Imperative Commands in German Grammar

What is the German imperative?

The imperative (der Imperativ) is a mood in German grammar that expresses orders and commands. The German imperative only exists in the second person singular (du), plural (ihr) and polite form (Sie) as well as in the first person plural (wir).

Learn how to use the German imperative with Lingolia then put your knowledge to the test in the free exercise.

Example

Fahrgast: Halten Sie!

Fahrer: Steigen Sie ein!

Fahrgast: Fahren Sie mich bitte zum Bahnhof!

Fahrer: Schnallen Sie sich bitte an!

Fahrgast: Fahren wir!

When to use the imperative in German grammar

With the imperative, we order someone to do something.

Example:
Halten Sie!Stop!
Steigen Sie ein!Get in!
Fahren Sie mich zum Bahnhof!Take me to the station!

Sometimes we include ourselves in the command and use the imperative for the 1st person plural (wir). This is similar to the English expression Let’s go/do/see …

Example:
Fahren wir!Let’s go!

Info

The imperative is very common in German because it allows us to express orders in the shortest way possible.

For non-native speakers, this form can sometimes sound too direct or somewhat rude, but it’s not usually meant that way. To sound more polite, just add bitte (please).

Example:
Fahren Sie mich bitte zum Bahnhof!Please take me to the station!
Schnallen Sie sich bitte an!Please buckle up!

How to form the German imperative

Sie/wir

We form the imperative for the 1st person plural wir and the polite form Sie in the same way: infinitive + Sie/wir.

Example:
Gehen Sie!Go!!
Gehen wir!Let’s go!

We add an additional e to the verb sein to help with pronunciation.

Example:
Seien Sie ehrlich!Be honest!
Seien wir ehrlich!Let’s be honest!

ihr

For the 2nd person plural ihr, we simply use the simple present of the verb without the subject pronoun.

Example:
Geht!Go!
Seid ehrlich!Be honest!

du

We normally form the imperative for du by removing the ending en from the infinitive.

Example:
Geh!Go!
Sei ehrlich!Be honest!

In formal contexts, we often add an e to many verbs, but this isn’t typical in everyday situations.

Example:
Gehe!Go!

Irregular Conjugation in the 2nd Person Singular

Some verbs have an irregular conjugation in the imperative with du:

    • The root vowel change from e to i/ie also happens in the imperative; in this case, however, we never add the imperative -e ending.
      Example:
      Lies!Read! (lesen – ich lese, du liest)(to read – I read, you read)
      not: Liese!
    • The root vowel change from a to ä does not happen in the imperative.
      Example:
      Fahr!Drive!/Go!
      but: ich fahre, du fährst
    • If the stem of the present-tense form ends in d/t, we always add an e.
      Example:
      Warte!Wait!
      not: Wart!
    • If the stem of the present-tense form ends in consonant + m/n, we always add an e. Exceptions: m, n, l, r or h (but not ch).
      Example:
      Atme!/Zeichne!Breathe!/Draw!
      but: Schwimm(e)!/Lern(e)!Swim!/Learn!
    • If the verb ends in eln/ern, we always add an e. The e of eln/ern can be omitted.
      Example:
      Fei(e)re!Celebrate!
      Ang(e)le!/Fish!

Info

When the verb is separable, the particle comes at the end of the imperative phrase.

Example:
anschnallen → Schnallen Sie sich an.(to) fasten one’s seatbelt → Fasten your seatbelt.