Lesen Sie diesen Blog! — The imperative in German

Screen Shot 2012 06 17 At 8 32 52 Am

Lesen Sie diesen Blog! — The imperative in German

Many of my students are parents. Why is this important? Because it is one of the few things you can be if you want to correctly use the informal imperative and be not only grammatically, but also contextually correct.

The imperative mood (abbreviated imp) expresses commands or requests as a grammatical mood. These commands or requests urge the audience to act a certain way. It also may signal a prohibition, permission, or any other kind of exhortation.

The imperative, or command form, is a German form that is often used, though usually in polite formal ways. Here are a few cases where you would use the imperative:

  • when giving directions on how to get to a specific place
  • when requesting an action be done such as a response to an e-mail
  • when training your dog
  • when giving the directions for a recipe

You should have a good idea, you literally are being an imperator (commander) and demanding and/or directing people.

German has three forms of the imperative:

  1. Formal (Sie)
  2. Informal singular (du)
  3. Informal plural (ihr)

1. Formal (Singular & Plural)

When used formally the subject is explicitly mentioned:

z.B. Gehen Sie geradeaus und biegen Sie an der Kreuzung rechts ab.
(Go straight ahead and turn right at the intersection.)

This is the simplest form of the imperative because you don’t have to conjugate any verbs. All you have to do is start the sentence with the verb in the infinitive and follow it by the formal pronoun for you – Sie.

Just a quick note on intonation here. This is a command so your voice does not go up at the end of the sentence, otherwise it will sound like a German yes/no question and you’ll sound confused. Be careful not to shout these or say them too strickly, as the tone will come across as rude and angry (Think Nazi soldier in WWII movies).

This form can be used in written correspondence, when speaking to strangers, or requesting things of employees or clients. To be polite, you should use the word “bitte”.

z.B. Bitte melden Sie sich bei uns innerhalb den nächsten fünf Tagen.
(Please contact us within the next five days.)

Note the verb sein is a little tricky. It changes to seien.

z.B. Seien Sie bitte ruhig!
(Please be quiet.)

2. Informal Singular

If you have children, or you’re simply bossy with your spouse, partner, boyfriend or girlfriend this form will be of some use to you. Of course these are also used for Kommando (German dog commands).

The rule is quite simple. Conjugate the verb to the present simple du form and drop the st unless the stem ends in an ‘s’ in which case you simply drop the t. If the verb has a stem vowel change from a –>; ä we do not keep the umlaut, however, e –>; i (z.B. geben –>; gib) and e –>; ie (z.B. lesen –>; lies) changes do occur.

z.B. Fahr nicht so schnell! (fahren)
(Don’t drive so fast!)

Gib mir das Buch! (geben)
(Give me the book!)

Komm! (kommen)
(Come!)

*Lies uns den Brief vor! (vorlesen)
(Read us the letter!)

**Lächle! (lächeln)
(Smile!)

*Note that separable prefixes still go at the end of the sentence.

**Note that if the verb stem ends in -(i)g, -d, -t, -l, -(t)m, and -n often an -e is added to help with the pronunciation after an abrupt stop.

***The verbs sein and werden are also exceptions to the rule. Sein becomes sei, and werden becomes werde.

z.B. Sei ruhig!
(Be quiet!)

Werde nicht frech!
(Don’t get smart!)

3. Informal Plural

This form is quite simple, but unless you’re an informal boss, have more than one child or are a teacher, it doesn’t come up that much. To construct it, you simply conjugate the verb to the second person plural form in the present simple. I know that’s a mouth full of grammar talk, but all it means is conjugate the verb to the ihr form. Then like with the informal singular you leave out the subject.

z.B. Werdet nicht frech! (werden)
(Don’t get smart!) said to a group of people.

Lauft! (laufen)
(Run!) said to a group of people.

Seid mal ruhig! (sein)
(Be quiet for once!) said to a group of people.

Macht eure Hausaufgaben! (machen)
(Do your homework!) said to a group of people (children)

Making suggestions in a group

If you’re in a group of people and you want to say that you should do something. That is you want to suggest an action, where in English you would say “Let us…” or “Let’s…” in German we use the Verb + wir form.

z.B. Gehen wir Essen und dann ins Kino!
(Let’s go eat and then to the cinema.)

Here’s a quick overview of the different forms:

FormalInformal
InfinitivePlural & Singular (Sie)Singular (Du)Plural (Ihr)
kommenKommen Sie bitte hier!Komm hier!Kommt hier!
gebenGeben Sie mir bitte Bescheid.Gib mir Bescheid!Gebt mit Bescheid!
fahrenFahren Sie bitte nicht so schnell.Fahr nicht so schnell!Fahrt nicht so schnell!

Exercises:

Try these exercises before you go out and start commanding people around.

1. Write the three command forms (Sie, du, ihr) for the following verbs.

A. hier | bleiben

  • Bleiben Sie hier!
  • Bleib hier!
  • Bleibt hier!

B. nicht | rauchen

  • __________________________________________________________________
  • __________________________________________________________________
  • __________________________________________________________________

C. ruhig | sein

  • __________________________________________________________________
  • __________________________________________________________________
  • __________________________________________________________________

D. den Arzt | holen

  • __________________________________________________________________
  • __________________________________________________________________
  • __________________________________________________________________

E. das Gemüse | essen (use the correct possessive pronoun)

  • __________________________________________________________________
  • __________________________________________________________________
  • __________________________________________________________________

F. die Polizei | rufen

  • __________________________________________________________________
  • __________________________________________________________________
  • __________________________________________________________________

2. Address the person in parentheses in the imperative form.

A. [Sie] hereinkommen | doch = Kommen Sie doch herein!

  • __________________________________________________________________

B. [ihr] nicht | weglaufen

  • __________________________________________________________________

C. [du] schreiben | mal

  • __________________________________________________________________

D. [Sie] das Fenster | zumachen

  • __________________________________________________________________

E. [du] es | vergessen

  • __________________________________________________________________

F. [Ihr] zurückkommen

  • __________________________________________________________________
  1. MagMag06-26-2012

    **Lächle! (lächELn)
    (Smile!)

  2. TompuLTompuL01-31-2013

    Lieber Christian, bitte besprechen Sie uns die Trennbare und Untrennbare Verben! (Sie-Form)
    besprich bitte uns die Trennbare und Untrennbare Verben! (Du-Form)
    Besprecht bitte uns die Trennbare und Untrennbare Verben! (Ihr-Form)

  3. shreyashreya02-21-2013

    thanx it helped me alot during my exams..

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