Italian Imperative. A Simple Guide. 

What’s the imperative in Italian?

The Imperative form in Italian is used to:

  • Tell people to do something
  • Give commands
  • Offer exhortations
  • Advise or invite someone to do something

In essence, the imperative is used to tell people what to do things. Consequently, it is only conjugated for

  • the second person singular (informal “you” [tu] or formal “you” [Lei]),
  • the second person plural (“you all” [voi])
  • the first person plural (“we” [noi], used as “let’s”).

Examples of imperative forms

Mangialo!(you) eat it!
Non fumare!(you) don’t smoke!
Non andarci!(you) don’t go there!
Venite qui!(you all) come here!
Provatelo!(you all) try it!
Guardiamo!Let’s watch it!
examples of imperative forms in Italian

Informal vs. Formal Imperative 

In Italian, there’s a clear differentiation between formal and informal settings, which influences the use of the imperative, as its purpose is to tell someone to do something. We can issue these instructions either informally or formally.

That’s why, in Italian, there are different conjugations for the informal and formal imperative.

For simplicity, I’ll start with the informal imperative. It’s very common and used a lot in everyday Italian when people talk casually.

INFORMAL Imperative

The imperative can be conjugated only with “tu,” “voi,” and “noi.”

The imperative forms of “tu” and “voi” are the same as in the present tense, with the exception of -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 is used to encourage or urge action. It is equivalent to the English form “Let’s do something.”

 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!
imperativo conjugation

Irregular forms

The informal imperative mood has only a few irregular verbs, with the most common ones being “essere” and “avere.”

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

Negative Imperative

To form a negative imperative (such as “don’t do it” or “don’t eat it”), you should place “non” before the verb in the “voi” form. For the “tu” form, use the infinitive of the verb preceded by “non.”

VerbPositive ImperativeNegative Imperative
CorrereCorri!Non correre!
FumareFuma!Non fumare!
BereBevi!Non bere!
negative imperative (inforamal)

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

VerbPositive ImperativeNegative Imperative
CorrereCorrete!Non correte!
FumareFumate!Non fumate!
BereBevete!Non bevete!
negative imperative (inforamal)

Imperative with pronouns

The imperative mood is often accompanied by pronouns. Typically, these pronouns are attached to the end of the verb, forming a single word with the verb.

mangialo!Eat it!
non toccarlo! – non lo toccare!Don’t touch it!
non comprali – non li comprare!Don’t buy them!
Italian imperative with pronouns (informal)

*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.

Some very common verbs 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!
Irregular imperative Italian

FORMAL Imperative

To give an order, advice, or invitation to someone you don’t know very well, or to whom you need or want to show respect, we use the “polite you” or the formal imperative, “Lei.” The formal imperative employs the subjunctive conjugation. If you’re not familiar with the subjunctive yet, simply memorize the pattern for regular verbs in the table. For irregular verbs, refer to the information provided below.

Examples of formal imperatives:

 Mangi-AREPrend-EREApr-IRE
positivemang-i! / eat!prend-a! / take!apr-a / open!
formal imperativo Italian

Irregular forms

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!
Italian irregular formal imperative

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
Italian imperative with pronouns (formal)

Negative Imperative

When it comes to the negative forms of the formal imperative, the word ‘non’ precedes both the verb and pronouns.”

VerbPositive ImperativeNegative Imperative
ParlareParli!Non parli!
ScrivereScriva!Non scriva!
Negative imperative formal

The imperative with loro

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

For example:

‘Venghino’ (for ‘loro’) – when addressing a group of people. This is actually obsolete.

Italian vs. English

Drawing parallels between English and Italian with the imperative can be challenging, as English tends to be a more indirect language overall compared to Italian. If you’re an English speaker, it’s important to know that using the imperative in Italian is perfectly acceptable and is not considered rude most of the time. However, intonation plays an important role; by varying the pitch of your voice, you can make the command more or less intense.

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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