Cambridge Dictionaries online Cambridge Dictionaries online

The most popular online dictionary and thesaurus for learners of English


English definition of “imperative”


noun [S] (GRAMMAR)    /ɪmˈper.ə.tɪv/ US  /-t̬ɪv/ specialized
B2 the form of a verb that is usually used for giving orders : In the phrase ' Leave him alone !', the verb ' leave ' is an imperative/is in the imperative.Verb forms, tenses and types of verbs Grammar:Clause typesThere are four basic types of main clause: declaratives (statements), interrogatives (questions), imperatives (orders/instructions) and exclamatives (used for exclamations).Grammar:Declarative clausesDeclarative clauses most commonly function as statements. The usual word order is subject (s) + verb (v) + x. Declaratives can be affirmative or negative. They make statements about how things are and how they are not.Grammar:Interrogative clausesInterrogative clauses most commonly function as questions. The usual word order is (wh-word) + auxiliary/modal verb (aux/m) + subject + verb + x:Grammar:Imperative clausesImperative clauses most commonly function as commands, instructions or orders. The usual word order is verb + x. We do not usually include the subject in an imperative clause. We use the base form of the verb:Grammar:Exclamative clausesExclamative clauses usually have one of the following word orders:Grammar:Commands and instructionsGrammar:Giving commandsWe often use an imperative in commands, and we also use must. They both sound very direct:Grammar:Giving instructionsWe use instructions to tell someone how to do something. We usually use imperatives. They do not sound too direct in this context:Grammar:Imperative clauses (Be quiet!)We use imperative clauses when we want to tell someone to do something (most commonly for advice, suggestions, requests, commands, orders or instructions).Grammar:Imperatives with subject pronounsFor emphasis, we can use you in an imperative clause:Grammar:Imperatives with doWe can use emphatic do in short answers without a main verb:Grammar:Imperatives with let (let’s)We use let to form first person and third person imperatives.Grammar:Negative imperativesTo make negative imperatives, we use the auxiliary do + not + the infinitive without to. The full form do not, is rather formal. In speaking, we usually use don’t:Grammar:Negative imperatives with subject pronounWe can use emphatic pronoun you or anyone/anybody after don’t in negative imperatives, especially in informal speaking:Grammar:Negative imperative of let’sWe often use the phrase let’s not:Grammar:Question tags commonly used after imperativesWe sometimes use question tags with imperatives. They make the imperative less direct:Grammar:Imperatives as offers and invitationsWe can use imperatives to make offers and invitations:
(Definition of imperative noun (GRAMMAR) from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)
Focus on the pronunciation of imperative

Definitions of “imperative” in other dictionaries

Word of the Day


relating to behaviour between people that is pleasant and friendly, often despite a difficult situation

Word of the Day


Read our blog about how the English language behaves.

Learn More

New Words

Find words and meanings that have just started to be used in English, and let us know what you think of them.

Learn More