Italian imperative

The Italian imperative (imperativo) is the tense you use to give out orders, advice or suggestions. It’s a special mood because there is no first-person singular conjugation (after all, you can’t command yourself in the first person).

Chiudi la finestra!
Close the window!

kid opening the window

In this lesson, we will see how to form the imperative in Italian for all persons and types of sentences.

Let’s get started! Iniziamo!


How do you form the imperative in Italian?

As I said in the introduction, the Italian imperative is used to give an order. It’s not a compound tense, so it uses endings that you need to add to the verb stem (remove -ARE, -ERE or -IRE from the verb and you get its root).

The imperative in Italian works a little differently than in English, and it can be quite difficult to learn if you’re a beginner and don’t have much experience with pronouns. However, read this guide carefully and you will learn everything you need to know!

The Italian imperative will depend on:

  • the type of sentence (affirmative or negative)
  • the context (formal or informal)
  • whether or not there’s a pronoun

Fermati! Torna qui!
Stop! Come back here!

Imperative conjugation of -ARE verbs

Let’s take the verb lavorare (to work) as an example. Its root is lavor-.

Imperative conjugation of lavorare

io
tulavora!
lui, leilavori!
noilavoriamo!
voilavorate!
lorolavorino!

Tricks to remember the Italian imperative conjugation:

  • the conjugation for noi and voi is the same as the present tense conjugation;
  • tu adds –a instead of -i as in the present tense;
  • lui/lei and loro add -i and -ino, respectively.

For example, you could say…

Studiate di più!
Study harder!
(studiare)

Alza il volume del televisore.
Turn up the volume of the TV.
(alzare)

little kid watching a cartoon on tv

Imperative conjugation of -ERE and -IRE verbs

Let’s take the verb prendere (to take) and dormire (to sleep) as an example. Their roots are prend- and dorm-, respectively.

io
tuprendi!dormi!
lui, leiprenda!dorma!
noiprendiamo!dormiamo!
voiprendete!dormite!
loroprendano!dormano!

Tricks to remember this conjugation:

  • the conjugation for noi, voi and tu is the same as the present tense conjugation;
  • lui/lei and loro add -a and -ano, respectively.

For example, you could say…

Aggiungi un po’ di sale alla minestra.
Add a little salt to the soup.
(aggiungere)

Apri il libro a pagina 18.
Open the book on page 18.
(aprire)


Irregular verbs in the Italian imperative

A few very common verbs have an irregular imperative conjugation in Italian.

Let’s look at the conjugations for essere (to be), avere (to have), fare (to do), andare (to go), stare (to stay) and bere (to drink).

essereavere
io
tusii!abbi!
lui, leisia!abbia!
noisiamo!abbiamo!
voisiate!abbiate!
lorosiano!abbiano!

For example, you could say…

Signor Rossi, sia così gentile da passarmi il sale!
Mr. Rossi, be so kind as to pass me the salt!

Abbiate un po’ di pazienza!
Have a little patience!

kid building a block castle
fareandare
io
tufai / fa’!vai / va’!
lui, leifaccia!vada!
noifacciamo!andiamo!
voifate!andate!
lorofacciano!vadano!

For example, you could say…

Vada a prendere la mia agenda, per favore.
Please go and get my schedule.

Fai un po’ più di attenzione!
Be a little more careful!

starebere
io
tustai / sta’!bevi!
lui, leistia!beva!
noistiamo!beviamo!
voistate!bevete!
lorostiano!bevano!

As a rule of thumb, if a verb is irregular in the present tense, it is also irregular in the Italian imperative tense. For example, the first-person plural (noi) of the verb dare (to give) is noi diamo. Since the imperative conjugation reflects this, it will also be irregular.


Formal Italian imperative

The Italian formal imperative forms are those of the third-person singular conjugation (lui, lei) and reflect the conjugations of the present subjunctive tense. You use the formal imperative with people you need to show respect to.

-ARE verbs end in -i while -ERE and -IRE verbs end in -a. The following table lists some formal imperative conjugations for a number of regular verbs.

parlare (to speak)parli!
studiare (to study)studi!
aspettare (to wait)aspetti!
vedere (to see)veda!
rispondere (to reply)risponda!
rompere (to break)rompa!
seguire (to follow)segua!
dormire (to sleep)dorma!
partire (to leave)parta!

For example, you could say…

Risponda alla domanda!
Answer the question!

Aspetti un attimo!
Wait a minute!

Segua quell’auto!
Follow that car!

police car

To make a sentence negative in the formal Italian imperative, just add non in front of the conjugated verb form, as we’ve seen in the previous paragraphs.

Non parli!
Don’t speak!

Non rompa nulla!
Don’t break anything!

Pronouns must always be placed before the conjugated form of the verb in all types of sentences.

Non tocchi la lampada! Non la tocchi!
Don’t touch the lamp! Don’t touch it!

Non glielo dica!
Don’t tell him that!

Chiuda la porta! La chiuda!
Close the door! Close it!

man holding a parcel and opening a door with his foot

Impersonal Italian imperative

The impersonal imperative in Italian is used in recipes and prescriptions. The verb is not conjugated. Instead, it’s left in its infinitive form.

Versare l’impasto in una teglia rettangolare.
Pour the dough into a rectangular baking tray.

Assumere fino a tre pillole al giorno dopo i pasti principali.
Take up to three pills daily after main meals.

Raffreddare in frigorifero per almeno due ore.
Chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

pavlova cake

The negative Italian imperative

You might think that to make an imperative negative, all you have to do is add non (not) to it. Well, that’s not quite the case. The negative Italian imperative works a little differently. More interestingly, it depends on whether it’s formal or informal.

Negative imperative with non

To make a noi and voi sentence negative, just add non in front of the imperative conjugated verb.

Fermiamo qui la macchina! Non fermiamo qui la macchina!
Let’s stop the car here! Let’s not stop the car here!

Mangiate la minestra! Non mangiate la minestra!
Eat the soup! Don’t eat the soup!

To make a tu sentence negative, use the structure non + infinitive verb.

Dai il quaderno a tua sorella! Non dare il quaderno a tua sorella!
Give the notebook to your sister! Don’t give the notebook to your sister!

Porta fuori il cane! Non portare fuori il cane!
Take the dog out! Don’t take the dog out!

girl playing with her dog

Italian imperative with pronouns

Both direct object pronouns and indirect object pronouns are added to the end of the conjugated verb form for all persons except the third-person singular (lui / lei) and the third-person plural (loro).

Prendi la palla! Prendila!
Take the ball! Take it!

Leggiamo il libro! Leggiamolo!
Let’s read the book! Let’s read it!

For the lui / lei and loro subjects, the pronoun must be placed before the conjugated verb.

Scriva la frase! La scriva!
Write the sentence! Write it!
(NOT: scrivala)

Prendano l’aereo! Lo prendano!
Let them take the plane! Let them take it!
(NOT: prendanolo)

Italian imperatives with only one syllable and an apostrophe, such as dare (da’), fare (fa’) or dire (di’) remove the apostrophe and double the mi, ti and lo and ci pronoun consonant.

da’dammi, datti, dallo, dacci
fa’fammi, fatti, fallo, facci
di’dimmi, dillo, dicci

Dammi quelle chiavi!
Give me those keys!

Dimmi cosa devo fare!
Tell me what to do!

Dai, facci vedere la foto!
Come on, show us the photo!

vacation photos

Italian imperative with reflexive verbs

In the formal imperative lei and for the subject loro, you add the reflexive pronoun before the conjugated verb as a separate word.

Si alzi in piedi quando entra il presidente!
Stand up when the president comes in!
(alzarsi)

Non si sieda lì!
Don’t sit there!
(sedersi)

Si lavino i capelli!
Let them wash their hair!
(lavarsi)

For all other subjects, the pronoun must be attached to the verb, unless the sentence is negative. If you use a negative Italian imperative with a reflexive verb, you are free to place the reflexive pronoun before the verb or after it as an ending.

Muoviti! Il treno sta per partire!
Hurry up! The train is about to leave!
(muoversi)

Non addormentarti! Non ti addormentare!
Don’t fall asleep! Don’t fall asleep!
(addormentarsi)

various kinds of lights

Italian imperative with double pronouns

A double pronoun occurs when there are one direct pronoun and one indirect pronoun in the same sentence.

Indirect pronouns mi, ti, ci and vi become me-, te, ce- and ve-.

Le will become glie-.

The structure for all persons except lui, lei and loro will be as follows:

verbindirect pronoundirect pronoun

For example, you could say…

Dammi il libro! Dammelo!
Give me the book! Give it to me!

verbindirect pronoundirect pronoun
dammelo

Non dare la matita a Laura! Non darle la matita! Non dargliela!
Don’t give Laura the pencil! Don’t give her the pencil! Don’t give it to her!

nonverbindirect pronoundirect pronoun
nondargliela

Ridai le mele al signore! Ridagli le mele! Ridagliele!
Give the apples back to the gentleman! Give the apples back to him! Give them back to him!

verbindirect pronoundirect pronoun
ridagliele

Restituisci i libri a Riccardo! Restituisciglieli!
Return the books to Riccardo! Give them back to him!

verbindirect pronoundirect pronoun
restituisciglieli
kid ruining a book

For lui, lei and loro, the structure is as follows:

indirect pronoundirect pronounverb

For example, you could say…

Dia il regalo alla signora Rossi. Le dia il regalo. Glielo dia.
Give the gift to Mrs. Rossi. Give her the gift. Give it to her.

indirect pronoundirect pronounverb
glielodia

Restituisca la pistola al carabiniere. Gli restituisca la pistola. Gliela restituisca!
Return the gun to the policeman. Give the gun back to him. Give it back to him!

indirect pronoundirect pronounverb
glielarestituisca

Negative imperative with pronouns

To make a noi and voi sentence negative when there’s a pronoun, just add non in front of the imperative conjugated verb. Remember that the pronoun is most commonly appended to the conjugated verb form.

Non bevete quell’acqua! Non bevetela!
Don’t drink that water! Don’t drink it! (you, plural)

To make a tu sentence negative when there’s a pronoun, remove the final -e from the infinitive verb and add the pronoun to it.

Non sollevare quel sasso! Non sollevarlo!
Don’t lift that rock! Don’t lift it! (you, singular)
(sollevare – sollevar – lo)

In the negative Italian imperative, the pronoun can also be placed before the conjugated verb form as a word of its own for all persons.

Non la bevete! Non lo sollevare!
Don’t drink it! Don’t lift it up! (you, plural)

Non spenga la luce! Non la spenga!
Don’t turn off the light! Don’t turn it off! (lui, lei)


Common idiomatic expressions with the Italian imperative

There are a number of informal idiomatic expressions featuring the Imperative in Italian. Some of these are:

  • fatti gli affari tuoi! (mind your own business!)
  • falla finita! (get it over with!)
  • stai fresco! (think again! forget it!)
  • chiudi quella bocca! (shut up)
  • non mollare! (don’t give up!)
  • smettila! (stop it!)

And that’s the end of our lesson on the Italian imperative! If you still have any doubts about this tense, feel free to leave a comment.


What next?

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Now that you’ve seen the Italian imperative, you might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:

Or you might also want an excellent offline Italian grammar resource to take with you at all times (Amazon).

Title: Italian All-in-One For Dummies
Language: English / Italian
Publisher: For Dummies
Pages: 672

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