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Verbs - Imperative Tense

Verbs - Imperative Tense

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Requirements

Imperative

 

Hello! In this lesson, we will learn how to use the imperative in English. The imperative is a grammatical mood, or use of a verb in a certain way to achieve a result.

In previous lessons, we have learned mostly the indicative mood. Our usual statements, assertions, and denials are in the indicative mood. The imperative is a mood in which we ask, tell, or beg someone to do something.


The formation of the imperative in English is extremely simple. We form the imperative by stripping the "to" from the infinitive. The imperative form of "to be", then, is "be". If guests leave your house on an icy day, you might want to use the imperative form of "be" by saying, for example, "Be careful." You could also use a different imperative by saying "Watch your step."

When you are giving directions to someone, you might say "Turn right at the corner of Rose Street and First Avenue." or "Take a left onto Bloom Street." The imperative is often used when we give directions, as it is somewhat impersonal.

We can generally use the imperative with children, but using it with adults can seem impolite, so we generally soften it by at least adding the entreaty "please" or other polite words.
For example, the imperative command "Close the window." is perfectly good English, but it would not be very good manners to say it to another adult. With another adult, we might turn the imperative into a question to soften the impersonal tone of the bare imperative. We might instead say "Can you close the window?" or the even more polite "Would you close the window?" or the even more tentative "Could you close the window?"

At the dinner table, everyone would understand the command "Pass the potatoes.", but it would be rather impolite. At a typical dinner table, the diners might say "Please pass the potatoes." or "Can you pass the potatoes?" or "Would you pass the potatoes?" or even "Could you please pass the potatoes?"

When we are angry or afraid, we often use the bare imperative. "Get away from my car!", "Put that knife down!" are good examples of the imperative used in this way. "Help me!" or "Help!" is an imperative that needs no softening.

We might use the negative imperative when we are angry or afraid. "Don't touch me!", "Don't get near the dog!", and "Don't fall!" are all perfectly good uses of a less polite imperative.

When we include ourselves in a group command, we can say "Let's go.", or "Let's go to the museum.", or "Let's have dinner.".

Now that you understand the formation and use of the imperative, let us listen to the dialog. Jennifer wants to go to the museum, but David wants to stay home and watch TV.


Jennifer: Let's go to the museum.


David: No, let's stay home and watch TV.

Jennifer: Oh, okay. Can you get my book?

David: Here it is. Could you close the window?

Jennifer: Yes, it's a little cool. Would you get some hot coffee?

David: Here it is. Now I can watch TV.

Jennifer: Oh, turn on the light, please.

David: Jennifer, staying home is difficult! Let's go to the museum !

Now that you know how to form the imperative and how it is used, let's take a better look at the sentences in the dialog.
Jennifer starts the conversation by saying "Let's go to the museum." . She includes herself in this command by saying "let's". If she wanted David to go to the museum alone, she would have said "Go to the museum." or "Please go to the museum." But in this sentence, she wants David to go to the museum with her.

David responds by saying " No, let's stay home and watch TV. " David also includes the contraction "let's" in his sentence, showing that he doesn't want to go to the museum, and he wants Jennifer to stay home with him and watch TV. He might have said, "Let's stay home and let's watch TV.", but since he intends that both he and Jennifer will stay home together and watch TV together, he doesn't need to repeat "let's".

Jennifer says, "Oh, okay. Can you get my book?" We notice that Jennifer doesn't order David to get her book by saying "Get my book.". She softens the request by asking "Can you get my book?". She could have softened it even more by asking "Would you get my book?", or she could have softened it even more by saying "Could you get my book?". Jennifer chooses a polite and friendly way of asking when she asks "Can you get my book?".

David gets Jennifer's book for her, and says "Could you close the window?". We notice that David is very polite about asking Jennifer to close the window. He did not simply order her to close the window by saying "Close the window.". Rather he politely asked. His wish to have the window closed is no less clear when he uses a polite request rather than a bare imperative.
Jennifer closes the window for him and asks him to get some hot coffee by saying "Would you get some hot coffee?". We notice that she does not order David to get the coffee by saying "Get some hot coffee.". Instead, she politely asks "Would you get some hot coffee?". It would have been polite if she had asked
"Can you get some hot coffee?" or "Could you get some hot coffee?".

David finally gets a chance to relax and says "Now I can watch TV.". But Jennifer asks him one more favor: "Oh, turn on the light, please.". If Jennifer had left the word "please" off this imperative statement, it would have been the less polite "Turn off the light.", but she added the entreaty word "please" which makes it much more polite. She could have made it even more polite by saying "Could you turn on the light?" or even "Could you please turn on the light?".

David has not had a chance to relax yet. He says "Jennifer, staying home is difficult! Let's go to the museum !". Notice that he includes Jennifer in his group command. He does not tell her to go to the museum by herself, and he is not intending to go alone. So he uses the inclusive word "let's" to show that he wants her to go to the museum with him.

 

Now that you have learned how to form and use the imperative and some more polite alternatives, let us listen to the dialog again. Listen for the varying levels of politeness in the dialog. In this dialog, Jennifer and David are polite to each other at a level that is normal for family, friends, and co-workers.

Jennifer: Let's go to the museum.

David: No, let's stay home and watch TV.

Jennifer: Oh, okay. Can you get my book?

David: Here it is. Could you close the window?

Jennifer: Yes, it's a little cool. Would you get some hot coffee?

David: Here it is. Now I can watch TV.

Jennifer: Oh, turn on the light, please.

David: Jennifer, staying home is difficult! Let's go to the museum !

 

Great work! Your command of English is growing! You are now able to make suggestions for group activities and politely ask people to go places with you and do some activities. You are also able to ask favors of people in English. You might suggest to your English-speaking friend, "Let's speak English!".