Commands are used to give orders and instructions, or to make requests and recommendations. They can be affirmative: ¡Ven aquí! (Come here!), negative: No tires basura (Do not throw garbage), formal: Pase usted (Come in), or informal: Abre la ventana (Open the window). Do you want to show who’s the boss when giving commands? Keep reading!
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When are commands used in Spanish?
Use commands (also known as the imperative) to give orders, instructions, to make requests, and to give suggestions or advice. For example:
|Instructions:||Coloca las baterías.||Put on the batteries.|
|Informal requests:||Abre la ventana por favor.||Open the window please.|
|Suggestions or advice:||Come frutas y verduras.||Eat fruits and vegetables.|
When using commands to make requests, tone is important as it could sound rude or abrupt. In order to avoid this, there are other ways to make requests, usually in the form of a question.
You can simply use the present indicative tense:
¿Abres la ventana por favor?
Can you open the window, please?
Or use a modal verb like poder (to be able to):
¿Puedes abrir la ventana?
Can you open the window?
To be extra polite you can use the conditional simple tense:
¿Podrías abrir la ventana por favor?
Could you open the window, please?
How to form commands in Spanish?
Commands are formed differently depending on who you address. Commands can address “you” singular (formal and informal), “you all” (ustedes or vosotros), or “we” (nosotros). In some cases, commands have one form if they are affirmative and another form if they are negative, for example:
|¡No cantes!||Don't sing!|
⤷TIP Recall that Spanish uses the upside down exclamation ¡ at the beginning of an exclamative sentence, and they are often used with commands:
|¡Cierra la puerta!||Close the door!|
Subject pronouns are not necessary when using commands:
Lava el coche.
(You) Wash the car.
Laven los platos.
(You all) wash the dishes.
However, subject pronouns can be used in two cases: for emphasis or as a form of politeness.
Lava el coche tú.
(YOU) Wash the car.
Abra usted la puerta.
(Formal “you”) Open the door.
Object and reflexive pronouns are placed either attached to the command or before the verb depending on whether the command is affirmative or negative:Affirmative commands – pronouns attach to the command:
|Direct object pronoun||Disfrútalo.||Enjoy it.|
|Indirect object pronoun||Dile||Tell her.|
|Reflexive pronoun||Lávate las manos.||Wash your hands.|
|Reflexive and direct object pronouns||Lávatelas.||Wash them.|
Negative commands – pronouns go before the verb:
No te laves las manos.
Don’t wash your hands.
No te las laves.
Don’t wash them.
Click the link, to find further information on how to use commands with object and reflexive pronouns.
Now let’s get into the details. ¡A leer! (Let’s read).
In everyday interactions, the use of informal commands — those that refer to the tú pronoun — are more common. Their use shows familiarity and belonging to a group or community. Informal commands (aka tú commands) have one form if they are affirmative and another form if they are negative.
Regular verbs have the same form as the él, ella, usted conjugation in the present tense: canta (sing), come (eat), escribe (write). Compare:
|Present tense of (él, ella, usted)||él canta|
There are a few high frequency verbs that have irregular forms and are one-syllable: ven (come), haz (do), etc.
Find the complete list of one-syllable Spanish commands and examples. Also, check out a strategy for a fun way to remember these forms.
Negative tú commands have a different form than the affirmative. Here’s how to form them.
In order to form the negative tú command, take the verb form of tú in the present indicative and follow these rules:
|Ending →||-ar||-er, -ir|
|Rule →||Replace -a with -e||Replace -e with -a|
Some irregular verbs are formed using the yo form in the present tense.
Rule → Drop the –o and add the ending –as:
salgo (I go out) → no salgas (don’t go out)
Find more Spanish irregular verbs here.
⤷TIP If you are familiar with the Spanish subjunctive, negative commands are formed using the tú form of the present subjunctive.
Quiero que tú comas.
I want you to eat.
¡No comas galletas antes de la cena!
Don’t eat cookies before dinner!
In some countries such as Argentina, Colombia, and most parts of Central America, there is a unique form: the commands with pronoun “vos” (you, singular). They have different forms in the affirmative and negative. Here’s an example with the verb cantar (to sing).
Affirmative: cantá vos (you sing)
Negative: no cantés (don’t sing)
To find out how to use pronoun vos in Spanish, click the link!
Formal commands (aka usted commands) refer to the usted pronoun and are used in formal contexts with people that represent an authority: a professor, a boss, a doctor, etc. Oftentimes, they come with a title, such as: señor or señora Rodríguez (Mr. or Mrs. Rodríguez), profesor Ramírez (professor Ramírez), etc. Formal commands are also commonly used with elder people. However, in some countries the use of the usted commands is less frequent with younger generations.To learn more about Spanish subject pronouns including the difference between tú and usted, check out our post! Usted commands have the same forms for affirmative and negative. Let’s see how they are formed.
Take the stem of the yo form in the present, and change the last letter according to the following rule:
|Ending →||-ar||-er, -ir|
|Rule →||Replace -o with -e||Replace -o with -a|
The previous rule also works for irregular verbs, except for a few exceptions like yo soy (I am) → sea (you be) and yo doy (I give) → dé (you give). Find the complete list of irregular verbs here.
With some one-syllable commands, be careful to place a written accent since words like dé and sé change meaning if no written accent is used.
dé = usted command of the verb dar (give) ≠ de = preposition
sé = tú command of the verb ser (be) ≠ se = reflexive pronoun / indirect object pronoun
Ustedes commands are used as the plural form for tú (you) and vos (you) in all of Latin America when addressing more than one person. They have the same forms in the affirmative and negative.
Regular verbsTo form these commands, use the form of ustedes in the present and then follow the same rule in affirmative and negative forms:
|Ending →||-ar||-er, -ir|
Replace -a with -e
Replace -e with -a
Use the same forms as the usted command but add an –n at the end:
Usted diga la verdad. → Ustedes digan la verdad.
You tell the truth. → You (all) tell the truth.
The same rule applies to the negative. Find a more complete list here.
⤷TIP If you are familiar with the subjunctive, ustedes commands have the same forms as the ustedes present subjunctive.
Quiero que ustedes vengan.
I want you to come.
Come over here!
These are only used in Spain. They are equivalent to the ustedes commands in Latin America — that is, “you” plural. These have different forms in the affirmative and negative.
They are formed by dropping the –r in the infinitive and replacing it with –d.
With reflexive pronouns the –d is dropped before attaching the pronouns:
Command Reflexive pronoun
sentad (sit) –os → sentaos (sit down)
Except with the verb ir (to go):
id (go) –os → idos (go away)
|Ending →||-ar||-er, -ir|
|Rule →||Drop -o and add -éis||Drop -o and add -áis|
no cantéisdon’t sing
There is a type of command where speakers include themselves. These are the nosotros commands. They are used to make invitations or to do something together, and they’re the equivalent of “let’s” in English. There’s no change when the command is negative.
Use the conjugation of the nosotros form in the present and replace one letter:
|Rule →||Replace -a with -e||Replace -e with -a||Replace -i with -a|
let’s (not) dance
let’s (not) eat
let’s (not) write
When a nosotros command is followed by se in a double object pronoun construction, or the reflexive nos, the final “s” of the command is dropped before adding “se” or “nos”:
s + selo → digámoselo
Let’s say it to him.
s + nos → levantémonos
Let’s get up.
Irregular nosotros commands are formed with the conjugation of yo in the present.
Rule → Drop the –o and replace with –amos in both affirmative and negative commands.
salgo (I go out) → No salgamos hoy. (Let’s not go out today.)
Find more irregular conjugations here.
⤷TIP If you are familiar with the subjunctive, nosotros commands have the same forms as the nosotros present subjunctive.
Sugiero que vayamos antes de que cierren.
I suggest we go before they close.
¡Vayamos al cine!
Let’s go to the movies!
Nosotros commands are usually replaced by phrases like vamos a + infinitive (let’s + infinitive) or a + infinitive (let’s + infinitive):
To sum up
- Commands are used when giving orders, instructions, requests, or recommendations.
- The singular “you” form can be formal (usted) or informal (tú or vos).
- The forms for tú and vosotros have one form in the negative and another in the affirmative.
- Object and reflexive pronouns go in front of the verb if the command is negative or attached to the command if affirmative.