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The Imperative in Portuguese

Like other Romance languages, Portuguese has an abundance of verb forms. Adding to the pile is the imperative mood. 

In Portuguese, just like in English, we use the imperative to give instructions and commands, to urge someone to do something and to give spatial directions, among others.

Depending on (1) whether the tone is casual or formal, (2) you are affirming or negating something, or (3) you are talking to a single person or a group of people, there are 4 different imperative forms to keep track of*: 

Imperative 1singular, informal (tu), affirmation
Imperative 2 singular, informal (tu), negation
Imperative 3 singular, formal (você)
Imperative 4plural

* As a matter of fact, there are a few other imperative forms that I will skip since these are archaic and seldom used in modern Portuguese. 

Here’re are a few examples

sempre em frente!
Go straight ahead!

Não digas isso!
Don’t say that!

Faz-me um favor!
Do me a favor!

Tragam uma garrafa de vinho.
Bring a bottle of wine.

In all likelihood, the challenge for you is not so much knowing when to use the imperative as it is recalling the right imperative form that matches the context (out of the 4 conjugations in the table above).

Keeping track of all these imperatives might be disheartening. But look, we use the imperative all the time and, therefore, it is totally worth it to make an effort to come to grips with it. 

In what follows, I will share two alternative strategies that will help you recall the imperative verb form that suits your context. 

Let’s take a closer look at it.  

Strategy 1 – Tweaking the endings of the first-person present-tense

Many beginners fall for this strategy because it’s simple and practical. 

You start with the first-person present-simple form of the verb in question and, from there,  you tweak its ending to find the imperative form you are looking for. All you need is to learn a few tweaking patterns as shown below. Neat.

But there’s a caveat! It only works for regular verbs.

Granted, most verbs are regular and, therefore, this strategy is still widely applicable and useful. However, and as you may know, some of the most frequently used verbs are irregular.

That said, let’s learn the tweaks. 

Reading tips! Learn more about regular conjugation:
Portuguese Regular Verbs in the Present Tense
Portuguese Regular Verbs in the Past Tense

Tu (informal)

In informal contexts, the imperative form varies depending on if it’s part of an affirmative or negative sentence. 

To find the affirmative and negative variants, and for each conjugation group, we tweak the endings of the first-person present tense according to the following patterns: 

Present tense
-ar | andar *andoanda!não andes!
-er | beberbebobebe!não bebas!
-ir | partirpartoparte!não partas!

* These infinite forms are examples of verbs fitting into each conjugation group. All other regular verbs of each group follow the same patterns. 

Você (formal)

In formal contexts, there’s only one imperative form (regardless of whether the sentence is affirmative or not). 

To find it, and for each conjugation group, we tweak the endings of the first-person present tense according to the following patterns: 

-ar | andarando(não) ande!
-er | beberbebo(não) bebe!
-ir | partirparto(não) parta!

Vocês (plural)

Finally, when we talk to a group of people, we tweak the endings of the first-person present-tense according to the following patterns: 

-ar | andarando(não) andem!
-er | beberbebo(não) bebam!
-ir | partirparto(não) partam!

Again, all these tweaks won’t work with irregular verbs. To deal with that, you’ll have to either turn to our second strategy below or learn them by heart. 

Irregular verbs

Here are the imperative forms of six widely used irregular verbs*:

sersê!não sejas!(não) seja!(não) sejam!
estarestá!não estejas!(não) esteja!(não) estejam!
dardá!não dês!(não) dê!(não) deem!
irvai!não vás!(não) vá(não) vão
fazerfaz!não faças!(não) faça!(não) façam
vervê!não vejas!(não) veja!(não) vejam!

* Speaking of irregular verbs! Here’s an article with such irregular gems: Portuguese Must-Know Irregular Verbs.

Strategy 2 – Getting to the root

This second path to the imperative forms implies that, besides the present tense indicative, you are acquainted with the present tense subjunctive *. 

See, the present tense subjunctive grants you access to the imperative forms of all verbs, whether or not they are regular.

*Learn more about this tense: Present Subjunctive in Portuguese: How and When to Use It

So, here’s how it all works: 

3-person sing. IND. MOOD2-person sing. SUB. MOOD1-person sing.SUB. MOOD2-person plu.SUB. MOOD

Now, let’s see if the scheme shown above holds. We start with the regular verb beber

present tense
> Indicative> Subjunctive
ele, elabebebeba
eles, elas

As we can see, the suggested imperative forms of strategy 2 match those indicated by strategy 1.

Let’s now try with an irregular verb: 

present tense
> Indicative> Subjunctive
ele, elavai
eles, elas

Again, if you look up the table of the irregular verbs above, you’ll see that the imperative forms are the same.

There’s only one exception! And that’s the imperative 1  of the verb ser – “sê”.  In this case, the third-person indicative mood won’t match it. But that’s about it when it comes to exceptions.

This is it. I hope that these two strategies will somehow help you to cope with this imperative challenge.

Reading tips! Do you want to explore more verb-related topics? Here’re a few suggestions for you: 

1. How to Tell “Poder” Apart From “Conseguir” in Portuguese
2. Portuguese Past Participle and Auxiliary Verbs that Go with It
3. Portuguese Reflexive Verbs and Reflexive Pronoun Placement
4. Portuguese Grammar for Beginners

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