Understanding the Uses of Imperatives
Imperative Sentence is a kind of sentence that directly conveys commands, orders, instructions, and requests upon someone to do something.
Sentences of this nature are usually ended with period (.) or exclamation (!). Exclamation is used to show direct and firm command.
Imperatives are used by speakers to manipulate the behavior of the person who is addressed.
As these attempts may be more direct or less direct, imperatives have the following specific functions:
Commands, Orders, and Demands
With imperatives that are intended as commands, orders, or demands as shown in 1a), 1b), and 1c), the speaker expects the persons addressed to do what he or she has said.
If the persons addressed do not do what the speaker says, they can expect that some kind of retaliation may be taken against them.
For example, the person to whom the command in 1a) is addressed may expect to be pushed aside if he or she does not comply.
The imperative in 1d) is a highly stylized command that is used only in opening ceremonies.
- 1a) Get out of my way!
- 1b) Right face! Forward, march!
- 1c) Keep off the grass.
- 1d) Let the games begin!
Requests, as shown in 2), have the same subjectless form as command imperatives. The person addressed is not necessarily expected to comply with the request, and since the speaker is asking for help, request imperative is often accompanied by please or a will you/would you tag, as seen in 2a) and 2b).
- 2a) Please help me finish this.
- 2b) Shut the window, will you?
- 2c) Kindly lower your voices.
Advice, Recommendations, and Warnings
In these contexts, the speaker is directing the attention of the person addressed to do something that is for his or her benefit, not the speaker’s.
It is up to the person who receives the advice, recommendation, or warning to decide whether to follow it.
- 3a) Keep your options open.
- 3b) Remember, always buy low and sell high.
- 3c) Watch your head. That doorjamb is a little low.
Instructions and Expository Directives
The purpose of instructions is to enable the person addressed to accomplish some goal, as illustrated in 4a), 4b), and 4c).
The expository directives in 4d) and 4e), are often used in expository prose and are framed in a manner that attempts to get the reader to actively participate in the discussion or argument at hand.
- Remove all the tape and the packing material from the printer. 4b)
- For full details of performances, talks, workshops, contact the Third Eye Center.
- 4c) Take a left at the first stop light.
- 4d) Compare item x with item y.
- 4e) Take the airline industry, for example.
An imperative may function as an invitation to the person addressed. The invitation may have benefit for both the speaker and the person addressed, or it may benefit only one of them.
The speaker does not necessarily expect the person addressed to comply, that is, to accept the invitation.
- 5a) Drop by after work, and we’ll discuss it in more detail.
- 5b) Have another piece of cake.
- 5c) Feel free to call me any time.
Speakers may also use a subjectless imperative when granting permission to carry out an action. The granting of permission may not be something that the speaker is happy with; it only signals that he or she has the power to grant it.
- 6a) OK. Go ahead and do it.
- 6b) Take as much time as you feel you need.
- 6c) Come in.
Utterances such as 7a) and 7b) express the speaker’s acceptance of something that he or she may not necessarily want but nevertheless is powerless to prevent.
- 7a) Since you feel so strongly about it, go ahead and tell him.
- 7b) Hey, it’s your money. Invest it any way you want.
Wishes sometimes take the form of imperatives. Some wishes include modals such as may, as in the proverb in 8a).
Wishes such as those in 8b) through 8e) extend a blessing to the person addressed, usually as he or she is leaving or when the speaker is terminating a conversation.
The wish in 8e) has become somewhat impersonal by overuse.
- 8a) May the wind be always at your back.
- 8b) Have a safe journey.
- 8c) OK. See ya. Have a good time at the game.
- 8d) Enjoy yourself! Enjoy!
- 8e) Have a nice day.
Structures with Imperative Form but Conditional Meaning
Sentences 9a) and 9b) look like imperatives, but they have the meaning of a conditional sentence (i.e., “If you do X, then Y will happen.”).
- 9a) Do that and you’re fired! → If you do that, you will be fired.
- 9b) Touch that knob and the telly goes wrong. → If you touch that knob, the telly will go wrong.
Imperative sentences may appear to be without a subject; but the subject is understood to be ‘you’ or the person or audience listening (See IMPERATIVES WITH A VISIBLE YOU SUBJECTOpens in new window). However, for first and third person imperative, imperative sentence begins with ‘let’. ‘Imperative’ is one of the three moods of an English verb (indicative, imperative and subjunctive).