An ELT Glossary : Imperative


  • The base form of the verb can be used with imperative ( ie "commanding" ) force. For example: Stop doing that! /  Be quiet! /  Please go away!  / Look what you've done!

  • Imperatives never have perfect aspect but may have progressive aspect – eg Be waiting there at 3pm.

  • To form the negative, the "dummy operator" Do is used, followed by the negative particle not and infinitive: Do not disturb. /  Don't be stupid. /  Don't look at me like that!

  • Do can also be used to add extra emphasis or force to an affirmative imperative, very often also preceded by Oh, in spoken English Do stop doing that! / Oh, do be quiet!/ Oh, do go away!


  • In all the examples above, the imperative force can be seen as expressing an order (eg Be quiet! / Do not disturb) or admonition (eg Look what you've done! Don't be stupid!). It expresses the wish or attitude of the person issuing the command. 

  • However, the imperative is also used to express "commands" which are for the benefit of the receiver :  Come in and take a seat.  /    Do help yourself.  / Lightly whip the cream... /  Don't worry.

        It therefore expresses functions such as:
    • invitations : Come in and take a seat. /  Do help yourself
    • instructions : Lightly whip the cream... 
    • reassurance : Don't worry.
        etc, rather than orders or admonitions.