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What Is an Imperative Verb?

By Jillian O Keeffe
Updated May 17, 2024
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A verb is a word that denotes action, but verbs can be in many forms, which change their meaning. An imperative verb is a form of the verb that gives instruction. An example of an imperative verb is "Stop!" Imperative instructions can be as strong as an order or as polite as a request.

People use the imperative to instruct someone to do a particular action. An imperative verb doesn't have to denote a physical action but can be a verb such as "Think." Some examples of physical instructions in the imperative include "Give," "Turn off," and "Go." With imperatives, no subject is used, so there is no need to say "you" as it is implied in context.

The actual word that forms the imperative may be a word that has other uses in the language. The word "Walk," when used as an instruction, is an imperative verb. It can also be used as part of the present tense, such as in the phrase "I walk" or as part of the infinitive "to walk."

Another manner of referring to imperative verbs is to call them "bossy verbs." This is because, when someone uses the imperative form of a verb, he or she is telling someone else to do something. The strength of the imperative depends on the manner in which someone says it and also on the other words in the sentence. Words such as "please," or phrases like "If you could," as long as they are delivered in a soft tone, make the imperative instruction less bossy and more of a direction. People in a position of authority, like parents or bosses, may deliver an imperative instruction in a strong tone, whereas people of equal status to each other may have to soften the imperative to avoid offense.

Warnings are commonly delivered in the imperative form of the verb and, when written, include an exclamation mark to emphasize the instruction. A mother of a child who is running out into the street may shout "Stop!" When someone is giving advice to another person, he or she will often give it in an imperative form, albeit delivered in a soft manner. "Talk to your manager about it" or "Ignore him — he's a troublemaker" are sentences that begin with imperative verbs.

As well as using a verb in a positive, imperative sense, people can also use the negative imperative verb. In English, this consists of placing a negative action word in front of the imperative form of the verb. "Don't" is commonly used before an imperative verb to instruct another person not to do something. One such example is "Don't eat the cake," which is the negative version of "Eat the cake."

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