The German imperative: More than giving orders

The German imperative: More than giving orders

by Sandra Köktaş

Updated November 14, 2022

The German imperative is a mood in German grammar. It is used to give orders and commands. Some would say it’s a quintessential feature of German, as the German language is often perceived as rather rude. We prefer to call it short and concise – a benefit for people learning the language, which can be otherwise quite wordy. Good news for you: There are only four forms of the imperative ( with a few exceptions). But don’t worry, we’ll walk you through all you need to know in three easy steps.

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What is an imperative sentence in German?

The imperative sentence is a usually short order or command directed at someone else or a group. The short commands might sound rude to foreign ears, but when you use the imperative mood in a conversation with German friends, they will most likely interpret it as a suggestion or request and won’t feel offended at all. So have no concerns using sentences like these: 

  • “Pass auf!” – Pay attention!/ Watch out!
  • “Lest bitte Kapitel 5!” – Read chapter 5!
  • “Unterschreiben Sie hier!” – Sign here!
  • “Gehen wir!” – Let’s go!

As mentioned, there is nothing offensive about these imperative sentences. But you can make them sound more polite by adding a please (bitte), giving additional information on what you expect or stressing the urgency of the situation:

  • “Pass gut auf!” – Pay close attention!
  • “Lest bitte Kapitel 5 bis Montag!” – Read chapter 5 until Monday!
  • “Unterschreiben Sie bitte hier!” – Sign here please!

You could also communicate the same thing by using longer sentences like these: 

  • “Ich möchte, dass du gut aufpasst.” – I want you to pay close attention.
  • “Ich erwarte, dass ihr Kapitel 5 bis Montag lest.” – I expect you to read chapter 5 until Monday. 
  • “Darf ich Sie bitten, hier zu unterschreiben?” – May I ask you to sign here please?
  • “Lasst uns jetzt gehen!” – Let’s go now!

It’s up to you to decide which version you want to use but Germans will usually take the short route. So do most English speakers.

By the way, have you noticed that German imperative sentences are built similarly to English ? Most importantly, the verb form is at the beginning of the sentence.

  • “Komm her!” – Come here!

When to use the German imperative

These examples already show how to use the German imperative. Do you have a suggestion or want to get things done? The imperative is the best form in German grammar to express what you want in a short and easy way. You can communicate instructions such as directions and even encouragement in a concise and active way: 

  • “Gehen Sie (nach) rechts!” – Go right!
  • “Packen wir’s an!” – Let’s get on with it!

The German imperative can also save lives: If you see your friend stepping in front of a car, you wouldn’t want to lose time with niceties: “Pass auf!” does a much better job in keeping your friend save than would “Excuse me, but have you noticed this car approaching very fast?” 

Another instance where you’ll encounter the German imperative: when you have to give an actual command. From military training to dog training, you’ll hear Germans use the imperative to quickly and brusquely tell someone (or something) what they need to do. 

Note: In public notices, the infinitive is used instead of the imperative: 

  • “Bitte nicht rauchen!” instead of “Bitte rauchen Sie nicht!” (Please don’t smoke!)

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How to form the imperative in German

Now that you know what the German imperative is and when to use it, now you need to learn how to form it.

To form the imperative for the second-person singular, you use the present tense in the second-person singular minus -st and the personal pronoun du

infinitive present tense 2nd singularimperative 2nd person singular
gehendu gehstgeh

To form the imperative for the second-person plural, you use the present tense without the personal pronoun ihr

infinitive 2nd person pluralImperative 2nd person plural
gehenihr gehtgeht

To form the imperative for the second-person singular and plural Sie (formal you), you use the infinitive followed by the personal pronoun Sie:

infinitive imperative singular formal you imperative plural formal you
gehenGehen Sie!Gehen Sie!

To form the imperative for the first-person plural, you use the infinitive followed by the personal pronoun wir

infinitive imperative 1st person plural
gehenGehen wir!

There are three cases of exceptions, that need an extra look. 

Verbs ending in -s, -z, -x or -ß

To form the imperative for the second-person singular, remove only the -t from the present tense form:

infinitive present tense 2nd singularimperative 2nd person singular
sitzendu sitztsitz

Extra -e

As a variation to the imperative for the second-person singular, an -e can be added at the end. This form is a bit antiquated but still in use, mostly in written or formal language:

infinitive present tense 2nd singularimperative 2nd person singular
gehendu gehstgeh(e)

Haben, sein, werden

Best memorize the imperative forms of haben (have), sein (be) and werden (become): 

imperative second person singularhabseiwerde
imperative second person pluralhabtseidwerdet
imperative singular and plural formal youhaben Sieseien Siewerden Sie
imperative first person pluralhaben wirseien wirwerden wir


  • “Hab eine gute Zeit!” – Have a good time!
  • “Sei vorsichtig!” – Be cautious!
  • “Werde erwachsen!” – Grow up!

Note: While the imperative for the first-person plural of haben is haben, we usually use “lasst uns … haben” as a substitute to avoid confusion with a question. Compare:

  • “Haben wir eine gute Zeit” vs. “Lasst uns eine gute Zeit haben!” and “Haben wir eine gute Zeit?”

(Let’s have a good time vs. Do we have a good time?)

Giving orders in German

The German imperative can cover a lot of situations such as giving orders, giving instructions, making suggestions, providing encouragement or giving a warning. The imperative is directed to the second-person singular and plural in the formal and informal you as well as to a group of people including the speaker (we). With very few exceptions and  variations, the German imperative is easy enough to learn. So go back to your imperative tables and practice!

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Sandra lives in Istanbul, together with her kids, cat and dog. As a historian she thrives exploring this ancient city with her two- and four-legged loved ones. Together, they also love to go on adventures through all of Turkey and its neighboring countries. The perfect opportunity to put all the language learning into practice. If she’s not on the road, Sandra is busy putting her experiences into writing as a freelance copywriter for the travel industry and everything related to language, culture and family. Her particular interest lies in providing information on animal welfare with her website

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