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Taking Command in Spanish with the Imperative Mood

Sometimes you just can’t help but order people around by giving a command. You use the imperative mood when you tell a Spanish waiter to bring you water, ask a dinner guest to please pass the salt, or order your dog to sit. Commands such as these tell someone, or sometimes yourself, to do something.

The imperative is called a mood, rather than a tense, because it deals with wants and desires, and the time is always now.

In most cases, you bark out commands in the you form, but in Spanish, you can mean any of four different you’s: formal singular, formal plural, informal singular, and informal plural. This article explains the formal commands. You use formal commands with people who are older and wiser than you or with folks whom you don’t know very well.

Forming the formal “you” singular command

When forming the formal, singular you or the usted (Ud.) commands in the positive and the negative forms, you drop the -o ending of the yo form, and add an -e for -ar verbs or an -a for -er and -ir verbs. Here are a few examples:

Hable. = Speak. No hable. = Don’t speak.
Coma. = Eat. No coma. = Don’t eat.
Escriba. = Write. No escriba. = Don’t write.

Spanish has only the following three irregular usted commands:

Infinitive Positive Command Negative Command
Ir Vaya. = Go. No vaya. = Don’t go.
Saber Sepa. = Know. No sepa. = Don’t know.
Ser Sea. = Be. No sea. = Don’t be.

Forming the formal “you” plural command

When forming the formal, plural you or ustedes (Uds.) commands, you simply add an -n to the Ud. command form. This rule applies for the regular and irregular verbs, as shown in the following examples:

  • Hablen. = Speak.

  • ¡No coman! = Don’t eat!

  • Escriban. = Write.

  • ¡No sean tontos! = Don’t be foolish!

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