tell): dile a tu amigo (tell your friend).

 

But going back to the subjunctive, let's analyze the meaning of the expression in the last example. Spanish uses the subjunctive here because what has been said is in the realm of possibilities (in this case, it is the expression of a desire) not in the realm of facts. So you can't say dile que me deja de llamarme Vickythis is incorrect because the indicative deja (he quits) is reserved to state facts, as in tu amigo deja de llamarme Vicky (your friend quits calling me Vicky).

 

Another way to phrase the same request could be dile a tu amigo que no me llame Vicky (tell your friend not to call me Vicky). Note that instead of using the verb dejar (to quit) we use a negation plus the verb llamar (to call) in present subjunctive (llame). Again, you could not possibly use the indicative mood here and say dile a tu amigo que no me llama Vicky. This is incorrect— well, at least if what you want to express is a desire or a request.

 

For the pure pleasure of curiosity, consider an expression in which this last construction could happen, for example: dile a tu amigo que no me llama Vicky que venga a mi fiesta (tell your friend who doesn't call me Vicky to come to my party). See? We use the indicative llama (he calls) to express that it's a fact that he doesn't call Victoria "Vicky," and then we use the subjunctive venga (to come) because it states Victoria's desire for him to come to her party. 


But let's not torture ourselves with games and let's see the second case of imperative combined with subjunctive, this time the pretérito perfecto (equivalent to present perfect subjunctive) which is a compound tense that uses the auxiliary verb haber (to have):

Haz lo que te hayan dicho los doctores.
Do whatever the doctors have told you. 

 

Dame lo que hayas cocinado.
Give me whatever you have cooked.

 

Dime lo que María te haya contado.
Tell me whatever Maria has told you.
 

This is not exactly an easy tense, right? Compare these sentences with the following ones that use the imperative with the present subjunctive (reviewed first in this lesson):

Haz lo que te digan los doctores.
Do whatever the doctors tell you. 


Dame algo de lo que cocines mañana.
Give me some of what you cook tomorrow.


Dime lo que María quiera.
Tell me whatever Maria wants.
 

The good news is that you can find ways to get away without using the pretérito perfecto del subjuntivo. For example, you can just use the simple past indicative. It's much less... let's say sophisticated, because the subtle meaning of indeterminacy that the subjunctive gives to the expression (which in English is expressed using the word "whatever") gets lost. Still, the past indicative gets the job done:

Haz lo que te dijeron los doctores.
Do what the doctors told you


Dame lo que cocinaste.
Give me what you cooked.


Dime lo que María te contó.
Tell me what Maria told you.

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That's it for today. We hope you liked this lesson and don't forget to send us your comments and suggestions.

 

¡Hasta la próxima!

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Imperative Constructions

The Spanish constructions haber + de, tener + que, hay + que, and deber+ infinitive are all used to express that something demands attention or action: an obligation, requirement, or necessity. Let's review some examples to learn the subtle differences between them and how to properly use them.

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The construction haber + de + infinitive is used to express a mild sense of obligation or necessity (in some contexts it could be just a possibility). Its use is, therefore, preferred when you want to give an instruction in a very polite way, making it sound more like a suggestion than an order. For example, in one of our new videos Raquel uses  haber + de + infinitive repeatedly to share some entrepreneurial tips:

En primer lugar, hemos de definir nuestra estrategia 
In the first place, we have to define our strategy
Caption 5, Raquel y Marisa - Español Para Negocios - Introducción

Básicamente, en esta parte, hemos de definir qué vamos a publicar en cada red social.
Basically, in this part, we have to define what we are going to publish on each social network.
Caption 8, Raquel y Marisa - Español Para Negocios - Introducción

Additionally, by using the first person plural, hemos, Raquel gives a subtle aura of consensus to her advice, which stresses the idea that even when she is using an imperative expression, she is not giving an order but rather sharing advice. If she were to use, for example, the second person, the expression would have a bit more pressing or demanding tone:

Lo primero que has de hacer al reservar en un restaurante es...
The first thing that you have to do upon reserving at a restaurant is...
Caption 3, Raquel - Reserva de Restaurante

Here's another example with a twist, using negation:

no ha de faltarle nunca un sanconcho de ñato pa' rematar.
And you should never lack a snub-nosed fish stew to add the finishing touch.
Caption 14, Mary Grueso Romero - Platonera en la plaza del mercado

You could also add the word uno (one), to talk impersonally. For example:

Uno ha de hacer aquello que desea.
One must do whatever one wants.

Incidentally, there is one Spanish imperative construction that only uses the impersonal form to express needs, obligations, or requirements in a more generalized way: hay + que infinitive.

¡Eres una víbora a la que hay que quitarle la ponzoña!
You're a snake from which it's necessary to take out the venom!
Caption 27, El Ausente - Acto 3 - Part 7

Or for everyday tasks at hand:

Pues hay que diseñar unos 'flyers'
So, we have to design some flyers
Caption 58, Arturo Vega - Entrevista - Part 5

On the other hand, to convey a higher grade or urgency, necessity, or imperativeness, the expressions tener + que + infinitive and  deber +  infinitive* come in handy. The difference between deber and tener is subtle: the use of deber confers a sense of duty or moral imperativeness to the expression, while tener is better suited to talk about more practical matters.

You can also use these constructions in an impersonal way, adding the word uno (one):

Ya, cuando a uno le toca ser papá, pues, uno tiene que reflexionar sobre eso. 
Then, when it's time for one to be a dad, well, one has to reflect on that.
Caption 7, Sub30 - Familias - Part 13
[If you want to use the verb deber you would say: uno debe reflexionar (one must reflect)]

Or you can use the first person for more particular and pressing needs:

Ahora tenemos que hablar de precio.
Now we have to talk about price.
Caption 74, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 11
[If you were to use the verb deberdebemos hablar de precio (we must talk about price)]

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*By the way, the use of deber de + infinitive in imperative statements (such as debes de comer, meaning "you must eat") is common but grammatically incorrect. The use of deber de + infinitive is correct when used to express probability. 

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