The German Imperative (Command Form)
Hallo, Deutschlerner. Today you are going to learn how to form the German command form, also known as the imperative. This is what you use to boss people around, tell them what to do and otherwise command people to act in a certain way all in German. I’ll show you all of the different forms you can use and all of the quirks about each type of command. When you are done with this video you will be able to command anyone you want. You will rule the world! Mwahahaha. Just kidding, but you will learn the German imperative form.
This lesson is huge, so if you are looking for information on a particular part of the imperative in German, click the sections in the table of contents below. At the end of the lesson there are a bunch of examples with various forms side-by-side, so you can compare the forms and see what a command might look like if it were directed at different people.
What Do All German Commands Have in Common?
There are a couple of things that all commands in German do. They all start with the verb and at the end, you don’t make the pitch change like you would with a question. For example: Gehen Sie nach Hause? – Are you going home? (That’s a question, so your voice goes up a bit at the end.) vs Gehen Sie nach Hause. – Go home. (That’s a command and your pitch stays flat the entire time.)
German Commands with SIE
The first command form I’m going to teach you is the easiest. When you use the Sie-form as a command, you simply put the verb first in the Sie-form, which is usually the same as the infinitive form. The subject, Sie, is next and the rest of your sentence follows after that. Check out these examples to see what I mean.
Steigen Sie bitte aus. –
Please disembark (exit).
Stecken Sie die Karte in den Steckplatz. –
Insert the card into the slot.
Nehmen Sie bitte Platz. –
Please have/take a seat.
Öffnen Sie die Tür. –
Open the door.
Bringen Sie mir das Schweineschnitzel mit Kartoffeln. –
Bring me the pork cutlet with potatoes.
Haben Sie bitte einen Augenblick Geduld. –
Please have a moment of patience.
Sie-Form Commands with “sein”
While the verb “haben” is not weird this time, the verb “sein”, as always, is confusing and weird. For the Sie- form command, you add an extra E to the middle of the infinitive. If you need to tell someone to behave in a particular way, you need the verb “sein”, more specifically, the form “seien”. Here are a few examples of that.
Seien Sie bitte ruhig. –
Please be quiet.
Seien Sie vorsichtig. –
Seien Sie fleißig. –
German Commands with DU
Like any other situation in German, there is a formal option and an informal option. The Sie-form that I just explained is how you would speak to a stranger or a person of authority. For information about the more subtle differences between formal and informal “you” in German, click here. Assuming you already know the difference between formal and informal “you” in German, I’m now ready to teach you the du-form command.
This command form is more similar to the English commands in that the subject pronoun “you” drops out of the sentence. In order to form a command for “du”, start with a normal sentence in the du-form. For example:
Gehst du nach Hause? –
Are you going home?
Du gehst nach Hause. –
You are going home.
It doesn’t matter if it is a statement or a question. Once you have your sentence, brush the dust (du + st) off of the sentence. Geh nach Hause. – Go home. Now you have a command. Since the subject pronoun “du” drops out of the sentence, you don’t have to worry about the word order, as long as the end result has your verb at the beginning.
More Du-Form Command Examples
Here are a few more examples with “du”.
Mach das Buch auf, auf Seite 304. –
Open your book to page 304.
Binde deine Schuhe zu. –
Tie your shoes.
Pass auf! –
Gib mir mein Handy zurück. –
Give me back my cell phone.
Fahr doch nicht so schnell. –
Don’t drive so fast.
With these examples I can show you several of the quirks about the du-form commands. The first example “Mach das Buch auf, auf Seite 304.” is a normal example. I simply conjugated “aufmachen” to the du-form and then removed both “du” and -st from the sentence. There is nothing weird about this example at all, so long as you know how to use the separable prefix “auf”.
When to Add E to the End of a Du-Form Command
In the second example you will notice I put an E at the end of the verb, so instead of “bind”, I said “binde”. Technically, if you follow the rules I have mentioned so far, this isn’t different either. Conjugate the verb “binden” to the du-form, bindest. Then remove du and -st from the sentence. You end up with “binde”. The E that you added in order to conjugate the verb, remains when you make it into a command.
Technically speaking, all commands can have an E at the end of them, if you so wish, but in conversational German, the E is only added when you would have added an E to the normal form. This will happen with any verb stem that ends with D, T, or a group of consonants with different sounds. For example:
Rede nicht so mit mir! –
Don’t talk to me that way.
Finde die Fernbedienung. –
Find the remote.
Schalte bitte das Licht aus. –
Please turn off the light.
Atme tief durch. –
Take a deep breath.
Zeichne ein Pony. –
Draw a pony.
When NOT to Remove an S from the Du-Form Commands
In the example “Pass auf!” I showed another quirk. The verb is “aufpassen”. When you conjugate this to the du-form, it becomes “du passt auf”. If you remove du and -st from the sentence, you would end up with “Pas auf”, but the version I wrote has both S’s. Why? Well, you didn’t add an S when you conjugated, so you don’t remove an S when you change it to a command. This will happen with any verb stem that ends with S, ß, X, or Z. For example:
Fred, lies bitte vor. –
Fred, please read aloud.
Iss nicht so viel. –
Don’t eat so much.
Beiß deinen Bruder nicht! –
Don’t bite your brother!
Fax mir den Vertrag. –
Fax me the contract.
Bitte verhexe mich nicht. –
Please don’t curse me.
Setz dich hin. –
Tanz nicht in der Straße, auch wenn Martha es macht. –
Don’t dance in the street, even if Martha does it.
Du-Form Commands with Stem-Changing Verbs
In the example “Gib mir mein Handy zurück.” I showed you how to use a stem-changing verb in the command form. If you don’t know what stem-changing verbs are or how to use them, you can find a lesson about those verbs here. If you do know how to use them, you will know that the du-form of the verb is affected by this change.
Stem-Changes from E to I and E to IE
That means in verbs like “geben”, the verb becomes “gibst” when used with “du”. This in turn means that the command form for “du” with “geben” is “gib”. The same thing was shown in the examples “Iss nicht so viel.” and “Fred, lies bitte vor.” So, if there is a stem-change in the present tense version of the verb, keep that stem-change with the command.
Don’t forget that the verb “nehmen” is a bit weird. It becomes “nimmst” for the du-form, so as a command it is “nimm”. Here are a few more examples with stem-changes.
Nimm nicht mehr als du essen kannst. –
Don’t take more than you can eat.
Sieh mal da. –
Look over there.
Hilf mir! –
Stiehl nie. –
Stem-Changes from A to Ä
But what about the example “Fahr doch nicht so schnell.” you ask? Verbs with the A to Ä stem-change, do not get their stem-change in the command form. Here are a couple more examples, just for good measure.
Rate mal, was ich bekommen habe. –
Guess what I got.
Schlag deine Schwester nicht! –
Don’t hit your sister!
Schlaf doch nicht den ganzen Tag. –
Don’t sleep the entire day.
Du-Form Commands with -ln and -rn Verbs
Some verbs in German end with -ln or -rn instead of -en. For example: feiern and lächeln. With these verbs the conjugation for the ich-form in the present tense is “ich feiere” and “ich lächele”. With the -ln verbs, it is optional to leave out the E before the L. Example: ich lächle.
For the -rn verbs, it is less common, but still generally acceptable to lose the E before the R when speaking. Example: Ich feire. When you make a command out of those verbs, you need to have the E at the end while the E in the middle is optional. My personal preference with commands and these verbs is the version with the middle E included. Here are a few examples of those kinds of verbs.
Lächele. 2020 ist schon vorbei. –
Smile. 2020 is over.
Sammle alle Münzen um einen Preis zu bekommen. –
Collect all of the coins in order to win a prize.
Feiere nicht zu viel. –
Don’t celebrate too much.
Liefere mir das Geschenk. –
Send/Ship me the gift.
Haben and Sein as Du-Form Commands
As usual the verbs “haben” and “sein” are unusual. The normal present tense form of “haben” for “du” is “hast”. If you were to follow my instructions so far and simply remove the -st at the end, you would end up with “ha”. That’s obviously not right. The du-form command for “haben” is “Hab”. For example:
Hab Geduld. –
Hab viel Spaß. –
Have a lot of fun.
For “sein”, we use “sei” as the du-form command. Here are a few examples of that.
Sei bitte nicht zornig. –
Please don’t be angry.
Sei vorsichtig. –
Sei brav. –
I like to use that last example because the verb “to behave” in English has always fascinated me, as it acts like the verb “to be” with an adverb, but is actually one word. In German it actually is two words. I just think it is a cool subtle difference between the languages.
German Commands with IHR
When commanding more than one person informally, you would use the ihr-form. This form is considerably easier than the du-form, as there are no stem-changes in this form. In order to make a command for “ihr”, you simply conjugate the verb to the ihr-form. Then you drop the “ihr” like Van Gogh. Here are a few examples of that.
Geht nach Hause. –
Fahrt nicht mit dem Fahrrad auf der Straße. –
Don’t ride your bike on the street.
Lächelt mehr. –
Lasst ihre Schuhe bei der Tür. –
Leave your shoes at the door.
Lest dieses Buch. –
Read this book.
Ladet zuerst dieses PDF herunter. –
First download this PDF.
Setzt euch hin. –
In those examples you can see verbs with an added E before the conjugated ending “Ladet…”, verbs with S at the end “Lasst…”, verbs that in the du- and er, sie, es-forms require a stem-change “Lest…”, verbs with -ln “Lächelt…” and verbs with separable prefixes “Setzt euch hin.” With all of those examples, nothing strange happens at all. The ihr-form commands are definitely among the easiest.
Haben and Sein as Ihr-Form Commands
Even the forms of “haben” and “sein” are normal, “habt” and “seid”.
Habt eine gute Reise. –
Have a nice trip.
Habt ein Stück Kuchen. –
Have a piece of cake.
Seid ruhig. –
Seid nicht traurig. –
Don’t be sad.
German Commands with WIR
Next up we have the wir-form commands. This might not make sense, if you try to translate directly, but the wir-form commands are like saying “Let’s do this.” or “Let’s do that.” Just like with the Sie-form, you simply use the form of the verb that usually goes with “wir” and put the verb first. Again, there is nothing weird about these forms.
Machen wir unsere Hausaufgaben. –
Let’s do our homework.
Gehen wir gleich. –
Let’s go soon.
Kaufen wir meiner Mutter diese Bluse. –
Let’s buy my mother this blouse.
Jodeln wir jeden Morgen. –
Let’s yodel every morning.
Haben and Sein as Wir-Form Commands
The verb “haben” is not weird in this form, as it simply uses the normal form “haben”. “Sein” on the other hand uses the same form it did with “Sie”, “seien”. Here are a couple of examples of that.
Haben wir Eis zum Abendessen. –
Let’s have ice cream for dinner.
Seien wir zufrieden mit dem, was wir haben. –
Let’s be satisfied with what we have.
Official Commands in German: Option #1
Another kind of command in German that is often overlooked in videos like this is the official style command that you will hear as announcements on trains or see on signs. This is formed by simply putting the infinitive of the verb at the end of the sentence. Here are a few real life examples.
Dieser Zug endet hier. Bitte alle aussteigen. –
This train ends here. Please all exit.
Hunde an der Leine führen. –
Dogs must be on a leash.
Feuerwehrausfahrt Tag und Nacht freihalten. –
Leave the fire department exit open day and night.
(Don’t block the fire department exit during the day or at night.)
Handys ausschalten. –
Turn off your phones.
Bitte Abstand halten. –
Please keep your distance.
Official Commands in German: Option #2
A similar version of this is to use a form of “sein” (either the er, sie, es-form or the sie plural-form) plus an infinitive and the preposition “zu”. For example:
Hunde sind an der Leine zu führen. –
Dogs are to be lead on a leash.
Kinder und freilaufende Tiere sind zu beaufsichtigen. –
Children and unleashed animals are to be watched.
Verunreinigungen sind zu beseitigen. –
Litter is to be cleaned up.
Comparison of German Command Forms
Now that you know all of the different forms of commands, let’s look at them next to each other and compare them.
|Kommen Sie mit mir.||Komm mit mir.||Kommt mit mir.||Kommen wir mit ihm.|
|Come with me.||Come with me.||Come with me.||Let’s come with him.|
Stem-Changing Verbs from E to I
|Geben Sie mir Ihr Geld.||Gib mir dein Geld.||Gebt mir euer Geld.||Geben wir ihm unser Geld.|
|Give me your money.||Give me your money.||Give me your money.||Let’s give him our money.|
Notice that I changed the possessive in each sentence so that I matched the person being commanded and the possessive. Make sure to be consistent with the forms you use no matter which one you choose.
Stem-Changing Verbs from E to IE
|Lesen Sie das Schild.||Lies das Schild.||Lest das Schild.||Lesen wir das Schild.|
|Read the sign.||Read the sign.||Read the sign.||Let’s read the sign.|
Stem-Changing Verb from A to Ä
|Fangen Sie an.||Fang an.||Fangt an.||Fangen wir an.|
Verbs That End with -ln
|Sammeln Sie viele Pokémon.||Sammele viele Pokémon.||Sammelt viele Pokémon.||Sammeln wir viele Pokémon.|
|Collect a lot of Pokémon.||Collect a lot of Pokémon.||Collect a lot of Pokémon.||Let’s collect a lot of Pokémon.|
Verb that ends with -rn
|Verärgern Sie ihn nicht.||Verärgere ihn nicht.||Verärgert ihn nicht.||Verärgern wir ihn nicht.|
|Don’t annoy him.||Don’t annoy him.||Don’t annoy him.||Let’s not annoy him.|
The Irregular Verb “haben” (to have)
|Haben Sie bitte Geduld.||Hab bitte Geduld.||Habt bitte Geduld.||Haben wir bitte Geduld.|
|Please have patience.||Please have patience.||Please have patience.||Let’s have patience please.|
The Irregular Verb “sein” (to be)
|Seien Sie vorsichtig.||Sei vorsichtig.||Seid vorsichtig.||Seien wir vorsichtig.|
|Be careful.||Be careful.||Be careful.||Let’s be careful.|
Command Form (Imperative) with “Traum” by Cro
The video above shows how the song “Traum” by Cro can teach you about the command form in German. If you want to learn about the second topic of subordinating conjunctions, you can click here.
This song is great for a long list of reasons. First of all, it is extremely catchy. It is a fantastic song in general and it’s just great to sing along. Cro is one of those rappers that you can just sing along with, because he’s got such easy lyrics and they’re just really easy to listen to. It’s a great song. Catchy songs make it so that it sticks in your brain and if it sticks in your brain it’s going to help you to learn the language. The second thing is that it gives you some great examples of the command form for the du-form, because he’s trying to tell this girl all of the things that she should do. There’s only one usage of the command form for the du-form in the first verse. Cro says in the first verse:
Yeah, Baby. Nimm meine Hand. –
Yeah, baby. Take my hand.
This shows you, if you’re using the command form with a stem-changing verb such as an E to an I change like nehmen, then you also still have that stem change in the command. The E becomes an I. So for the command form nimm. Now it doesn’t say this in the song, but it also has the same rule for an E to an IE change, such as lesen.
Lies bitte vor. –
Please read aloud.
In the chorus he says:
Bitte sag mir, was muss ich tun, dass du mich hörst. –
Please tell me what it is that I have to do so that you’ll hear me.
And at the end of the chorus he says:
Bitte schreib, wenn es dich gibt. –
Please write if you exist.
These two sentences show you exactly what it’s going to look like if you’re using a regular verb with the command form. All it does is take the conjugation of the normal verb sagen for instance would be sagst. Then you just drop the -st. You could just say that you dropped the -en at the end of the infinitive. It’s the same idea.
In another line he says:
Bitte warte nicht zu lange. –
Please don’t wait too long.
Warte has an E at the end of it, because verbs that have a T at the end of the stem take an E in the command form. With these few examples from the Cro song Traum you can find out how to use the command form including several rules you need to know about the du-form commands.
Watch “Traum” by Cro
Now that you know what you are looking for, you can watch the music video for this awesome song. If you are having trouble keeping up with the speed of the video, you can turn on subtitles, which are available in German and English or you can slow the video down using the settings on YouTube.