German imperative is one of the three grammar moods in German – and many might say that it’s the easiest one. After all, you don’t have to memorize all the endings, you don’t have to use verbs in different tenses, you don’t even have to use all the persons!
German imperative is used only in the present tense form with 2nd person singular and 1st and 2nd persons plural, which makes it pretty easy to learn. However, as in any foreign language, there are several things that might complicate the grammar a little bit – such as using it in different formal and informal situations or making it seem less rude.
Do you want to learn the basics about forming the German imperative? In that case, read on and make sure that it sounds just the way you want it to.
Well, it is probably one of the grammar forms we all had probably learned when we were kids and our parents demanded us to do something. The imperative is a form of the verb (grammatical mood) 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 mood 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, which leaves us with only the verb.
Trink! – Drink!
Trinken Sie! – Drink!
The conjugation of the German imperative is very simple in the first and second person plural. All you need is just to know the infinitive of the verb + to whom the order is given (wir (first person plural) or Sie (second person plural). Let’s look at an example for the complete conjugation of the imperative with the verb trinken:
|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|
Now, let’s take a look at the conjugation of the second person singular forming the imperative. For most verbs, the imperative mood is constructed with the 2nd person singular of the Indikativpräsens (the present tense form) by taking off the “-st” ending. Here is 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 certain verbs, you need to add an “-e” to the imperative form. For example, when creating the imperative of studieren (to study), you won’t say studier`(which is very informal and sounds like slang) but rather studiere.
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.
Because of that, it is even more essential not to offend the other person when you want to use the imperative form.
Here are the top 3 circumstances that call for a direction, command, or instruction – and several tips on 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!)
Of course, it always depends on the situation, 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 forms can sound too formal or seem more like commands. This way, it can be hard to express your politeness if you only use the imperative form – and in the end, you might offend the person.
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 want to create a note with a few simple instructions for them. You could deliver these in the present tense, but let’s face it – chances are, you might 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 an informal tone, there is one simple word you can always use. This word is bitte – “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 form — it might even be 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 is 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 great for:
Hau ab / Weg da! (Get lost!)
Sei still! (Be quiet!)
Remember that imperative forms are usually followed by an exclamation mark unless they are not being used to give an order or instruction. For example, you can also use them when saying “Can you…?” or “Could you…?” in English. Then, of course, the German imperative is used as an indirect question, therefore you don’t need an exclamation mark.
Lass es los! (Let it go)
Sagen Sie mir bitte wie spät es ist. (Can you tell me what time it is, please?)
In written instructions or public announcements, we would use an infinitive form instead of the imperative mood (the to form of a verb). Here are 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, we would like to share this quote by Abraham Joshua Heschel. He had a lovely explanation of the imperative:
“I have one talent, and that is the capacity to be tremendously surprised, surprised at life, at ideas. This is, to me, the supreme Hasidic imperative. Don’t be old. Don’t be stale.”
So work on your German skills and make progress – don’t sit still.
Remember that practice makes perfect – and only with the help of it will you be able to quickly distinguish, for example, the second person singular or the first person plural in the German imperative. As you read, listen, and write in German more, you’ll intuitively learn when to add an -e to the imperative form, when to say “bitte” (please), and when to put exclamation marks.
And if you want to become more fluent and be able to use different German tenses more naturally without thinking, try the Readle – learn German app. Learn by reading German stories with audio from a native speaker, and master the vocabulary and the grammar quickly and efficiently.