Understanding Imperative Sentences

In an imperative sentence, we are usually telling someone else to do (or not do) something. These sentences are also known as direct commands. This type of imperative sentence sometimes ends with an exclamation point, but not always.

Do imperative sentences have other purposes beyond giving commands? Yes, they are also used to make requests, give instructions, offer advice, or express wishes. We will take a closer look at imperative sentences and the various ways they are used. As always, we will provide some examples to help make things clearer for you.

Where is the subject?

Hand me the wrench, please.

Do not walk on the grass!

Make sure your reports are on my desk before 3pm.

Have a lovely day!

Since all of these imperative sentences start with a verb, you may be wondering what happened to the subject. There has to be a subject, right? Every sentence has one, or else it isn’t a complete sentence. But where is it?

The subject of most imperative sentences is “you”. This “you” can be directed at a single individual or a group of people, such as a work crew, or even the general public. “Do not walk on the grass!” would be an example of an imperative sentence that is directed at the general public.

Why don’t most imperative sentences start with “You” since that is the subject? The reason is because the person (or group) who is hearing/reading the imperative sentence already understands that they are being addressed. Thus, the subject of an imperative sentence is often omitted.

There are some contexts where the writer/speaker should include the subject in an imperative sentence. Let’s say you are a classroom teacher and you are giving instructions to some students, but to not all of them. You would make this clear by starting your imperative sentence with a subject:

Alena, Igor, and Natasha, put away your phones and pay attention!

Olga, please pass out these papers.

Boys, get in line for gym class.

Group Three students, make sure you have all the materials you need for your presentation.

Positive or Negative

Imperative sentences can be either positive or negative. In negative imperatives, we are telling someone what not to do. We usually use “do not” or “don’t” before the verb.

Do not pet the alligators!

Don’t forget to take your laptop to the conference.

Do not tell Mom that I flunked the science exam.

Common Uses of Imperative Sentences

Giving Orders/Commands: Imperatives are often used to give direct commands. Sometimes we are telling someone to do something, but other times we use a negative imperative to tell someone not to do something. These types of imperative sentences are usually short and get straight to the point, but in some cases they can also come off as brusque or rude.

Finish the report before lunch.

Don’t let the dog out.

Stop poking your brother!

Making Requests: When we make a request, we use more polite language than we do when we give commands. Even adding a single word such as “please” can really change the tone of an imperative sentence, making it sound softer and more gracious. Here are a couple of examples, but for a deeper dive into the subject, please see our article, “Making Polite Requests.”

Pass the butter, please.

Bring me some coffee, if it isn’t too much trouble.

Please call the head office sometime today and find out if there are any updates on the ABC account.

Giving Directions/Instructions: Imperative sentences are often used to give directions or instructions. You can find many real-world examples of this if you buy a new item that comes with a set of directions—even an article of clothing will have a tag with instructions on how to wash it. Recipes also provide great examples of how imperative sentences are used to give instructions.

Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.

Place the dough in a pie pan.

Boil the noodles for 8-10 minutes.

Offering Advice: Below are some examples of how imperative sentences can be used to offer advice, suggestions, or guidance.

Take History 105 with Professor Sato instead of History 109 with Professor Dort.

Volunteer to work overtime if you really want to impress the manager.

Go to a coffee shop or some other public place the first time you meet an online friend in the real world.

Expressing wishes: Below are some common expressions that we use to wish somebody well. It may surprise you to learn that these are actually imperative sentences!

Get well soon!

Have a great day!

Enjoy your trip!

As you can see from all the above examples, imperative sentences are used for many more purposes than giving commands. If you need some help with imperative sentences or any other aspect of English writing, click the blue box below. Our TextRanch editors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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