Italian Imperative. A Simple Guide. 

The Imperative form, in Italian, is used to:

  • Give a command 
  • Give exhortations
  • Advise or invite someone to do something.

It is a rather regular form, with just a few irregular exceptions. 

What makes the imperative very easy, is that it exists just in the present tense and it’s used just in the second person singular (you informal and formal = tu and lei) and first person plural (we = noi), and the second person plural (you all = voi)

Examples of imperatives

Verb FormEnglish Translation
Mangialo!Eat it!
Non fumare!Don’t smoke!
Non andarci!Don’t go there!
Vieni qui!Come here!
Provalo!Try it!
Guarda!Look!

Italian vs. English

Important: sometimes it’s hard to draw a parallel between English and Italian with the imperative, because English tends to be, overall, a more indirect language than Italian. If you’re an English speaker, you should know that it is totally fine to use the imperative in Italian and that it is not rude most of the time. Intonation plays an important role, though; with the pitch of your voice, you can make the “command” more or less intense. 

Informal vs. formal imperative 

It’s important to note that in Italian we make a distinction between informal and informal imperatives. This is key, because

  • In Italian, we use the imperative just to address people
  • In Italian, we can address people informally (by using “tu,” the 2nd person singular ) or formally (by using “lei,” the 3rd person singular or “you polite”).

For simplicity, I’ll start with the informal imperative, which is the most common and tends to cover a lot of informal interactions in everyday Italian.

How to Use the INFORMAL Imperative

The imperative can be conjugated only with tu, voi, e noi. Here we explore the use of tu e voi (the main informal patterns) and noi.

Imperative forms of tu and voi are the same as in the present tense, with the exception of the are verbs, to which an -a is added to the root of the verb. No changes are needed for verbs ending in -ere and -ire

The imperative of noi is identical to the present tense and it is used to encourage or urge It is equivalent to the English form “Let’s…”

 Mangi-AREPrend-EREApr-IRE
TUmangi-a! / eat!prend-i! / take!apr-i! / open!
VOImangi-ate! / eat!prend-ete! / take!apr-ite! / open!
NOImangi-amo! / let’s eat!prend-iamo! / let’s take!apr-iamo! / let’s open!

 

Irregular forms of the informal imperative 

The imperative mood has just a few irregular verbs. The most common ones are essere and avere. 

sii paziente!Be patient!
siate pazienti!Be patient (you all)!
abbia pazienza!Have patience!
abbiate pazienza!Have patience (you all)!

Negative forms of the informal imperative 

To make a negative imperative, (don’t do it, don’t eat it, etc.), you’ll need to place a “non” before the voi version. For the ‘tu version’,you should use the infinitive verb preceded by non.

Non correre!Don’t run!
Non fumare!Don’t smoke!
Non bere!Don’t drink!

but..for ‘voi’ version the verb doesn’t change.

Non correte!Don’t run!
Non fumate!Don’t smoke!
Non bevete!Don’t drink!

Imperative with pronouns

The imperative mood is often matched with the pronouns. Most of the time, the pronouns are attached at the end of the verb, making one word with the verb.

mangialo!Eat it!
non toccarlo!/non lo toccare!Don’t touch it!
non mangiarli/non li comprare!Don’t buy them!

* In the negative form, the pronouns can either precede the verb or merge with it at the end.

The informal imperative of fare, dare, stare, dire, andare 

There are some verbs that are very common and that have an apostrophized form of the imperative of the second person singular, TU:

fa’ silenzio!Be quiet!Giving a command to an individual to be quiet
da’ una mano a…!Give a hand to…!Encouraging someone to help
sta’ sedutoSit!Giving a command to an individual to sit
di’ la veritàSay the truth!Encouraging someone to tell the truth
va’ viaGo away!Instructing someone to leave or go away

When these verbs are coupled with a pronoun, the first letter of the attached pronoun is doubled, with the exception of gli and its compound forms.

Examples: 

Fammi vedereLet me see!
Dimmi la verità!Tell me the truth!
Dammi la borsa!Give me the bag!
Digli il segreto!Tell him the secret!

How to use the FORMAL imperative

To give an order or advice to someone you don’t know very well (or to whom you need or want to show respect) or to invite that person, we use the “polite you”, the formal imperative,Lei. The formal imperative uses the subjunctive conjugation. If you don’t know the subjunctive yet, just memorize the pattern for regular verbs in the table. For irregular verbs, scroll below.

 Mangi-AREPrend-EREApr-IRE
positivemang-i! / eat!prend-a! / take!apr-a / open!
negativenon mang-i! / don’t eat!non prend-a! / don’t take!non apr-a / don’t open!

Examples of formal imperatives:

Venga qui!Come here, please
Mi telefoni domaniCall me tomorrow, please
Prenda questoTake this, please

The imperative with loro

In some books, they also teach the imperative with loro to address a group of people formally. This is an obsolete use of Italian and I don’t personally teach it. 

Irregular forms of the formal imperative 

There are a number of irregular verbs in the formal imperative, here are some of the most common ones. 

Sia!Be!
Abbia!Have!
Vada!Go!
Venga!Come!
Dica!Tell!
Dia!Give!
Faccia!Do / Let!

Formal imperative and pronouns

When it comes to pronouns, the formal imperative requires the pronouns to be placed before the verb.

Signore, lo prendaSir, take it
Signora, me lo diaMadame, give it to me

About the Author

Serena Capilli

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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Ciao, I’m Serena!

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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