The Italian Imperative Mood

Weilà weilà! Today we are finally going over the highly requested and long anticipated topic of the Italian Imperative Mood, known as the Imperativo in Italian. (Please note, any time you ever see me write an entire word in caps [i.e. TU, VOI] know that it's just for emphasis).

Simply put, the Imperativo is used when giving a command or direct order. You're telling someone they should or shouldn't do something. You only ever use the Imperativo with the Present Tense. That's why this is a mood. The Imperativo, just like the Congiuntivo, is not a tense (despite the fact that in some videos I called it a tense, just made it easier at the time). Here are a few examples in English:

"Don't go there!"

"Come over here!"

"Take care guys!"

"Let's go!"

Keep in mind that you can give commands when you're happy or angry, serious or sarcastic. Think about the different situations in which you could say these four phrases in varying moods and you'll see what I mean.

As with everything, there are many ways you could go about teaching this topic. This is a monster-sized area of Italian and a very advanced one at that. But don't let that discourage you, if anything, let it make you look forward to conquering it! What I'm going to do is split up this lesson in 3 main areas: 1) Negative Commands, 2) Positive Commands, and 3) Commands with Pronouns. 

1 - Negative Commands

I find giving negative commands in Italian to be the simplest way of using the Imperativo, so that's why we're going to begin with it.

So how do you give a negative command or order in Italian? It's pretty simple. If you're addressing one person and you're referring to them as TU, you simply put NON in front of a verb in it's infinitive form. (The infinitive form of a verb refers to one that still has its -ARE, -ERE, or -IRE ending on it, it hasn't been conjugated.) Here are some examples:

Non entrare - Do not enter

Non parlare - Do not talk/speak

Pretty simple, right? But what about when you're referring to a group of people and you're therefore properly addressing them as VOI? This is even simpler. Just put NON in front of the voi conjugation of the verb in the present tense:

Non entrate - Do not enter

Non parlate - Do not talk/speak

The last pronoun we need to concern ourselves with when giving a negative command is NOI. I think it's much more common for us to give negative commands to "you" or "you guys", but I can think of some situations where I'd give a negative command to a group that I'm a part of. Let's take a look at some examples, we'll be using the same logic as we did with voi above:

Non entriamo - We do not enter

Non parliamo - We do not talk/speak

I feel it's pretty clear to see how we give a negative command to a group we are a part of in Italian, but can get a bit fuzzy in English. I think there are a few other translations we can give in English, like "we shall not enter" or "we are not entering". You could even go as far as to say "we are not going in there!" (That sounds a lot better to me). So the English part of this is open for interpretation.

Now, what about all of the other pronouns? Well, whenever you give a command, you always refer to the person or group of people as "you". Because of that, the Imperativo really doesn't involve the other pronouns (the only other pronoun you will come across is Lei when you're being formal, but we'll get into that another time). Today we're just going to be focusing on the most common "tu, voi, & noi". 

2 - Positive Commands

Let's now take a look at how to give a simple positive command or order. Keep in mind, when I say "positive" I mean we're telling you to do something. Remember, above with "negative" commands, that's when we're telling you not to do something. With either positive or negative commands, you could be friendly or not so much.

We're going to begin with TU. This is when you give a positive command to one person and you address them informally.

For all regular -ARE verbs, the verb ending will be A.

For all regular -ERE and -IRE verbs, the verb endings will be the same as they always are in the present tense.

Parla! - Speak!

Parla per te! - Speak for yourself!

Scrivi qualcosa! - Write something!

Pulisci la stanza! - Clean the room!

For any of you like me who have Italian grandparents, I'm sure you've heard this command at least once or twice in your life: "Vieni qua!" - Come here ;) Now you know the mechanics behind the phrase! 

Positive commands with VOI and NOI are just as simple (if not more so) as giving negative ones. All you have to do is conjugate any verb in either the VOI or NOI forms and you've got yourself a positive command!

Here are some examples with NOI:

Andiamo! - Let's go!

Andiamo a ballare! - Let's go dance/dancing!

Examples with VOI:

Venite a casa mia! - Come to my house!

Fate i vostri compiti! - Do your homework!

3 - Commands with Pronouns

Now that we've covered all of the basics, we're going to turn up the level a bit. In order to understand what we're about to go over, you need to have a good understanding of Direct, Indirect, and Double Object Pronouns. What we're about to go over is basically going to take what we went over in the Double Object Pronouns lesson one step further. Click on any of the bold & blue writing in this paragraph to go to the respective blog post to learn more about them.

We're going to look at FARE (to do), DARE (to give), & DIRE (to say) when giving positive commands with pronouns as these are very common verbs to use when doing so. I'm going to refer to these as "complex commands".

Here's what you do when you ask someone to do, to give, or to say something and there's already an understanding of what the "something" is. I'll show you the end result and then back into every example:

Fammelo vedere! - Show it to me!

Let's break this down:

You can say to someone "Mi fai vedere il libro?" - "Can you show me the book?" (Keep in mind you can also say "Mi puoi fare vedere il libro?" for a more literal translation.) 

Let's say the person hasn't let you see it yet. You can repeat the question with the shortened: "Me lo fai vedere?" - "Can you show it to me?" We can say this because we know that "lo" - "it" refers to "il libro" - "the book".

Now, let's say this is the third time you're asking to see the book because you still haven't seen it. This time around you can say the extremely shortened command "Fammelo vedere!" - "Show it to me!" or "Let me see it!" (In English we could say either translation, I'd probably use the latter.)

As you can see from the three examples, we went from a polite question to a straight up command. In general with Italian, saying the first phrase is seen as the most courteous while the last is seen as the least polite.  

(I realize there may be some of you who are asking yourselves "Why does Fare, which means 'to make', mean 'to show' in these examples?" That's because you can use it to mean "to show" in this contexts like this, it's very common.)

Let's now look at the last two examples with a bit less explanation as they follow the same logic as everything above for "fare":

Dammelo adesso! - Give it to me now! 

1) Mi dai il pane per favore? - Can you give me the bread please?

2) Me lo dai? - Can you give it to me?

3) Dammelo! - Give it to me!

Dimmelo per favore! - Tell me it now please!

1) Mi dici il segreto per favore? - Can you tell me the secret please?

2) Me lo dici? - Can you tell me (it)?

3) Dimmelo! - Tell me!

As you can see, we've only covered how to give commands with Fare, Dare, and Dire when telling someone to do, to give, or to say something to "me". I find this to be the easiest way to introduce and first learn how to use the Imperativo with pronouns. At at later time we can dive deeper into this topic and see how to give these complex commands using different verbs and pronouns. But generally speaking, it is safe to say that these are the most commonly used verbs for giving these sorts of commands formed with pronouns.

The last thing I'm going to cover is how to give these very same complex commands but as negative ones. We will follow a combined logic of what we learned in Section 1 and what we just went over here in Section 3. Take a look at the positive and then negative form of the same commands:

Fammelo vedere - Show it to me // Non farmelo vedere - Don't show it to me

Dammelo adesso - Give it to me now // Non darmelo adesso - Don't give it to me now

Dimmelo per favore - Tell me please // Non dirmelo per favore - Don't tell me please

It does feel a little odd saying the negative complex commands this way, usually you add some more words into the phrases. But I just wanted to demonstrate the logic and mechanics behind the formation of negative complex commands, and I feel those examples do just that.

So that is it for today, I hope you found all of this digestible. I realize this third section may be pretty tough for some of you. That's perfectly normal. Like I said at the beginning of this post, the Imperativo is certainly advanced Italian. You can totally get by without ever having to use it in conversation, but once you've got yourself a nice solid foundation of the language you can totally move on to tackle this!

Best of luck, have fun, and always remember to SPREAD THE LOVE!