The imperative tense in Spanish is sometimes overlooked. As beginners, we learn 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 this tense used by your teacher constantly. Here is an easy trick to master the imperative in Spanish.
The imperative tense in Spanish
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 conjugations. 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: –AR verbs
In neutral Spanish verb conjugation, there are five declinations. In the imperative tense, however, there are only four. The imperative works only with tú, usted, nosotros, and ustedes. Here is the neutral vs. imperative conjugation for –AR verbs.
Memory trick: It can occur that the informal tú imperative matches the spelling of the 3rd person neutral.
|bajar (to go down)||neutral||imperative|
|el/ella/Usted 3rd person||baja||baje|
Neutral v. imperative: -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.
|comer (to eat)||neutral||imperative|
|escribir (to write)||neutral||imperative|
Rules to form the imperative tense in Spanish
In Spanish, there is a difference between informal and formal speaking. You can refresh your memory on the topic with this post about how to talk to your boss in Spanish. The imperative tense in Spanish is no different. There are three simple rules you need to remember: informal, formal –AR, and formal –ER/IR.
1. Informal rule: All three types of regular verbs (-AR, -ER, -IR) work in the same way. Conjugate them by simply using the 1st person neutral, 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!
Your trick to remember the Spanish imperative
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 recognize it in a professional setting such as during a Spanish-language job interview. Now it is time to test out the imperative mood in real-life situations!