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How to Use the Imperative in Italian

Updated on May 16, 2013
The imperatives in this U.S. World War II Navy poster are: "Take all you can eat; eat all you take!" and "Don't be finicky!"
The imperatives in this U.S. World War II Navy poster are: "Take all you can eat; eat all you take!" and "Don't be finicky!" | Source

Some Linguistic Terms

Grammatical mood: the quality of a verb, conveying the writer's or speaker's attitude toward a subject

Person: identifies the speaker, such as the 1st person (I or we) or the interlocutor/listener, such as the 2nd person (you) or someone/group being spoken about as in the 3rd person (he, she, it, they)

Singular: only one person

Plural: two or more people

Defining "Imperative"

What Is the Imperative Mood?

The Imperative in Italian (or any language) is one of the most useful moods to learn in any language. It is the mood used to give advice, commands, directions, or instructions. Essentially, it is the construction you need to use to boss people around and generally tell people what to do in Italian. an example, in English, of the Imperative mood in use is: Go to Sal's, order a large anchovy pizza and bring it back here; then, let's share it.

It is also the construction you need to ask for or demand something, to make a request. For example: Give me two tens for this twenty dollar bill, please.

Additionally, the imperative is used for exhortation. An example of exhorting someone (or many) to do something in English would be: Win one for the Gipper! or Be all you can be!

Tense and Person of the Imperative Mood

The imperative mood in Italian has only one tense, the present.

The persons of the imperative mood are only persons being addressed: second person (singular and plural, formal and informal) and first person plural only (because, although the speaker is included in the first person plural, it is used to address a group of people of which the speaker is a part). In Italian this means that the forms of the imperative are for the pronouns tu, voi, Lei, Loro and noi.

Affirmative or Positive Imperative of Regular Verbs Ending in -ARE

Example Verb (in the infinitive): Cantare, to sing
English Translation

Positive or Affirmative Use of the Imperative

When you tell someone to do something, ask for advice, demand something, or exhort someone to greater effort, you are issuing a positive or affirmative command.

For the tu form in Italian, the imperative of regular verbs that end in -are, such as cantare (to sing), the ending is an -a, which is identical to its form in the subjunctive mood. For regular verbs that end in -ere and -ire, such as prendere (to take) and sentire (to hear, to listen), the imperative form ends in -i, just like the present indicative form of these verbs.

For the Lei and Loro forms in Italian, take their subjunctive forms and you have the imperative: canti (Lei)/cantino (Loro), prenda (Lei)/prendano (Loro), senta (Lei)/sentano (Loro). Note: The Loro form is hardly ever used in Italian.

The noi form is also exactly like its present indicative: cantiamo, prendiamo, sentiamo. In English, the noi imperative translates into "Let's..." So, Cantiamo! means "Let's sing!"

Negative Use of the Imperative

To tell someone you know well (when you would use the tu pronoun) not to do something, in Italian we use the word for “not” (non) plus the infinitive form of the verb describing the action you do not want done: Non cantare! (Don’t sing!) Non prendere il caffè! (Don’t drink the coffee!) Non sentire quello che dico a mia Mamma. (Don’t listen to what I’m telling my Mom.)

If you are talking to your boss, and giving a suggestion of what not to do, then you would also use the word non first, but you would still conjugate the verb in the appropriate imperative form: Non canti, per piacere. (Don't sing, please.) Non prenda qui il caffè. (Don't have your coffee here.) Non senta quello che dicono gli altri. (Don't hear what the others are saying.)

The same rule applies for the noi form: Non cantiamo. (Let's not sing.)


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  • everymom profile image

    Anahi Pari-di-Monriva 4 years ago from Massachusetts

    Thanks, SaffronBlossom! I am actually fluent in Italian and am also a certified teacher; I'm glad I made it seem possible to learn it. I think it's a great language and culture and, if you get a chance, definitely think you should learn it...and then go for an extended vacation! :-) The people are wonderful throughout Italy and the food is out of this world (except at highway rest areas; don't eat at them if you can help it!).

  • SaffronBlossom profile image

    SaffronBlossom 4 years ago from Dallas, Texas

    Are you fluent in Italian? I don't speak it myself, but your hub was so clear and informative it made me feel like I could start learning. :)