Spanish imperative: Affirmative versus negative

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez
May 07, 2021
friends practising talking Spanish imperative using Affirmative versus negative

The Spanish imperative mood always throws a spanner into the works. In daily Spanish conversation, we need to speak in both neutral and imperative moods. We covered the basics and how to master the imperative mood in Spanish before. It’s all about telling people what to do: Affirmative commands. To communicate effectively, we also need to tell people what not to do: Negative commands. If you learn both affirmative and negative commands in Spanish, you will have a strong grasp of many real-life situations. Here is the Spanish imperative mood including affirmative and negative command in Spanish.

When to use negative commands in Spanish

A few months ago, in 15 Spanish phrases to use at work, we focused on vocabulary for managers to run an office meeting. Good managers lead by example and often directly tell the team what to do. This includes behaviour to avoid. The office is a good setting to use negative commands in Spanish. 

When else might you need negative commands in Spanish? If you interact with children, it’s important to instruct them on safety issues. This includes your kids, babysitting, and play dates. For anyone reading up on maternity leave in Spain, this information will come in handy in the future. 

Negative vs. affirmative imperative in Spanish

The affirmative imperative in Spanish is easy enough to learn. Our trick for the informal imperative of any regular verb is take the 1st person singular, drop the –o, and add the corresponding vowel. For AR verbs this is –a. For ER/IR verbs this is –e. 

  • Hablar > hablo > habla

Our trick for the formal Usted is the same, except add the opposite vowel that does not correspond (swap –e for –a and vice versa). 

  • Hablar > hablo > habla > hable

The negative imperative in Spanish is slightly trickier. For informal negative imperatives, take the 1st person singular (hablo), drop the –o (habl-), add the opposite vowel (hable), and add an –s (hables). 

Affirmative (tú)Affirmative (Ud.)*Negative (tú)Negative (Ud.)*
HablarhablahableNo hablesNo hable
ComercomecomaNo comasNo coma
EscribirescribeescribaNo escribasNo escriba

*Note; Formal Usted is the same form in both affirmative and negative. For informal imperatives, memorise them in coupled pairs: “¡Habla/No hables!” (Talk!/Don’t talk!). Always say both together while you learn. Trust me, your brain will thank you. 

Spanish imperative at the office

We know how to talk to your boss in Spanish. Now we are learning how to be the boss in Spanish. Here are some imperative mood conjugations in both afirmativo/negativo to use in real life.

  • ¡Habla con Jimena!/ ¡No hables con Monse porque ella no está en este proyecto! – Talk to Jimena./Don’t talk to Monse because she isn’t on this project.
  • ¡Escríbeme a tu jefa! ¡No escribas al director ejecutivo! – Write to your boss./Don’t write to the CEO.

Spanish imperative at a restaurant

When you order food in Spanish, sometimes you need to tell the kitchen about a food allergy or despised ingredient. Don’t be afraid to use imperative phrases in Spanish to emphasise you are serious. Note: For reflexive verbs, the format is Affirmative + me/No + me + negative.

  • Dáme una pizza./No me des de camarón porque soy alérgica. – Give me a pizza./Don’t give me the shrimp because I am allergic.  
  • Come la ensalada./No comas rápido. Tenemos mucho tiempo. – Eat the salad./Don’t eat quickly. We have a lot of time.

Spanish imperative for travel

You may know basic Spanish for travelling, but do you know how to use Spanish imperatives while on holiday? Here are some options for taxi cab instructions.

  • Llévame al hotel./No me lleves por el camino largo porque ya estoy atrasada. – Take me to the hotel./Don’t take me the long way because I am already late.
  • Toma la carretera, está bien si hay una tárifa./No tomes esta salida. Queda más cerca de la próxima. – Take the freeway, it’s ok if there is a fee./Don’t take this exit. It’s closer to the next one.

Using the Spanish imperative can make conversations flow smoothly. Using affirmative and negative commands helps you to improve your authority and become comfortable in Spanish-speaking work, social, and travel settings. What real-life situations do you see yourself using commands in Spanish?

Ready to practise your commands with a native Spanish speaker? Register for a 7-day free trial with Lingoda today.

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