Imperative Commands in German Grammar

Introduction

The imperative mood expresses requests and commands. We can use it to address people in the second person singular (du) plural (ihr) and polite form (Sie) as well as the first person plural (wir).

Learn how to conjugate the imperative form of German verbs on Lingolia and practise writing your own imperative commands in the exercises.

Example

Fahrgast: Halten Sie!

Fahrer: Steigen Sie ein!

Fahrgast: Fahren Sie mich bitte zum Bahnhof!

Fahrer: Schnallen Sie sich bitte an!

Fahrgast: Fahren wir!

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Usage

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).

Example:
Fahren wir!Let’s go!

Info

The imperative is very common in German, because it lets us say with the fewest words possible what someone should do. For non-native speakers, this form sometimes sounds rather rude, but it’s not usually meant that way. To sound more polite just say bitte (please).

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

Conjugation

1st/3rd person plural (wir/Sie)

We form the imperative for Sie/wir with the verb in the infinitive form + Sie/wir. For the verb sein, we add an additional e.

Example:
Gehen Sie!/Seien Sie ehrlich!Go!/Be honest!
Gehen wir!/Seien wir ehrlich!Let’s go!/Let’s be honest!

2nd person plural (ihr)

The imperative for ihr is the finite verb form of the 2nd person plural, but without the pronoun.

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

2nd person singular (du)

We normally form the imperative for du by removing the ending en from the infinitive. In elevated language we often add an e to many verbs, but in colloquial speech we generally leave it off.

Example:
Geh(e)!/Sei ehrlich!Go!/Be honest!

Irregular Conjugation in 2nd Person Singular:

  • 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)I go/drive, you go/drive
  • 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. This doesn’t happen, however, if this consonant is an 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 left off.)
    Example:
    Fei(e)re!/Ang(e)le!Celebrate!/Fish!