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The Imperative Mood of English Verbs

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The Imperative Mood of English Verbs

The imperative mood is one of three grammatical moods in the English language. As a grammatical mood, the imperative expresses modality, which is the grammaticalized expression of the subjective attitudes and opinions of the speaker including possibility, probability, necessity, obligation, permissibility, ability, desire, and contingency. In the English language, the imperative mood is a verb form that allows speakers to make direct commands or requests and grant or deny permission. The following sections explain the formation and use of imperative verbs in the English language that both native English speakers and English language learners must master.

Forming Affirmative Imperatives

Unlike most conjugated verbs in English, verbs in the imperative mood consist of a single word rather than a phrase of two or more words. Also unlike other English verb forms, the grammatical subject of verbs in the imperative is always the second person singular or plural personal pronoun you. The imperative form of English verbs is identical to the base form (an infinitive without the p-word to functioning as the infinitive marker) of any English verb. For example:

  • Infinitive – Base – Affirmative Imperative
  • to be – be – be
  • to do – do – do
  • to eat – eat – eat
  • to drink – drink – drink
  • to go – go – go
  • to sleep – sleep – sleep
  • to stay – stay – stay
  • to stop – stop – stop
  • to study – study – study
  • to wait – wait – wait

The form of the imperative that is identical to the base form of the verb is sometimes referred to as an affirmative or positive imperative. Affirmative imperatives tell someone to do something.

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Forming Negative Imperatives

Unlike affirmative imperatives, negative imperatives are periphrastic. Periphrasis is a term that means a “phrase of two or more words that perform a single grammatical function that would otherwise be expressed by the inflection of a single word.” Negative imperatives tell someone to not do something. The negative imperative form of English verbs is formed by the simple present tense form of the verb do followed by the adverb not and then the affirmative imperative form. For example:

  • Infinitive – Base – Negative Imperative
  • to be – be – do not be
  • to do – do – do not do
  • to eat – eat – do not eat
  • to drink – drink – do not drink
  • to go – go – do not go
  • to sleep – sleep – do not sleep
  • to stay – stay – do not stay
  • to stop – stop – do not stop
  • to study – study – do not study
  • to wait – wait – do not wait

The do not of a negative imperative is often spoken and sometimes written as the contraction don’t as in Don’t be silly and Don’t sleep too late.

Using Imperatives

Although imperative verbs are often referred to as commands, the imperative mood also occurs in sentences that express the following situations:

  • Give commands
  • Make requests
  • Grant or deny permission
  • Make offers
  • Apologize
  • Well-wishing

For example:

  • Be quiet!
  • Open the window please.
  • Go to the movie if you want.
  • Do not take the car out tonight.
  • Come to my party!
  • Excuse me.
  • Have a good day!

The imperative is a grammatical mood in English that expresses direct commands and requests. The form of the imperative mood of English verbs is identical to the base form.

Summary

The imperative mood is a verb form that allows speakers to make direct commands or requests and grant or deny permission.

The imperative expresses modality, which is the grammaticalized expression of the subjective attitudes and opinions of the speaker including possibility, probability, necessity, obligation, permissibility, ability, desire, and contingency.

The imperative form of English verbs is identical to the base form (an infinitive without the p-word to functioning as the infinitive marker) of any English verb.

The negative imperative form of English verbs is formed by the simple present tense form of the verb do followed by the adverb not and then the affirmative imperative form.

References

Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Kilby, David. 1984. Descriptive syntax and the English verb. Dover, New Hampshire: Croom Helm
Leech, Geoffrey N. 2004. Meaning and the English verb. Harlow, English: Pearson Longman.

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Written by Heather Johnson

Heather is a writer, librarian, linguist, wife, and mother who loves her husband, children, dogs, and cat. She has a bachelor's degree in English with a minor in creative writing and master's degrees in library and information science and English studies with a concentration in linguistics.

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