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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

 
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

 
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
 

Grammar

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