The imperative is used to either make a request or a command/instruction. That is “Bitte” and “Aufforderung” in German. Making a request and command in German is done in the same way but can be differentiated in speech by the pitch or tone of the user. While in writing, they can be differentiated by the use of punctuation marks.
An imperative sentence is somewhat similar in structure to a “yes or no” question in German. They both place the verb in the number one position. They are differentiated by their punctuation marks and loss of certain characters.
**Note that all verbs with umlaut vowels (ä, ö and ü) in their first syllable must be replaced with the correlating non-umlaut vowel. This rule is also applicable to those strong verbs that change stem vowels at “du”. The only exception is “hören” which retains its umlaut.
Request which is the polite form of an imperative, often goes with a “full stop” and a “bitte” which is the translation of “please” in English. There are three positions of bitte in an imperative sentence;
- At the beginning of the statement.
- In the middle of the statement.
- At the end of the statement.
When bitte is placed at the beginning of the sentence, it must be separated from the imperative statement with a comma. When it is placed at the end, it is separated from the imperative statement with a comma after the last word. But when it is in the middle, it becomes a part of the statement and thus require no comma.
Positions of “bitte” in an imperative statement using its English translation “please” as illustration.
- Please, give me the bag.
- Give me please the bag.
- Give me the bag, please.
Command on the other hand is the “rude” or instructive form of an imperative. It is usually indicated with the use of an exclamation mark ❗️ at the end of the sentence or statement.
Sometimes, the particle “mal” is used with an imperative to emphasize more on the action. This is often when there is no object in the command or request or instruction.
Since the imperative involves a first person talking to a second person directly, there are four types of imperative in German as described below.
The du-Imperative is the second person informal singular imperative. To derive this form of imperative, the respective verb is first conjugated to “du” pronoun and then the conjugated ending “st” is cut off from it. If the stem-end is “-est”, the “-st” is removed leaving behind the “-e”. The derived form of this du-imperative is then used without the pronoun “du”. For example;
- Take it!—— nimm es!
- Look!—— guck mal*!
- Wait!—— warte mal*!
- Eat the food!—— iss das Essen!
- Read the dialogue!—— lies den Dialog!
*Note that mal is added when there is no object in the imperative sentence.
Nevertheless, in colloquial German, an “e” is often added to the derived “du-imperative” that normally would not have an “-e” at the end when conjugating them. This is probably done to make them sound better. For instance “suchen” when conjugated to “du” becomes “suchst”. The imperative ought to be “such” after the “-st” is removed. However, it is used also as “suche”.
Because “du” is naturally termed “impolite” by Germans, the du-imperative is used by many in the form of a Tag question in a bid to make it polite without having to say “bitte”. For example;
- suchst du?!
- kommst du?!
- Stehst du?!
- gibst du mir das Geld?!
The wir-imperative is the first person plural which involves one person speaking on behalf of the others. To derive this form of imperative, the finite form of the verb is used together with the pronoun “wir”. In English, this is translated as “let us” + the meaning of the verb. For instance “gehen wir” would be translated as “let us go”.
Usage of wir-imperative:
- Gehen wir nach Hause.—— let‘s go home.
- Kochen wir den Reis.—— let‘s cook the rice.
Often times the literal translation of the du-imperative of “let us” is used instead of the wir-imperative. For example.
- Lass uns gehen.—— let us go.
- Lass uns warten.—— let us wait.
- Lass uns schlafen.—— let us sleep.
- Lass uns das Zimmer aufräumen.—— let us clean the room.
This is the second person informal plural imperative. While “du” involves addressing one person, “ihr” on the other hand involves addressing two or more people. In other to derive this form of imperative, the verb must be conjugated to the “ihr” pronoun. Just like the du-imperative, the pronoun is not used along side except in a bid to make it polite. For example;
- ruft mich bitte an.—— call me please.
- Seid da!—— be there!
- Studiert mal!—— Study!
- Fahrt nach Berlin!—— drive to Berlin!
This is the formal singular and plural imperative. Deriving the imperative of this verb is quite easy. Just like the wir-imperative, all you need do is use the pronoun “Sie” together with the derived imperative form of the verb. For example;
- Warten Sie mal!—— wait!
- Fahren Sie bitte los!—— start driving please!
- Schreiben Sie mir einen Brief!—— Write a letter to me!
- Bitte, unterschreiben Sie here.—— please sign here.
- Stellen Sie sich vor!—— introduce yourself!
See a list of some accumulated verbs in the imperative form below.
Apart from the four ways listed above, there is also a non grammatical way of making an imperative statement. This is done by simply stating the situation in a completely non-conjugated manner or an infinite verb form. For example;
- Bitte nicht stören!—— please do not disturb!/ no disturbing please!
- Männer und Frauen diese Toilette benutzen!—— men and women, use this toilet!
- Schuhe und Kleidung hier kaufen!—— buy shoes and clothes here!