In this article, you’ll learn how to use Spanish imperative verbs to tell people what to do. This can be great for giving commands in the classroom when teachers want students to stand, sit, or raise their hands. It can also be used to keep people safe and tell them to stop or go. We can give commands in a cab when we want to tell the driver to turn left or right.
There are many applications of imperative verbs in Spanish. In this article, we’re going to go over how they’re different from other verbs. We will also review pronouns which are so important when learning verbs and grammar in Spanish. We’ll look at the forms of commands in the formal and informal, taking into consideration both plural and singular forms. Later on, you’ll have the chance to practice what you’ve learned. Let’s study commands!
Why Are Commands Important in Speaking Spanish?
Commands are vital to speaking Spanish because the imperative form gives urgency to our speech. When giving directions or trying to keep someone safe, commands express the priority level of what is being communicated. In order to learn how to use them, you must first understand the basics of verb conjugation.
Verb conjugation in Spanish borrows heavily from classical Latin structures. We take our verb in it’s original, infinitive form and change the end of the word to apply a subject to that verb. Each subject has a different verb ending associated with it. Here, we’ll go over the present tense verbs.
There are three types of verbs; -AR verbs end in the letters “ar”, -ER verbs end in the letters “er”, and -IR verbs end in the letters “ir”.
|Vosotros||You all (familiar/informal)|
|Ellos||They (masculine and mixed groups)|
|Ustedes||You all (formal)|
-AR Verbs: For verbs that end in “ar”, like hablar or bailar
|Él, Ella, Usted||-a||Ellos, Ellas, Ustedes||-an|
-ER Verbs: For verbs that end in “er”, like comer or beber
|Él, Ella, Usted||-e||Ellos, Ellas, Ustedes||-en|
-IR Verbs: For verbs that end in “ir”, like vivir or escribir
|Él, Ella, Usted||-e||Ellos, Ellas, Ustedes||-en|
In order to use these charts, you take the pronoun from the first one, a verb of your choice, and an ending from the applicable chart. If I want to say “I eat pizza”, for example, I would take the pronoun for I (yo), the word for eat (comer), and the ending for that verb/pronoun combination (-o). I would then take off the -er from comer and add my new ending to get yo como. My full sentence would be “Yo como la pizza.” These are great to know because everything a student does in Spanish will relate back to these basic verb endings.
Affirmative Informal Spanish Pronouns and Commands
The two informal pronouns in Spanish are tú and vosotros. Tú is for one person that you know well. If you’re speaking to one of your friends, a sibling, someone your own age, or a person you’re very familiar with, tú is the pronoun you would use. If you’re speaking to a group of people in an informal way, you can use vosotros. In Latin America, the group distinction is not made, and the formal group pronoun ustedes is used for both formal and informal situations.
When we learn commands, we have to make four distinctions. There are different commands for formal, informal, affirmative, and negative. An affirmative command is used when you want to tell someone to do something while a negative command tells someone not to do something. It’s the difference between “Take out the trash!” and “Don’t be late!”
In Spanish, the affirmative tú commands are the same as the present tense él, ella, usted verb endings. Context and the pronouns we choose to use with our verbs will tell our listeners whether we are using the él, ella, usted present tense or a tú command. You can refer to the charts further up in this section to help you, but I will give a few examples here:
Usted habla con ella. (You talk to her.)
¡Habla con ella! (Talk to her!)
Él come. (He eats.)
Ella escribe la carta. (She writes the letter.)
¡Escribe la carta! (Write the letter!)
The affirmative commands for the plural vosotros are a little different. The endings will be -ad for -AR verbs, -ed for -ER verbs, and -id for -IR verbs. Here are some examples:
¡Bailad más rápido! (Dance faster!)
¡Bebed toda la leche! (Drink all the milk!)
¡Salid a tiempo! (Leave on time!)
In addition to all of these regular forms, there are irregular commands. For affirmative commands, they can be remembered using the Vin Diesel brain bridge. If you say the commands in their irregular form quickly, it sounds like you're saying "Vin Diesel has ten weapons, eh?" They are ven (venir), di (decir), sal (salir), haz (hacer), ten (tener), ve (ir), pon (poner), and sé (ser).
Negative Informal Spanish Pronouns and Commands
The negative commands for both involve taking the opposite vowel in our verb endings. In general, the opposite vowel of an A is an E, the opposite vowel of an E is an A, and the opposite vowel of an I is an A.
This means that if our ending was -as, we will make it -es. For an -AR verb like hablar, you would conjugate it in the tú form as I showed you earlier as hablas, but in the negative command, you’d swap out the vowel and get hables.
Tú hablas. - You speak.
Tú no hablas. - You don’t speak.
¡No hables! - Don’t speak!
Tú bebes. - You drink.
Tú no bebes. - You don’t drink.
¡No bebas! - Don’t drink!
Tú escribes. - You write.
Tú no esribes. - You don’t write.
¡No escribas! - Don’t write!
With vosotros, you’ll apply the same rule with the appropriate ending. Here are the same examples with the vosotros form:
Vosotros habláis. - You all speak.
Vosotros no habláis. - You all don’t speak.
¡No habléis! - Don’t speak!
Vosotros bebéis. - You all drink.
Vosotros no bebéis. - You all don’t drink.
¡No bebáis! - Don’t drink!
Vosotros escribís. - You all write.
Vosotros no esribís. - You all don’t write.
¡No escribáis! - Don’t write!
To form these, as well as the affirmative and negative formal commands, you should take the yo form first, take off the -o ending, and add your new, opposite vowel ending. This helps us spot stem-changing verbs and irregular forms. For example, the verb tener in the yo form is tengo, and the command in the formal is (usted) tenga or (usted) no tenga. If we used tener to try to form that verb, we might accidentally go with tena, which wouldn't be correct.
Formal Spanish Pronouns and Commands
The two formal pronouns in Spanish are usted and ustedes. Usted is for one person that you don’t know well or would like to show respect to. If you’re speaking to an elderly person, a boss, an in-law, or a person you’re not very familiar with, usted is the pronoun you would use. If you’re speaking to a group of people in a formal way, you can use ustedes. In Latin America, the group distinction is not made like it is in Spain with vosotros, and the formal group pronoun ustedes is used for both formal and informal situations.
The affirmative and negative commands for usted and ustedes involve taking the opposite vowel in our verb endings like in the negative tú commands. This means that if our ending was -a, we will make it -e. The difference between the affirmative and negative commands in usted and ustedes is the addition of the word no. Here are some examples:
Usted habla. - You (formal) speak.
No habla. - You (formal) don’t speak.
¡Hable! - Speak!
¡No hable! - Don’t speak!
¡Hablen! - Speak! (Plural)
¡No hablen! - Don’t speak! (Plural)
Usted bebe. - You (formal) drink.
No bebe. - You (formal) don’t drink.
¡Beba! - Drink!
¡No beba! - Don’t drink!
¡Beban! - Drink! (Plural)
¡No beban! - Don’t drink! (Plural)
Usted escribe. - You (formal) write.
No escribe. - You (formal) don’t write.
¡Escriba! - Write!
¡No escriba! - Don’t write!
¡Escriban! - Write! (Plural)
¡No escriban! - Don’t write! (Plural)
Practice Spanish Commands
Now you’ll have the opportunity to practice writing a few commands on your own. In the next section, I’ll provide the answers to the questions so you can check your work!
Answers to Spanish Commands Practice
You Can Master Spanish Verb Conjugation!
The imperative verb form can be very challenging. With practice and hard work, it is possible to master this piece of Spanish grammar. Challenge yourself to find command in Spanish in your daily life. They’re often in commercials, ads, and other calls to action you may see in stores or on websites. When a commercial encourages you to “Call now!” or when a store says you can “Buy two, get one free!”, they will use commands. See how many you can spot, and you’ll be a pro in no time!