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Commands in Spanish: How to form and use them?

A person hiking on the mountain.

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!

Table of Contents

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:

Orders:¡Siéntate!Sit down!
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.
IMPORTANT

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:

¡Canta!Sing!
¡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.

Emphasis:
Lava el coche .
(YOU) Wash the car.

Politeness:
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 pronounDisfrútalo.Enjoy it.
Indirect object pronounDileTell her.
Reflexive pronounLávate las manos.Wash your hands.
Reflexive and direct object pronounsLávatelas.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).

Informal commands

In everyday interactions, the use of informal commands — those that refer to the pronoun — are more common. Their use shows familiarity and belonging to a group or community. Informal commands (aka commands) have one form if they are affirmative and another form if they are negative.

Affirmative

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
he sings
Command: ¡Canta!
(you) Sing!

Negative

Negative commands have a different form than the affirmative. Here’s how to form them.

  • Regular verbs

    In order to form the negative command, take the verb form of in the present indicative and follow these rules:

Ending → -ar -er, -ir
Rule → Replace -a with -eReplace -e with -a
Present
(tú)
bailas
you dance
bebes
you drink
Negative command
no bailes
don’t dance
no bebas
don’t drink
  • Irregular verbs

    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 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!

IMPORTANT

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

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 and usted, check out our post! Usted commands have the same forms for affirmative and negative. Let’s see how they are formed.
  • Regular verbs

    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 -eReplace -o with -a
Present
(yo)
canto
I sing
escribo
I write
Command
(usted)
(no) cante
(don’t) sing
(no) escriba
(don’t) write
  • Irregular verbs

    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) → (you give). Find the complete list of irregular verbs here.

IMPORTANT

With some one-syllable commands, be careful to place a written accent since words like and change meaning if no written accent is used.

= usted command of the verb dar (give)  de = preposition

= command of the verb ser (be)  se = reflexive pronoun / indirect object pronoun

‘Ustedes’ commands

Ustedes commands are used as the plural form for (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 verbs

    To 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
Rule →
Replace -a with -e
Replace -e with -a
Present
(ustedes)
cantan
you sing
comen
you eat
Command
(no) canten
(dont) sing
(no) coman
(don’t) eat
  • Irregular verbs

    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.

¡Vengan acá!
Come over here!

‘Vosotros’ commands

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.

Affirmative

They are formed by dropping the r in the infinitive and replacing it with –d.

Endings →-ar-er-ir
Command →cantad
sing
comed
eat
escribid
write
IMPORTANT

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)

Negative

They are formed by dropping the –o ending of the conjugation of yo in the present tense and adding the corresponding endings.
Ending → -ar-er, -ir
Rule →Drop -o and add -éisDrop -o and add -áis
Present
(yo)
canto
I sing
como
I eat
Negative command
no cantéis
don’t sing
no comáis
don’t eat

Nosotros’ commands

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.

  • Regular verbs

    Use the conjugation of the nosotros form in the present and replace one letter:

Endings →-ar-er-ir
Rule → Replace -a with -eReplace -e with -aReplace -i with -a
Present
(nosotros)
bailamos
we dance
comemos
we drink
escribimos
we write
Command
(no) bailemos
let’s (not) dance
(no) comamos
let’s (not) eat
(no) escribamos
let’s (not) write
IMPORTANT

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”:

digamos + selo digámoselo
Let’s say it to him.

levantemos + nos → levantémonos
Let’s get up.

  • Irregular verbs

    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!

IMPORTANT

Nosotros commands are usually replaced by phrases like vamos a + infinitive (let’s + infinitive) or a + infinitive (let’s + infinitive):     

Commamos-text

To sum up

  • Commands are used when giving orders, instructions, requests, or recommendations. 
  • The singular “you” form can be formal (usted) or informal (or vos).
  • The forms for 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. 
Ready to put your new knowledge to the test? Check out our activities!
Are you interested in learning more about Spanish Grammar? Check out our Spanish Grammar Homepage.
Meet The Author:
Author-Leticia
Maria Leticia Temoltzin-Espejel
Leticia Temoltzin (Lety) is a linguist and language professor.

To embark on your next language adventure, join the Mango fam!

Extra Resources:

Commands
'Tú' Commands

Activities:

Commands activity

Activities:

Commands activity

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