A Tutorial on How to Form Formal and Informal Commands in Spanish

How to Form Formal and Informal Commands in Spanish
The imperative mood in Spanish encompasses the formal and informal commands, which are orders given in a professional and personal scenario, respectively. Penlighten will tell you how to form formal and informal commands in Spanish.
Penlighten Staff
Last Updated: Mar 9, 2018
Please Remember
  • The imperative mood in Spanish is what encompasses the formal and informal commands.
  • Commands vary as per regular and irregular verbs.
Commands, in the literal sense of the word, are orders given to fulfill a certain task. Simple instances include, "Shut the door", or "Bring it here", etc. In Spanish, these commands are divided into formal and informal. They are used in different contexts. Also remember, there are different rules for formal and informal commands in Spanish.
In the paragraphs below, you will learn the difference between formal and informal commands in Spanish, along with suitable examples.
Formal Commands
  • They are used when you address people in a formal manner; in fact, they can be termed to be more of requests than commands.
  • They are mostly used in a professional environment.
  • Their use is similar to the use of the personal pronoun 'you', in a formal as well as informal manner.
  • While using formal commands, the personal pronoun 'Usted' is used in Spanish.
  • Also, while addressing directly, the titles 'Señor' (Sr.) or 'Señora' (Sra.) are used, respectively.

Verb Conjugations
  • In case of 'ar' verbs, you are expected to remove the 'ar', and add an 'e' (from the 'er' root).
  • Note that the endings in the imperative form are opposite of the respective verb roots.
  • In case of 'er/ir' verbs, you must remove the root and add 'a'. This can be better understood with examples.
  • Let's say, the verb is 'hablar' (to speak). Here, you have to first remove the root 'ar', after which you will be left with 'habl'.
  • Now, add 'e' to this word, which makes it 'hable', which is the formal command 'Speak'.
  • Another simpler way of remembering the conjugation is to refer to the third person singular form of the same verb, in the indicative mood. In the above case, it is 'habla'. Just change the last letter from 'a' to 'e', and you get the imperative form.
  • Similarly, in case of 'er' verbs, apply the opposite.
  • Consider the verb, 'comer' (to eat). Scrap the ending, 'er', and add 'a' instead.
  • Now you have 'coma' as the formal command, which is nothing but 'Eat', said in the form of a request.
  • While this is being said in the affirmative sense, you can use the same word for a negative sentence, all you need to do is add a 'no' before the word.
  • For example, 'No coma' will be 'Don't eat' and 'No hable' will be 'Don't speak'.
  • You can of course add the pronoun here; to maintain the formal tone, you can say, 'Coma usted, por favor', which means, 'Please eat'.

Informal Commands
  • They are used when you address people who are close to you―your family, friends, neighbors, etc.
  • Thus, their use is more common in your personal life, with known people.
  • The informal pronoun, 'tú', is used in this case.
  • Mostly, this word is omitted during the actual command, since the use is evident from the verb conjugations.

Verb Conjugations
  • The informal command retains the same ending.
  • In case of 'ar' verbs, all you have to do is exclude the 'r', and the resultant word is the imperative form.
  • For example, for 'hablar', you will have 'habla' (Speak).
  • Similar to formal commands, you can refer to the third person present tense form of the indicative mood of the same verb.
  • The same rules are to be followed for the 'er/ir' verbs. Thus, 'comer' will be 'come' (Eat).
  • The negative sentence will follow the same pattern as that of formal commands.

Use of Irregular Verbs
  • The usual rules for the imperative mood do not apply to irregular verbs in Spanish.
  • In fact, every verb is used differently (almost).
  • For example, there is a collection of irregular 'ir' and 'er' verbs, which when used as informal commands, follow a certain pattern.
  • This includes:
    1. Tener (to have)
    2. Salir (to leave)
    3. Poner (to put)
    4. Hacer (to make/do)
    5. Decir (to say)
    6. Ir (to go)
    7. Ser (to be)
  • In the above cases, 'tener', 'poner', and 'salir' will have their roots omitted. Thus, the words 'ten', 'pon', and 'sal' will be the imperative informal commands.
  • However, 'decir' becomes 'di', 'hacer' becomes 'haz', 'ir' becomes 've', while ''ser' becomes 'sé'.
  • In case of formal commands, you have to refer to the first person singular form of these verbs (note that these are the 'go' verbs').
  • You have to add an 'a' at the end and omit the 'o'.
  • For example, the first person form for 'tener' is 'tengo', therefore the formal command will be 'tenga'.
  • Similarly, the formal commands for 'decir' will be 'diga', for 'hacer', it will be 'haga', for 'poner', it will be 'ponga', and so on.
  • Similarly, for the 'vosotros' use, all you have to do is add a 'd' at the end of the original verb after omitting the last letter. For example, the imperative form for 'tener' will be 'tened', for 'poner', it will be 'poned', etc.
  • You will be using the 'nosotros' form when you are collectively saying something for everybody around you, which sounds like a command. The conjugation in this case will be the addition of 'mos' to the informal counterpart of the same verb, i.e., 'decir' will have its form as 'digamos', 'tener' will have 'tengamos', etc.
  • The plural form will just have 'n' added to the end. For example, 'hacer' will have 'hagan', 'tener' will have 'tengan', etc.

List of Examples

✦ Habla (hablar) conmigo. (Speak to me)
Hable conmigo (Speak to me)
Carefully observe the above two sentences. They contain the same verbs and have the same meaning. But, the first one is an informal command, while the second one is a formal request.
✦ Abre (abrir) la ventana. (Open the window)
Abra la ventana.
This is a similar example, except the verb is an 'ir' verb. The first sentence is an informal command, while the second is a formal one.
✦ Dime (decir) lo que piensas. (Tell me what you think.)
Observe the above sentence. This is an example of using an object pronoun. In this case, it is an informal command, since you are using 'di', the informal form for 'decir'. The 'me' following 'di' indicates the person to whom the verb points out to, thus, it is a direct object pronoun. Also, note that decir is an irregular verb.
✦ Por favor, dígame la verdad. (Please tell me the truth.)
Now, study this sentence. It is the same verb; however, you are using it in the 'usted' form, i.e., it is a formal command, rather, it is a polite request. Hence, you use the word 'dígame', where 'me' is the direct object pronoun, and 'díga' is the actual imperative form for 'usted'.
✦ Tráemelo. (Bring it to me.)
Surprised? Don't be, most sentences in Spanish are in this form, the trick is to use the right object pronouns. In the above example, we ue both, direct and indirect pronouns. 'Me' indicates 'to me', while 'lo' indicates 'it'. 'Tráe' indicates the informal command. Join them all, and you get the result as a long word, which, when translated, is a big sentence.
✦ Traédmelos. (Bring them to me)
This is the same as above, except that we use the plural indirect pronoun and the vosotros form of the verb, traer. Hence, a 'd' is added at the end of the verb.
✦ No se los compre. (Do not buy them.)
This is another formal command, though negative, and the negative element comes before the direct object pronoun.
One could quote myriad examples of the imperative mood. The commands change as per the situation as well, the verbs may be used differently. The above Penlighten article is just a gist to slightly nudge you towards the larger scheme of things. Once you begin to learn the different styles of using formal and informal commands, there is really no end to it!
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