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The Imperative in German- On How To Boss Someone Around Auf Deutsch

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

The imperative in German is used when giving instructions or orders. There are three forms, each of which is used in different situations corresponding to how we use the personal pronouns. In this post, I explain this grammar topic and give examples.

The imperative in German
The imperative in German

As I explained elsewhere, we use “du” for people we know well (family, friends, and increasingly, in very informal professions like the music business), “ihr” for a group of people we know well since it’s just the plural of “du”, and “Sie” when we are addressing one or more people we don’t know very well or in formal situations like the office.

Accordingly, there are three imperative forms- one for each of the pronouns. Let’s start with the easiest- the imperative of “Sie”. You simply start with your sentence with the conjugation of “Sie”, followed by the pronoun “Sie” and bitte, to sound less bossy.

Schließen Sie bitte die Tür.

(Please close the door)

Setzen Sie sich bitte.

(Please sit down)

Another easy form is the imperative “ihr” because you simply start your sentence with the conjugation of the pronoun.

Nehmt euch einen Stuhl.

(Grab a chair)

Wenn ihr Durst habt, nehmt euch bitte soviel Wasser wie ihr wollt.

(If you’re thirsty, take as much water as you want)

More complicated is the last imperative- the one for “du”. Here, we need to distinguish between regular and irregular verbs. Generally, use the second or third person singular conjugation of your verb of choice and remove the ending. So for regular verbs, you would have

Du kaufst- Kauf!

Du machst- Mach!

Du arbeitest- Arbeite!

As the imperative of “arbeiten” shows, there are some verbs that end on an -e. These are verbs with the stem ending on -d, -t, -ig. Other exceptions are the verbs “rechnen” und “öffnen” as their imperative would otherwise be difficult to pronounce.

Öffne bitte die Tür

(Please open the door)

Rechne bitte nach, wie viel Geld ich dir schulde.

(Please calculate how much I owe you)

Rede bitte mit deiner Schwester.

(Please talk to your sister)

With regard to irregular verbs, we follow the same logic as above, except when the second person singular stem has an umlaut, then we drop it.

Fahr bitte nicht so schnell.

(Please don’t drive so fast)

Nimm bitte deinen Laptop mit.

(Please take your laptop with you)

Lies bitte den Artikel.

(Please read the article)

So the most important decision regarding the imperative is whom you are addressing.

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