Your Essential Guide to Using Imperatives in Russian

Imperatives are essential in Russian daily life, from ordering food at a restaurant to asking for directions, and even giving clear and direct instructions. Understanding how to use them is crucial.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the formation of both singular and plural imperative verbs, including irregular verbs. We’ll explore various applications of the imperative mood in Russian. Additionally, I’ll touch on negative imperatives and offer practical tips for using them effectively.

Example of Imperatives in Russian

Plural Imperative

Plural imperative verbs are used when addressing a group or more than one person, as well as those with whom you communicate on a “вы” (formal) basis.

For most verbs, plural imperative verbs are formed by taking the second person plural form of the present tense, if it ends in “-ите“.

Example: “вы говорите” (you speak) → “говорите” (speak)

Sometimes “и” is changed to a soft sign:

вы веритеверьте

However, if the second person plural form ends in “-ете” or “-ёте“, before which there is a vowel, we change e/ё to “й“.

вы делаетеделайте

вы моетемойте

вы поётепойте

In other cases, the “е” turns into an “и” or a soft sign.

вы скажетескажите

вы идётеидите

вы будетебудьте

Often the letter in the stem of a word is changed.

вы бежитебегите

The same rules apply for reflexive verbs.

мыться (to wash oneself) – вы моетесь (you wash yourselves) – мойтесь! (wash yourselves!)

Singular Imperative

Singular imperative verbs are used when addressing a single person in informal situations.

For the singular, it’s as simple as possible: take the plural imperative form and drop the “те“.

говоритеговори

пойтепой

In reflexive verbs, we also change the soft sign to “я”.

мойтесьмойся

For negatives, add не before the verb:

Не уходи! – Don’t leave!

Не говори глупостей. – Don’t talk nonsense.

Не курите в этой зоне. – Don’t smoke in this area.

Choice of formal or informal imperative forms depends on the level of familiarity with the person you are addressing, the formality of the situation, and social norms. Practice using imperatives in context to ensure they are employed appropriately.

Imperative forms in Russian

Verbs Without Imperative Forms

Most verbs in Russian can form the imperative mood, but there are a few categories of verbs that do not have imperative forms. These include:

  • verbs related to perception: слышать (to hear), видеть (to see), чувствовать (to feel),
  • impersonal verbs: нравиться (to like), жаль (it’s a pity), холодать (to get cold), etc.
  • modal verbs: хотеть (to want), желать (to wish), мочь (to be able to)

Verbs that express a state or an action that occurs by itself, without an active subject, generally cannot form the imperative mood in Russian.

See Also: 25 Most Common Russian Verbs

How are They Used?

The imperative mood in Russian is used to give commands, make instructions or requests.

In simple words, we need it in any situation where we command someone. These are the following main situations:

Making Commands

Commands are perhaps the most direct use of the imperative mood. Commands instruct someone to perform an action, and they are issued without the use of the word “ты”/”вы” (you).

Иди сюда! – Come here!

Сядьте! – Sit down!

Открой окно! (Open the window!)

Приготовь ужин. (Prepare dinner.)

Making Requests

Imperatives are also used to make polite requests. By adding “пожалуйста” (please) to your imperative, you can make your request more courteous.

Подай соль, пожалуйста. – Pass me the salt, please.

Помогите мне, пожалуйста. – Help me, please.

Дай мне ручку.  – Give me a pen.

Giving Instructions

Instructions for recipes, processes, or directions are often conveyed using the imperative mood.

Поверните направо на следующем светофоре. – Turn right at the next traffic light.

Добавьте масло и перемешайте. – Add oil and stir.

See Also: Russian Verbs For Cooking

Giving Advice/Recommendation/Warning

Поезжайте в Санкт-Петербург. – Go to St.Petersburg.

Будь внимателен на дороге! – Be attentive on the road!

Не подходи к собаке. – Don’t approach the dog.

Не трогай это! – Leave it alone!

Будь́те осторожны! – Be careful!

Expressing Wishes

Будь счастлив! – Be happy!

Будь здорова! – Be healthy!

Живите долго и счастливо! – Live long and prosper!

Making Invitations

You can also make invitations in a friendly and inviting manner.

Пошли со мной в кино! – Come to the movies with me!

Пойдём вместе в кино! – Let’s go to the movies together!

Приходи к нам на обед. – Come to our place for lunch.

Приезжай завтра на чашечку кофе. – Come over tomorrow for a cup of coffee.

Заходи вечером на чай. – Drop by in the evening for tea.

Проходите, пожалуйста. – Come in, please.

Imperatives with Subject Pronouns

In Russian, imperatives are typically not used with subject pronouns. However, in informal situations, you might encounter instances where people use them.

For example, it’s common in situations like this:

Да заткнись ты! – You shut up! (I don’t want to hear another word from you.)

We can also add the word уже (already) to enhance the effect.

Да замолчи ты уже! – Will you shut up already!

While not the standard practice, it’s important to be aware of these informal uses, as they can add nuances to the conversation and reflect the dynamics between speakers.

See Also: Learn Personal Pronouns in Russian

Choosing the Appropriate Aspect

The choice between perfective and imperfective imperatives hinges on the context and your intended meaning. Perfective imperatives emphasize a specific, completed action, while imperfective imperatives highlight continuous or habitual actions. Consider whether the task at hand is a one-time occurrence or a repetitive action, and let that guide your choice of aspect.

Perfective Verbs

In Russian, the use of imperatives for perfective verbs often revolves around actions that are specific, one-time, or emphasize the completion of a task. The perfective aspect is employed when you want to highlight the result of an action.

For instance, if you need to instruct someone to write a particular letter, you would use the perfective imperative. “Напиши письмо” (Write the letter) is a clear directive to complete the specific task of writing a single letter. Perfective verbs in imperatives are your go-to choice when you want to ensure a particular action is carried out, emphasizing the end result.

This list should provide you with a variety of perfective verbs and their imperative forms for practice and reference:

написать (to write) – напиши/напишите

узнать (to know) – узнай/узнайте

поесть (to eat) – поешь/поешьте

начать (to start) – начни/начните

закрыть (to close) – закрой/закройте

открыть (to open) – открой/откройте

посмотреть (to have a look) – посмотри/посмотрите

подойти (to approach) – подойди/подойдите 

подождать (to wait) – подожди/подождите

вернуться (to return) – вернись/вернитесь

остановиться (to stop) – остановись/остановитесь

встать (to stand up) – встань/встаньте

повторить (to repeat) – повтори/повторите

почитать (to read) – почитай/почитайте

простить (to forgive) – прости/простите

принести (to bring) – принеси/принесите

забыть (to forget) – забудь/забудьте

помочь (to help) – помоги/помогите

дать (to give) – дай/дайте

взять (to take) – возьми/возьмите

уйти (to leave) – уходи/уходите

позвонить (to call) – позвони/позвоните

остаться (to stay) – останься/останьтесь

поднять (to lift) – подними/поднимите

погулять (to walk, to stroll) – погуляй/погуляйте

бежать (to run) – беги/бегите

понять (to understand) – пойми/поймите

прийти (to come) – приди/придите

Imperfective Verbs

Conversely, the use of imperatives for imperfective verbs in Russian focuses on actions that are continuous, habitual, or ongoing. When you employ the imperfective aspect in imperatives, you are directing someone to perform a task repeatedly or in an ongoing manner.

For example, “Пиши письмо” (Write a letter) uses the imperfective “пиши,” indicating that the action of writing is not just a one-time occurrence but an ongoing or habitual task. Imperfective verbs in imperatives are ideal for instructions related to continuous actions, where the process is as important as the end result.

Imperfective verbs and their imperative forms:

делать (to do/make) – делай/делайте

идти (to go) – иди/идите

говорить (to speak) – говори/говорите

есть (to eat) – ешь/ешьте

пить (to drink) – пей/пейте

смотреть (to watch) – смотри/смотрите

читать (to read) – читай/читайте

слушать (to listen) – слушай/слушайте

играть (to play) – играй/играйте

писать (to write) – пиши/пишите

знать (to know) – знай/знайте

прыгать (to jump) – прыгай/прыгайте

работать (to work) – работай/работайте

любить (to love) – люби/любите

спрашивать (to ask) – спрашивай/спрашивайте

отвечать (to answer) – отвечай/отвечайте

петь (to sing) – пой/пойте

танцевать (to dance) – танцуй/танцуйте

смеяться (to laugh) – смейся/смейтесь

сидеть (to sit) – сиди/сидите

брать (to take) – бери/берите

держать (to hold) – держи/держите

ждать (to wait) – жди/ждите

учить (to learn) – учи/учите

учиться (to study/learn) – учись/учитесь

приходить (to come) – приходи/приходите

плыть (to swim) – плыви/плывите

спать (to sleep) – спи/спите

начинать (to start) – начинай/начинайте

сказать (to say) – скажи/скажите 

верить (to believe) – верь/верьте

вставать (to stand up, to get up) – вставай/вставайте

повторять (to repeat) – повторяй/повторяйте

готовить (to cook) – готовь/готовьте

гулять (to walk, to stroll) – погуляй/погуляйте

покупать (to buy) – покупай/покупайте

продавать (to sell) – продавай/продавайте

нести (to carry) – неси/несите

подниматься (to rise) – поднимись/поднимитесь

одеваться (to get dressed) – одевайся/одевайтесь

The transitivity of the verb and your familiarity with common usage play a role in making the right choice. Over time, as you gain experience and exposure to the language, you’ll develop an instinct for which aspect is most fitting for different situations.

Examples of Imperative Sentences

The following sentences illustrate the use of various imperatives in different contexts, such as giving directions, requesting actions, or giving advice. Remember to adjust the formality and plural/singular usage as appropriate for your specific situation.

Иди сюда! – Come here!

Открой окно, пожалуйста. – Open the window, please.

Слушай внимательно! – Listen carefully!

Сходи за молоком. – Go and get milk.

Напиши письмо своей семье. – Write a letter to your family.

Закрой дверь. – Close the door.

Почитай эту книгу, она интересная. – Read this book, it’s interesting.

Беги быстрее! – Run faster!

Переведи эту фразу на английский. – Translate this sentence into English.

Напиши свои цели на бумаге. – Write down your goals on paper.

Не забудь купить хлеб. – Don’t forget to buy bread.

Отвечай на вопросы по порядку. – Answer the questions in order.

Подойди ко мне! – Come here to me!

Дай мне ручку. – Give me a pen.

Позвони ему завтра. – Call him tomorrow.

Поцелуй меня. – Kiss me.

Иди сюда! – Come here!

Спой песню! – Sing a song!

Поднимите руки! – Put your hands up!

Жди меня здесь. – Wait for me here.

Встаньте, пожалуйста. – Stand up, please.

Молчи! – Be quiet!

Открой окно. – Open the window.

Держи крепче! – Hold tighter!

Ешь овощи. – Eat vegetables.

Приходите к нам в гости. – Come visit us.

Не опаздывай! – Don’t be late!

Слушай внимательно. – Listen carefully.

Не бойся! – Don’t be afraid!

Читайте книги. – Read books.

Отдохни немного. – Rest a bit.

Будь осторожен! – Be careful!

Живите дружно! – Live in friendship!

Верь мне! – Believe me!

Не волнуйтесь! – Don’t worry!

Смотри в оба! – Keep your eyes open!

Мойте руки перед едой! – Wash your hands before eating!

Пиши мне почаще. – Write to me more often.

Улыбнись! – Smile!

Practice Section

To reinforce your understanding of Russian imperatives, here are some exercises and examples to practice with. Feel free to try these on your own, and remember that practice is key to mastering any aspect of language.

Exercise 1: Forming Imperatives

Try forming singular and plural imperative forms for the following verbs:

читать (to read)
готовить (to cook)
играть (to play)
плыть (to swim)
смотреть (to watch)

Check your answers:

читай (singular), читайте (plural)
готовь (singular), готовьте (plural)
играй (singular), играйте (plural)
плыви (singular), плывите (plural)
смотри (singular), смотрите (plural)

Exercise 2: Practical Use

Create your own sentences using the imperative mood. For example:

Give a command: “Close the window!”

Make a polite request: “Pass the salt, please.”

Provide an instruction: “Turn off the lights before leaving.”

Exercise 3: Negative Imperatives

Practice negative imperatives. Create sentences with the imperative form to tell someone not to do something. For instance:

“Don’t speak loudly in the library.”

“Don’t touch the hot stove.”

By practicing these exercises regularly, you’ll become more confident in your use of Russian imperatives, both in everyday communication and in more formal situations. Remember that language learning is a journey, and each practice session brings you one step closer to mastery.

Pay attention to how native Russian speakers use imperatives in movies, TV shows, or everyday situations. This will help you see how they’re used naturally.

Using imperatives in Russian is like having a secret communication superpower. You can give clear orders, like “Open the door!” or “Turn left at the intersection.” But it’s not just for being bossy; you can also make nice requests. Add “пожалуйста” (please) to be polite, like saying “Pass me the salt, please” or “Help me, please.”

And if you ever need to give easy-to-follow directions, like in recipes or guides, imperatives are your best friends. So, it’s not just about grammar – it’s about making your point and getting things done in a simple and friendly way.

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