Try this easy trick to master the imperative mood in Spanish

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez
February 17, 2021

The imperative mood in Spanish is sometimes overlooked. As beginners, we learn the neutral Spanish tenses like present, past, and future. The reality is that when you speak Spanish, you do more than neutral storytelling. You interact more. At work or with friends, this means telling people what to do. In your online Spanish lessons, you hear the imperative mood from your teacher constantly. Here is Alison’s easy trick to master the imperative mood in Spanish.

The Spanish imperative mood

First things first: Imperative means “of vital importance”. Imperatives are commands telling somebody what to do. The imperative mood is used to give orders, warnings, recommendations, and advice. When you learn Spanish at home, you typically learn the neutral mood, which is regular conjugation. Read these common phrases in English and Spanish to recognize what is meant by the imperative mood.

  • dime lo que pasó – tell me what happened (informal)
  • cierra la puerta para la entrevista por favor – close the door for the interview, please (formal)
  • bajemos las escaleras – let’s go down the stairs 
  • siéntense – sit down (all of you)

Neutral v. imperative mood in Spanish –AR verbs

In neutral Spanish verb conjugation, there are five conjugations. In the imperative mood, there are only four. The imperative mood has only tú, usted, nosotros, and ustedes. That’s because you don’t tell yourself out loud what to do. Here is the neutral vs. imperative conjugation for –AR verbs. Memory trick: Often the informal tú imperative has the same spelling as 3rd person neutral, but not always.

AR
bajar (to go down)neutralimperative
yobajo
bajasbaja
el/ella/Usted 3rd personbajabaje
nosotras(os)bajamosbajemos
ellos/ellas/Ustedesbajanbajen

Imperative mood in Spanish: -ER and –IR verbs 

Here are the regular conjugations for neutral vs. imperative –ER and –IR verbs as well. You will notice that –ER and –IR verbs follow a similar rule.

ER
comer (to eat)neutralimperative
yocomo
comescome
el/ella/Usted comecoma
nosotras(os)comemoscomamos
ellos/ellas/Ustedescomencoman
IR
escribir (to write)neutralimperative
yoescribo
escribesescribe
el/ella/Usted escribeescriba
nosotras(os)escribimosescribamos
ellos/ellas/Ustedesescribenescriban

The rules of Spanish imperative mood

In Spanish, there is a difference between informal and formal speaking. I explained this phenomenon in my post about how to talk to your boss in Spanish. The imperative mood in Spanish is no different. There are three simple rules you need to remember the imperative mood: informal, formal –AR, and formal –ER/IR. 

1. Informal rule: All three types of regular verbs (-AR, -ER, -IR) work the same. Conjugate them by simply using the 1st person neutral (yo format), drop the –o, and add the corresponding vowel.  

  • bajar > bajo > baja 
  • comer > como > come 
  • escribir > escribo > escribe 

2. Formal -AR rule: Take the 1st person neutral, drop the –o, and swap out the final –a for an –e.

  • bajar > bajo > baja > baje

3. Formal –ER/IR rule: Take the 1st person neutral, drop the –o, and swap the vowel for an –a instead.

  • comer > come > coma
  • escribir > escribe > escriba

Notice in the formal imperative that -AR and –ER/IR verbs use opposite vowels from each other. Miremos (let’s see) the rules in action.

  • Neutral: Tú bajas las escaleras. – You go down the stairs.
  • Neutral: Ella baja las escaleras. – She goes down the stairs.
  • Imperative1: ¡Baja las escaleras! – Go down the stairs! (informal)
  • Imperative2: ¡Baje las escaleras! – Go down the stairs! (formal)
  • Imperative3: ¡Bajemos las escaleras! – Let’s go down the stairs!
  • Imperative4: ¡Bajen las escaleras! – All of you go down the stairs!

Easy trick to remember the Spanish imperative

My easy trick is to remember informal vs. formal imperative in Spanish. Since informal is for friends and peers, it takes the least amount of work (1st person neutral, drop the –o, add vowel). With formal imperative, there is an extra step (+ opposite vowel). Memory trick: a formal situation requires more effort!

Today we covered regular affirmative commands in the imperative mood. We will get to irregular and negative commands in a future blog post. In today’s lesson, you learned enough to recognise it in a professional setting such as during a Spanish-language job interview.

Test out the imperative mood with a native Spanish-speaking tutor. Register for a 7-day free trial with Lingoda today.