What is the German imperative? Well, the German imperative (in German called Befehlsform) is probably one of the grammar forms we all learned already when we were kids and our parents demanded us to do something. It is a form of the verb used when giving orders and instructions.
‘Sit down! (Setz dich hin!’)
‘Be quiet!’ (Sei leise!)
‘Shut the door!’ (Mach die Tür zu!)
‘Don’t touch this!’ (Fass das nicht an!)
There are four main forms of the imperative that are used to give instructions or orders to someone. These correspond to the three different ways of saying you: du, ihr, Sie, and wir. However, it is only in the Sie form of the imperative that the pronoun usually appears – in the du and ihr forms, the pronoun is generally dropped, leaving only the verb.
Trink! – Drink!
Trinken Sie! – Drink!
So the conjugation of the German imperative is very simple. – Jeez to a simple German grammar rule! There is no 1st person or 3rd person form of the singular. Let’s look at an example for the complete conjugation of the imperative with the verb trinken:
You just have to know the infinitive of the verb + to whom the order is given (wir (we) o Sie (you formal).
|1st person singular||—||—|
|2nd person singular||trink||drink|
|3rd person singular||—||—|
|1st person plural||trink -en wir||let’s drink|
|2nd person plural||trink -t||drink|
|Polite form (Sie)||trink -en Sie||drink|
Let’s look at the conjugation of the second person singular forming the imperative. For most verbs, the imperative is constructed with the 2nd person singular of the Indikativpräsens and by taking off the “-st” ending ‘. Let me show you this on a different example
|Infinitive||Present 2nd person singular||Infinitive 2nd person singular||Meaning|
|studieren||studier -st||studier(e)||to study|
|arbeiten||arbeite -st||arbeite||to work|
|nehmen||nimm -st||nimm||to take|
|empfehlen||empfehl -st||empfehl||to recommend|
Although there is no vowel change of “e” to “i” or to “ie” in the stem of the last two examples, you can see that the verbs keep complying with the rule that has been shown. In some cases and with some verbs, an “-e” is added in the imperative form. For the imperative of studieren (to study), it is not just valid to say studier`(which is very informal and more slang) but rather you would say studiere.
Ok, so we all know that German is not necessarily the language of love. In fact, German can sometimes sound very harsh, especially when giving orders or speaking out demands. It is the perfect language if you have a dog and want to train him, just use the German language! Therefore it is even more essential, especially in conversation when including the imperative to use some tricks in order to not offend the other person.
Here are the top 3 circumstances that call for a direction, command, or instruction and how to make them sound more polite.
Imagine you want to urge a colleague or friend to do something. It would surely be much easier (and more natural) to simply say:
Mach das! (Do it!)
It always depends on the situation of course but chances are high that you may risk offending the other person by making it sound like a demand. Instead, it is better to say:
Du solltest das machen. (You should do it.)
Adding a ‘could’ or ‘should’ implies a suggestion and doesn’t sound like a command any longer.
For longer explanations or lists, the imperative really comes into its own.
Let’s say you’re on a one-week holiday and a friend has offered to take care of your daily duties and your apartment while you are gone You have a few simple instructions for him or her. You could deliver these in the present tense, but let’s face it, chances are to be spending all afternoon with it. Heer’s what your ‘to-do list’ for your friend might look like in the imperative:
Gieß die Pflanze alle zwei Tage. (Water the plants every two days.)
Hol die Post jeden Tag ab. (Collect the mail daily.)
Nimm dir alles aus dem Kühlschrank. (Eat anything you want from the fridge.)
Ruf mich an, wenn du etwas brauchst. (Call me if you need anything.)
To make sure your friend gets the message in a friendly tone, there is one simple adverb you can always use. This adverb is ‘please.’ By adding a ‘please’ you make the imperative sound much smoother and friendlier, creating a situation of choice and suggestion – a request rather than a command.
These are probably the best opportunities where you can apply the imperative — or conversely the most frustrating if you don’t know how to use it! Let’s be honest, when you’ve narrowly escaped being knocked off your bike by a passing car or someone talking loudly during a movie in the cinema, chances are you won’t be so concerned about being polite. But you’ll certainly want to make yourself clear and that’s what the imperative is brilliant for!
Hau ab / Weg da! (Get lost!)
Sei still! (Be quiet!)
Remember that imperatives are usually followed by an exclamation mark unless they are not being used to give an order or instruction. For example, they can also be used where we might say Can you… or Could you … in English, then, of course, it is referred to an indirect question, therefore no exclamation mark is used.
Lass es los! (Let it go)
Sagen Sie mir bitte wie spät es ist. (Can you tell me what time it is please?)
Instead of the imperative in written instructions or public announcements, we would use infinitives instead (the to form of a verb). Some examples:
Einsteigen! (All aboard!)
Einlassstop! (Entry stop!)
Heute geschlossen! (Closed today)
Rauchen verboten! (No smoking!)
To conclude today’s class on the German imperative I would like to share this quote by Abraham Joshua Heschel. He had a lovely explanation of the imperative. He said:
“I have one talent, and that is the capacity to be tremendously surprised, surprised at life, at ideas. This is to be the supreme Hasidic imperative. Don’t be old. Don’t be stale.”
If you want to become more fluent and be able to use those verb tenses more naturally without thinking, try the Readle – learn German app! Learn by reading German stories with audio from a native speaker, you will learn words by words along with the explanation of the grammar used in Readle.