Commands in German

Call the police! Pass the wrench! Let's learn how to use imperatives, in German.

Being able to give commands in German is important in all sorts of situations. For example:

  • In emergencies ("Call the police!")
  • When you need a hand ("Pass the wrench")
  • When you're giving instructions ("Turn the dial")

Let's learn how to do give commands, in German.

The German Imperative

The imperative is used to express commands. Let's take the verb gehen, for example.

In order to use the word gehen as a command, we first have to know that the imperative is used in partnership with the three personal pronouns du, ihr and Sie.

Now let's learn the three main imperative forms, using these three personal pronouns, and our verb gehen:

PronounImperative RuleExample
duverb stem + -egeh(e)
ihrverb stem + -tgeht
Sieverb in infinitive form + Siegehen Sie

Now, let's use some example commands in context.

Polite Commands

For this lesson, let's imagine that you are visiting Berlin for the weekend. You are going to a restaurant to meet a friend, who lives in the city.

At the restaurant, the waiter makes some polite commands:

Kommen Sie herein.

Come inside.
Setzen Sie sich.

Sit down.
Schauen Sie sich die Karte an.

Have a look at the menu.

These commands use the personal pronoun Sie - the polite form of address.

With these polite commands in mind, try out the exercise below. Turn each English verb into a polite German command (polite command = use of Sie):

WordInfinitiveImperative (Formal)
to gogehen
to eatessen
to drivefahren

Well Done! 🎉

Let's move on to learning some informal commands.

Informal Commands

Now imagine that your friend has arrived at the restaurant. Whilst catching up, you tell him where you plan to go out tonight: Berghain. You need his advice, though. How does one get into Berghain? What should you wear? Who should you bring?

Don't worry. Your friend is a self-described party-monster, and has some specific instructions (commands) for you, to give you the best chance at getting in.

Geh um Mitternacht.

Go around midnight.
Trag bunte Kleidung.

Wear colorful clothing.
Erzähl dem Türsteher einen Witz.

Tell the bouncer a joke.
Finde viele Freunde, die du mitnehmen kannst.

Find lots of friends to take with you

Notice that these commands make use of the Imperative Rule for the Pronoun du: verb stem + -e.

Here are some examples of verb stems with no need for an -e:

to makemachenmach
to moveumziehenzieh um
to laughlachenlach
to beseinsei
to writeschreibenschreib

Now, if the verb stem ends in -t, -d or -fn, this is when a + e is needed.

to guessratenrate
to findfindenfinde
to openöffnenöffne

Additionally, when using the imperative with du some verbs also require a vowel change.

There are no specific rules to help identify which verbs need this change. You will need to memorise them!

Here are some examples of such verbs being used in the imperative, with du:

to speaksprechensprich!
to eatesseniss!
to helphelfenhilf!
to forgetvergessenvergiss!

One-Word Commands

Lastly, whenever a verb is being used by itself, as a command (Wait! / Stop! / Listen!), we simply use the verb stem:

do it!machenMach!

Now turn each English verb into an informal German command (informal command = use of du or ihr).

WordInfinitiveImperative (Informal)
to drinktrinkenTrink!
to takenehmen
to lookschauen
to playspielen
to eatessen
to waitwarten

Well done! 🎉

You have learned how to give commands, in German.

Whenever you're ready, head over to the next and final lesson on this course: Prepositions (of place)

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