Imperative Clauses: Positive and Negative

Imperatives clauses (or imperatives) are used to tell people to do – or not do – certain things. Imperatives can be used to give advice, suggestions, commands, requests, orders, instructions, offers, or invitations. Moreover, imperatives can be phrased positively (i.e., to do things), or negatively (i.e., to not do things).

For positive imperatives, the word “do” is generally left unstated and implied before the base verb. However, for negative imperatives, we use “don’t” directly before the base verb.

Note that imperatives do not usually contain a subject – the subject is an implied second person, “you,” receiving the request, suggestion, etc.

Here are some examples of imperatives:

  • Don’t do that.
  • Help me.
  • Open the package first.
  • Don’t forget.

Imperative Directness and Emphasis

Imperatives are direct and can be considered impolite.

Words and phrases such as “just,” “please,” or “if you don’t mind,” are used to make imperatives less direct. On the other hand, sometimes we want to make imperatives more direct to emphasize their importance. Then, we might add words that are normally implied, such as “do” or “you.”

For example, consider the following examples ordered from less direct and politer, to more direct and less polite:

  • “Please close the door, if you don’t mind.”
  • “Just close the door.”
  • “Close the door.”
  • “You, close the door!”
  • “Do close the door, you!”

Note that when using a negative imperative with the subject stated, the subject comes between “don’t” and the base verb, as in “Don’t you close the door!”  

Another way to change the directness of an imperative is to add question tags. For example, “Close the door, will you?” or “Close the door, can you?” make an imperative less direct. On the other hand, “Won’t you close the door?” increases the emphasis of an imperative. Note that most imperatives come with an implied “will you?” tag after then.

Finally, we can add emphasis to an imperative by simply responding with “do,” or “don’t.” For example, if somebody asked “May I close the door?” you might respond with “Do, please,” or “Don’t!”

Imperatives with First- and Third-person Subjects

Imperatives generally refer to a second-person subject, but when we want to use imperatives to refer to a first- or third-person subject, we use “let” or “let’s.”

Here are some examples of first-person imperatives:

  • “Let me see. What day is it?” (i.e., the speaker is commanding himself to remember the date)
  • “Let’s remember to set our clocks tomorrow.”

Third-person imperatives are less common, but they use “let” + pronoun. Here as an example:

  • “Let him try to stop me!”

Note: When using negative imperatives with a first- or third-person, we use “let’s not,” as in, “Let’s not forgot to buy more pens.”

 

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