The Imperative--Giving Directions, Suggestions, and Advice

The Imperative in English – Giving Directions, Suggestions, and Advice in English

Learning the imperative in English

The imperative is the form of the verb we use to give directions, instructions, suggestions, or advice. We also use it to give direct orders. The imperative is easy to form. We simply use the base form of the verb. In this posting I talk about how to form and use the imperative. There will be many example sentences. The download at the end will give you additional practice using the imperative.

Here is the Lesson I taught on how to form the imperative in English

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The imperative is very easy to form. It is simply the base form of the verb. Here are some examples:

  • Sit down.
  • Stand in line.
  • Fill out this form.

To make the imperative negative, place the words ” do not” or “don’tin front of the base form of the verb.

  • Do not sit down.
  • Don’t touch that button.
  • Don’t forget about the party tonight.

Using the imperative to give instructions

Your boss may use the imperative when he gives you instructions at work. He/She may say, Work on this project until lunch time, and then go back to your regular work.” A cookbook uses the imperative as well, in the recipes it contains.

  • Measure 1 cup flour.
  • Put in a medium-sized bowl.
  • Blend, but don’t over mix.

An owner’s manual uses the imperative when it tells you how to do something.

  • To change the ink cartridges in your printer, first open the door indicated on the diagram.
  • Remove the empty cartridge.
  • Replace it with a new one.
  • Close the door.

The imperative can be very forceful when you are angry or when you are giving a direct order, such as in the military.

  • Don’t lie! 
  • Stop talking! 
  • Forward, march

Using the imperative to give advice

We also use the imperative to give advice or suggestions to someone. He or she is not required to do as we say, but we think it would be a good idea Here are some examples.

  • You are ill. Go to the doctor.
  • Deposit your paycheck now so that you can pay your rent.
  • Make sure you get your car serviced before you go on a road trip.
  • Don’t take her too seriously. She yells at everyone.

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If we want to add emphasis, we often add the word,”just.”

  • Just do it!   This means stop wasting time and do what you promised.
  • Just sign right here.  This means, “It’s easy. Sign your name.”
  • All you have too do is just sign right here.  This means you only have to do one thing and nothing else. Sign your name.

Softening the imperative

The imperative can be very direct and forceful. Sometimes it does not feel very polite. Here are some words and expressions we can add to make it softer and more polite.

  • You can add “please”:
    • Please sit down.
    • Please don’t make noise.
  •  Adding “Let’s” (Let us):
    • Let’s see a movie tonight.
    • Let’s not forget our ID cards.
  • Why don’t we:
    • Why don’t we see a movie tonight?   This looks like a question, but it is used idiomatically as a suggestion.
  • Why don’t you:
    • Why don’t you call your mother before we leave?   Again, this looks like a question, but it is used as a suggestion.
  • Do you want to or Would you like to:
    • Would you like to pick up some butter on the way home from work?   This also is not a question, but a suggestion.
  • Won’t you, will you:
    • Sit down, won’t you
    • Try my chocolate cake, will you?  Again, these are suggestions.
  • Would you:
    • Help me with this, would you  This is also a suggestion.
  • You will need to:
    • You will need to turn right at the next traffic light.  This is giving advice.
  • It’s a good idea to:
    • It’s a good idea to leave early on a snowy day.  This is also giving advice.
  • If you can:
    • Call me tonight if you can.  This is a polite suggestion.

The imperative in some common traffic words and expressions

  1. continueContinue for five miles until you come to the highway.
  2. turn–Just turn left at the second street after the traffic light.
  3. keep goingKeep going until you pass a shopping mall.
  4. take a left/right–This means to turn. Take a left on Broadway.
  5. pull overYou need to pull over when you hear a siren.
  6. slow down–Always slow down in a school zone.
  7. speed up–You can speed up after you’ve passed the school zone..
  8. go aheadGo ahead and change lanes. It’s clear 

You now know that we use the imperative to give directions, suggestions, and advice. The imperative is the base form of the verb. We can make it negative, however, by adding “don’t” in front of the base form of the verb. We can also soften it and make it more polite by adding such words as please, let’s, why don’t we, or won’t you. The download will give you some additional practice using the imperative.

Download  the Practice Sheet NOW

Study English Imperative Vocabulary from this lesson with these flashcards

Idioms of the day

  1. Keep your shirt on.  –This means calm down. Keep you shirt on and stop yelling! I dropped the glass, but it didn’t break.
  2. Don’t cry over spilled milk.  –This means that if something bad happens, don’t complain. Just fix the problem and go on with your life. My team lost the basket ball game, but we shouldn’t cry over spilled milk. We’ll just play better next time.

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