Imperatives in English and Turkish: From Direct Orders to Suggestions to Polite Requests (Part 1)
Updated: Jun 28
English imperatives, used to express a command or a directive, belong to the grammatical category of “moods,” together with the indicative (expressing a fact) mood and the subjunctive (expressing a wish or something hypothetical) mood. In English, an imperative sentence is one of the four major types of sentences, in addition to declarative statements, interrogative questions, and exclamations.
In English, an imperative utterance directly starts with a verb in its basic form (without any suffixes or the particle to). Imperatives generally do not have an explicitly expressed subject, although it is implied (as the second-person pronoun you).
Imperative commands are short, sharp verb forms, which are often used in military settings, prohibitions, and emergency messages. Imperatives are also regularly used in technical instructions, manuals, and food recipes:
Squad, march! Do not enter during the rehearsal.
Gotta run—call me later! Mind the gap.
Let me know a.s.a.p. Upload the file and click OK.
Set the oven temperature at 350 °F. Wash your hands before handling the food.
Starting directly with the main verb, an imperative sentence has the effect of a direct, forceful, and persuasive message, which perfectly aligns with the aspirations of the marketing and advertisement industries. Some of the most memorable brand taglines are structured as imperative sentences:
Think different. Think small. Just Do It. Broadcast Yourself.
Apple Volkswagen Nike YouTube
On their own, English imperative constructions sound rather “bossy” and impolite and should be used with caution. In writing, they may be accompanied by exclamation points if they are meant to convey the speaker's urgency or emotional charge of the utterance.
Since a single English imperative verb form is used in both intimate and formal settings, English speakers are compelled to resort to more creative ways to express milder directives and requests. If the writer wants to “soften” the abruptness of the imperative (adopting the role of an “instructor” or “counselor” rather than a “commander”), she uses some other, less direct ways of expressing directives in English, which, as linguists note, can be understood as variations of sociolinguistic politeness strategies.
Politeness comprises the performative strategies that we realize through language to ensure smooth communication. For example, when we seek a favor from someone, we can rephrase imperatives as questions with modals (can/could, will/would) or as a rhetoric question, add the emphatic do to soften the imperative, add a tag question, use a politeness and/or formality marker(s), add a softener or a hedge to address an addressee that we want to persuade with a milder request, suggestion, or advice:
Check your room. ⇒ Could you check your room?
rephrasing as a question with the modal could
Read this to me! ⇒ Why don you read this to me?
rephrasing as a rhetoric question
Meet me here at 3 PM. ⇒ Please meet me here at 3 PM.
adding the politeness marker please
Come in! ⇒ Do come in!
adding the softener do
Bring me a glass of water. ⇒ Bring me a glass of water, will you?
softening with a tag question
Moreover, in writing, the softening or hedging effect can be signalled by changing the punctuation: i.e., by replacing the exclamation point with the question mark or period:
Come in! ⇒ Come in.
Turn off the lights! ⇒ Please turn off the lights.
Let me see! ⇒ Let me see?
Suggestions can also be formed using the verb let (allow). Some of the let-imperatives, including the inclusive let's-imperatives, may be formed from the opposite point of view, i.e., by the person suggesting a favor and/or including the speaker:
Let's go! Let's go? Let me see? Let them worry about it.
Turkish counterparts, on the other hand, are far more common and acceptable, not least thanks to the variety of imperative forms and the easily distinguishable informal and polite formal imperative forms. They are, therefore, often punctuated with periods at the end:
Dikkat et. Girmeyiniz. Hadi, gidelim!
Be careful. Do not enter. Let's go!
Lütfen oturun. Bir bakayım. Anlatsana, canım.
Sit down, please. Let me see! Do tell, honey.
What distinguishes Turkish imperatives from English imperatives is the adherence to the so-called pronominal T-V distinction (from the Latin pronouns tu and vos), which refers to the contrasting uses in communication of sen and siz (sizler), and the use of multiple imperative verb forms in Turkish (∅, -in, -iniz, -sene, -senize)—to signal the varying degrees of politeness, which reflect the social relations based on solidarity and power.
In English, the distinction between familiar and polite forms used to be observed; however, nowadays, the only trace of the old system can be found in the uses of the 2nd-person singular and plural reflexive pronouns: yourself vs. yourselves. The plural form cannot be used as a polite form, however:
Singular reflexive pronoun Plural (but not polite) reflexive pronoun
Stop making a fool of yourself! You both behave yourselves while I am gone.
Control yourself. Please help yourselves to another drink, guys.
Both English and Turkish speakers resort to applying ready-made formulas or formulaic expressions in social interactions, which may cause tension in speakers, who generally strive to be both genuine and respectful and cognizant of social conventions of polite behavior. Most formulaic expressions are used in routinized acts such as greetings (welcoming), well-wishes (blessings), ill-wishes (curses), and leave-taking (farewells).
To read more about Turkish imperatives, go to Imperatives in English and Turkish: From Direct Orders to Suggestions to Polite Requests (Part 2).
Imperative Sentences in English
In English, we may distinguish three types of imperatives:
Unlike many other languages, English does not distinguish between the plural you and the polite you.
she, he, it
her, him, it
her (hers), his, its
herself, himself, itself
💡 Historically, the pronoun you was the objective case of the plural, and polite, form, which is nowadays used as both the singular and the plural form. In English, the same pronoun is used in informal, polite, and formal settings.
Regular Imperatives: Basic Imperative Form
In English, the basic form of imperatives has a bare infinitive and no visible subject:
Declarative Sentence Imperative Sentence
You look at me. Look at me.
You take her to dinner. Take her to dinner.
You are quiet. Be quiet.
You’ll be working when I get back. Be working when I get back.
You should be aware of the dog! Be aware of the dog!
You should have it done by the time I come back. Have it done by the time I come back.
Grace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle. Pardon My Dust
Shakespeare, Richard II, Act II, Scene iii Dorothy Parker’s epitaph by Dorothy Parker
Some Idiomatic Uses of Imperatives
Get going now! Here you go, John. [= Here, John.]
Take care! Take it easy!
Take it or leave it! Have a good one!
C’mon, give me a kiss. [= Come on, give me a kiss.]
R.S.V.P. = Répondez s'il vous plaît (Please reply)
R.I.P. = Rest in peace
Old English subjunctive constructions (used to expressed hypothetical desires or suggestions), some of which have survived in common usage as idiomatic expressions, have the sense of an imperative:
So be it [= nothing can be done]
If they are right, so be it.
Come to think of it /Think of it [= I've just remembered]
Come to think of it, I know someone who can help.
Think of it, this is very amusing.
Be that as it may. [= nevertheless, despite that]
I am sorry to hear about your problems, but, be that as it may, you must finish your job.
So help me God. [= So may God help me.]
I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.
In negative imperative sentences, do must be included with not, producing clause-initial don’t, which by itself can be a standalone sentence:
Be quiet! Don't touch that. Getting Windows ready, don't turn off your computer.
Don't be silly! Do not remove this book from the library.
Don't make so much fuss. Don’t. Please don’t.
Don't just sit there: help me!
In some cases, negative imperatives can also be formed by placing the negative particle no after the imperative verb:
Don't come closer! ⟺ Come no closer!
Don’t talk anymore! ⟺ Talk no more!
Conditional Meaning of Other Sentences
A syndetic compound sentence whose clauses are linked with the conjunction and or or and whose first clause is an imperative with the implicit, implied subject you, can have a conditional meaning, as in an if-clause, albeit contrasting in their interpretations.
With the conjunction and, the meaning is straightforward:
Come in here, and I'll call the police. [= If you come in here, I'll call the police.]
Walk down our street any day, and you'll see kids playing. [= If you walk down our street any day, you'll see kids playing.]
With the conjunction or, the second part reads as something that should be avoided:
Stop singing, or I'll scream. [= If you don’t stop singing, I'll scream.]
Sign it, or we are all doomed. [= If you don’t sign it, we will all be doomed.]
Although the implied addressee is you, the addressee can be the general you or the general we, especially with the conjunction and:
Feed these dogs, and they’ll never leave. [= If we/you feed these dogs, they’ll never leave.
Stop this now, and we’ll never get to the truth. [= If we stop this now, we’ll never get to the truth.]
Uses of Imperatives in English
Other Ways of Expressing Commands & Directives
Rephrased Imperatives: From Ordering to Requesting
Straight-forward commands or directives are commonly avoided in English if the goal is to solicit a favor from the addressee. To minimize the abruptness of imperative constructions, speakers often rephrase them as questions with the can/will or could/would modals and use linguistic hedges (sort of, as far as I know) and/or softeners (please, sorry) to maintain a polite, frictionless exchange.
Hedging literally means enclosing oneself with a fence or a hedge. We apply hedging in communication when we want to avoid directly answering a question, making a straightforward statement, or committing ourselves to a particular course of action or decision.
Compare, for example, these forms, of which only the last one reads genuinely polite. The reason is that longer, more complex requests, formed with modals, hedges, softeners, etc., are deceptively hypothetical and indirect and, therefore, softened and distant in their impact:
Come with me. a directive
Please come with me. an instruction
Can you come with me? a direct question
Could you come with me, please? an indirect question = a request
💡 In English, if a phrase is long and/or complex, this is generally a sign of greater formality and politeness:
Revise the document for me.
Will you revise the document for me?
Can you revise the document for me?
Could you revise the document for me?
Would you mind revising the document for me?
Do you think you could revise the document for me?
Would you mind very much revising the document for me?
If it’s not a problem for you could you revise the document for me?
If you happen to have the time, could you revise the document for me?
Linguistic Politeness Strategies & Markers
Hedges and softeners are the so-called politeness strategies, which we use to communicate publicly. Such strategies help reduce the force of the English imperative construction, which may otherwise sound or appear too brusque. For example, direct commands can be mitigated by several politeness markers that help “soften” the imposition caused by them: please, excuse me, thanks in advance, beg your pardon, etc.
The following are some of the most commonly used strategies of linguistic politeness:
Formality markers: honorifics (Mr., Mrs., Dr., Sir, Ma'am); salutations (Dear...); third-person addresses (Your Ladyship); passive voice; nominalizations (using nouns rather verbs).
Hedges: rephrasing commands as requests with modals or rhetorical questions; rephrasing direct requests as indirect ones; adding aside and afterthought comments (I suppose, so to speak, to say the least), indefinite adverbs (rather, somewhat, quite), qualifying modifiers (sort of, kind of, like, in a way), dummy subjects and/or copulas (it appears that, he seems to); complementing commands with tag questions; adding introductory phrases (by the way).
Softeners: nicknames and terms of endearment (honey, baby); intimate politeness markers (please, sorry, thank you); politeness markers (please kindly, sincere apologies); the emphatic auxiliary verb do; “you” used as a 3rd-person pronoun and you-viewpoint in writing; duminitives (Dicky, Lizzy); hesitators or pause-fillers (uh/er, um/erm).
Minimizers: using understatement in humor (e.g., British humor); using a deflecting, deliberately vague language; using euphemisms.
Familiarity & politeness formulas: greeting (hi, hello) and leave-taking (see you, take care) expressions, blessings (bless you), curses (damn), interjections (ah, oh, wow, ouch), response forms (yes, nope, yep), response getters (I beg your pardon?, okay?, alright?), attention-getters (excuse me, hey, yo).
In wiring, the use of punctuation serves as another marker of politeness and formality. A period instead of an exclamation point at the end of an imperative directive signals its milder nature:
Sit down! Sit down.
= order = directive
Directives can be further mitigated by softening expressions that help minimize the imposition that a directive may cause, such as please, excuse me, sorry, come again (used to ask to repeat whatever was said before), I beg your pardon (used to indicate a disbelief):
Please. Come in. Please? I’ll be quick, I promise. Please! Stop talking!
Excuse me, your honor. Excuse me? Can you repeat it? Excuse me! Coming through!
Come again. Maybe tomorrow. Come again? I didn’t hear you. Enjoy and come again!
Sorry about that. Sorry, I beg your pardon? I beg your pardon, Sir!
Politeness Markers & Softeners: Please/ Kindly
The position of please in an imperative sentence may determine its being a command or a request. Generally, imperatives with the sentence-medial or sentence-final please sound softer, more like requests, compared to imperatives with please placed at the beginning.
Let’s get started. Quiet, please. Sit down, please, on your bottom.
Okay, folks, step right in the elevator, please. Should you have any questions, please call us at 555-55-55.
Imperatives beginning with please are common constructions used in formal educational and instructional material, manuals, warnings, and prohibitions:
Please do not remove warnings. Please use this template only.
Please don’t send attachments. Please familiarize yourself with our licensing policy.
🔔 Such difference is due to the neutral status of canonical (regular) constructions in English. Please is an adverb of manner, and, as the verb's modifier, it should normally be placed right before the verb. Since an imperative sentence begins with the verb, the canonical please must be sentence-initial. All other positions are, therefore, noncanonical (marked) and thus emphatic, and more suitable for the familiar, conversational rather than instructional style.
The punctuation used with please-expressions often determine the meaning of the utterance:
Suggestions, please? Would you please keep it down!
= inquiry = demand
More, please. Oh, please, like you've never done this before.
= request = mocking, taunting
A: “May I help you?”
B: “Yes, please.” Oh, please, now, would you stop that!
= affirmative to an offer = expression of annoyance or impatience
Please is often used in IT in UI (user interface) instructions or developer-facing commands:
Please wait … The system is rebooting. Please excuse the inconvenience.
Please follow the links below for further information.
A more formal alternative of please is kindly. The use of both please and kindly signals a formal polite request:
Kindly lower your voices. Please kindly respond at your earliest convenience.
Politeness Markers: Excuse Me/ Sorry/ I Apologize
Now, please excuse me: I have things to do. Sorry, please, can you maybe um ... oh, I do apologize!
= expression of annoyance or impatience = self-effacement
Excuse me, do you know what time it is? Excuse me, do you know what time it is!
= a polite request = expression of annoyance
Oh, but excuse me. Was I raising my voice? Well, excuse me for asking.
= expression of mocking and annoyance = expression of annoyance
Excuse me, whom are you here to see, sir? Excuse me? I said, no!
= a formal request = expression of anger
Politeness Markers: Thank You/ Thanks/ Thanks in Advance
Although the sentence thank you starts with the verb, it is not an imperative sentence. As a shortened form of the expression I thank you, it is an example of an elliptical sentence, with its subject now commonly omitted.
Thank you. = [I̶] thank you.
Thank you for not smoking.
Bring it inside, please—thank you!
Thank your mother for me, will you?
Softeners: Using “Do” for Emphatic Urgency
Emphatic imperatives, which express a sense of urgency, begin with do. The use of do before the bare infinitive indicates that the speaker wants to make his or her directive more compelling as well as softened:
Basic Imperative Emphatic Imperative
Hurry up. Do hurry up!
Sit down, please. Do sit down, please.
Be careful. Do be careful.
Forgive me. Do forgive me; I am begging you!
Hedging Markers: Possibly / Perhaps
Commands can also be mitigated by using certain kinds of hedging adverbials, such as possibly or perhaps:
Marilyn, could you perhaps help me with that? So, could you possibly backdate it to Monday?
Hedging Modals: Can/ May/ Could/ Would
To avoid being abrupt, English speakers resort to rephrasing their direct commands as indirect yes/no questions with the hypothetical modals could or would, conventionally associated with polite requests:
Would you look at page forty-three, please? Could you ring her back when you’ve got a moment?
🚩 One must be careful, however, when paraphrasing one potentially brusque expression with another, for the yes/no question is considered to be the most imposing construction, since it calls for a categorical answer—either yes or no, and nothing in between. This is why English requests constructed with could/would tend to be rather complex and long, often combined with other softening or minimizing markers.
Minimizing Strategy: Passive Voice
Obligation modals (must, should, have to) may, too, come off imposing. For example:
All students must attend the cleaning training.
If we want to soften the harshness of must, or if we need to convey a recommendation rather than a requirement (something between may and must), we can use a passive construction with the verb expect:
All students are expected to attend cleaning training.
Cleaning training is expected to be attended by all students.
Another passive construction can be used in combination with nominalization:
Cleaning training attendance is expected from all students.
There are some common imperatives used with in the passive voice:
Please be seated. Don’t be intimidated.
Get seated, please. May you be forgiven.
Hedging: Imperatives with Tags (Tag Clauses/Questions)
Imperatives are often complemented, and softened, by attached tags, or more precisely, tag clauses (or tag questions). Tag clauses are added, or tagged on, to the main clauses, which may be declarative, imperative, or exclamatory:
In declarative and exclamatory sentences, the tag clause is constructed by mirroring the main clause:
the repeated verb/do
the repeated pronominal subject
This has been the tendency, hasn't it? How well she sings, doesn't she!
In imperative sentences, the tag clause is constructed by rephrasing the main clause:
will/would, can/could, shall/should
the pronominal subject you
Shut the door, will you?
So, why using such constructions? The trick is that, intonationally, such tags are usually pronounced with rising intonation, as in yes/no questions (hence, tag questions). So, the potential abruptness of the imperative sentence gets deflected by the emphatic markedness of a yes/no question. By means of such imperative sentences, the speaker simultaneously instructs and asks the hearer to perform a certain action, meaning that it is both a directive and a question.
The intonational shift from the main clause to the tag clause is signalled by a pause in speech or the comma-intonation in writing between the clauses. Since the tag clause is a question, it is appropriate to end the imperatives with tags with a question mark in writing:
Close the door, would you? Give me a hand, will you?
Get me something to drink, can you? Help me, could you?
Please hurry up, will you? Hurry up, will you!
signalling a plea signalling an order
With shorter imperative sentences that read more like an order, an exclamation point can be used at the end to signal a more assertive voice.
Tags can also be negative, such as can't you or won't you, which are even more emphatic:
Be quiet, can't you? Sit down, won't you?
📍 Note that, after negative imperatives, the positive will you should be used:
Don't tell anybody, will you?
Hedging: Idiomatic “I Need You” (AmE)
A new kind of softened command imperative that begins with I need you has developed in American English.
The three-word formula that begins this type of imperative is always followed by an infinitive complement that describes what the speaker wants the addressee to do. Such imperatives are very impersonal and are widely used by people in professions who deal with many strangers each day: receptionists, nurses, police officers, etc.:
Ma’am, I need you to fill out this form, please. I need you to buckle up back there, buddy.
“I need you to fix that,” Mrs. Obama tells him. I need you to know you didn't do anything wrong.
Hedging: Declarative Requests or Courtesy Questions (Requests Phrased as Questions)
Formulating requests as questions for extra politeness is an example of a hedging strategy.
In English, it is acceptable and quite common—particularly in official and business letters—to put a period at the end of a request that is framed as a courtesy question.
Would you kindly telephone the above number to make an appointment.
In the meanwhile, may I just confirm a few administrative details.
Can everybody stop talking for a minute, so I can hear what the Durandians are saying.
Will you please sit down.
With the period, the request reads as a statement, which may be interpreted differently depending on the context.
If it’s given by a boss to a subordinate, this is an unequivocal directive, which does not allow the hearer an option to refuse. If it’s an equal-status exchange (between work colleagues, for example), the period means to minimize the imposition by not requiring the hearer to respond. The question mark, being more direct and personal, may be understood as soliciting a response:
Would you kindly respond a.s.a.p. Would you kindly respond a.s.a.p.?
Depending on the context, the punctuation may signal the urgency of a request:
Would you please take your seat. Would you please take your seat?
Hedging: Rhetorical Questions
Rhetorical questions are questions intended as suggestions, which are asked merely for a dramatic effect, without an expectation of an answer. Rhetorical sentences are interrogative (question-like) in form but declarative in their meaning (statements), and it’s often up to the author to decide what terminal punctuation mark to use.
Although some style guides for English insist that a rhetorical question can only have a question mark at the end, English-speaking authors may choose to use a question mark, exclamation point, or period, depending on the context:
Why don’t you join us? Why even bother with this; just leave it.
= an invitation = a suggestion, challenge
Punctuation Used with Imperatives
The most emotional punctuation marks are the question mark and the explanation point. The exclamation point is often used to add exclamatory force to an imperative sentence, a declarative statement, or a rhetorical question (a question that does not require an answer):
Two million people did not have to die. Two million people did not have to die!
= declarative sentence = statement = exclamation
How about that? How about that. How about that!
= question rhetorical question = suggestion = exclamation
Well, what do you know. Why don’t you just go!
rhetorical question = statement rhetorical question = exclamation
The imperative does not require an exclamation mark, but one may be used to add exclamatory force to a statement:
Stand up and answer the questions. Stand up and answer the questions!
imperative sentence = directive = order
Please help me. Please help me!
imperative sentence = request = plea
Imperatives with Explicit Subjects: 2nd-Person Pronouns
Since the subject you does not have to be stated, its inclusion carries a marked effect. When explicitly stated, you suggests contrast or an emotive effect that emphasizes the speaker as the authority:
Declarative Sentence Imperative Sentence
You should behave yourself. You behave yourself!
If explicitly stated as an imperative subject, the pronoun you adds contrast:
You take this chair, and I’ll take that one. John take the car, and Mary take the van.
You pay now, and Mark will pay tomorrow. You pay now, and Mark pay tomorrow.
if Mark is not present or not commanded directly if Mark is present and commanded directly
The added you gives an empathic, patronizing sense to emphasize the authority of the speaker, who, depending on the context, may be either encouraging and supportive or assertive, aggressive, and overbearing:
You go to bed now. You go first, please.
You go back and tell him you need more time. You sit down, love; everything is going to be OK.
You watch what you say. You mind your own business.
You do as you're told! You tell me immediately.
Note the position of subjects in negative imperatives:
Don't you come in here, or I'll call the police. Don't you say a word.
You can be used with additional exclamatory tags (bastard), which tend to be evaluative nouns or partitive pronouns (both). Being the subject, you precedes the verb, unless it is backgrounded, in which case it becomes a vocative (which is set off by comma(s)):
You bastard get up! Get up, you bastard!
Both of you go to bed. Go to bed, both of you.
Imperatives with Explicit Subjects: 3rd-Person Pronouns
Imperatives with visible subjects may also have third-person subjects directed at specific people or nonspecific groups, including indefinite pronoun subjects with anyone or someone in the subject position:
Declarative Sentence Imperative Sentence
Those vaccinated should proceed to the front. Those vaccinated proceed to the front.
Somebody should go and find a doctor. Somebody go and find a doctor, please.
💥 Notice that, in imperative sentences with the 3rd-person subject, the verb must remain in its imperative form (2nd-person), to distinguish from a declarative sentence:
Declarative Sentence Imperative Sentence
Somebody gets me a hammer. Somebody get me a hammer.
Note the change of the subjects and their positions and in positive and negative imperatives:
Nobody say a word! ⟹ Don't anybody say a word.
Imperatives with 3rd-person subjects include:
▼ Imperatives with specific subjects or nonspecific subjects (which are often plural nonspecific nouns):
Mary come here—everybody else stay where you are. Parents with children please go to the front.
Students with letters from their parents raise your hands. All the students sit down!
🚩 Notice the use of the 2nd-person personal or possessive pronouns (you, your), as it should be with imperatives, despite the 3rd-person subjects!
▼ Imperatives with indefinite subjects include:
Someone find that file for me! Everybody shut your eyes!
Nobody move or say anything. Anyone ready to leave come with me.
🚩 Again, note the use of the 2nd-person verb with indefinite 3rd-person subjects so that not to be confused with declarative sentences.
▼ We can also employ a command-like plea (which is also an archaic English subjunctive form) to entreat a deity (with the verb having the 2nd-person form as in imperative sentences):
God bless our house! God forbid something should happen.
Heaven help you if you are late! God bless America.
Thank God. = [I̶] thank God.
Thank goodness. = [I̶] thank goodness.
▼ There may be an unstated subject (that could not be 2nd person). Here, we have a sentence with an implied 3rd-person subject (derived from old English subjunctive forms):
[G̶o̶d̶] Damn these mosquitoes!
[G̶o̶d̶] Bless you!
BUT: Do not confuse with elliptical declarative sentences with omitted 1st-person pronominal subjects:
[I̶] Thank God!
[I̶] Thank goodness.
▼ In other imperatives, the unstated subject may be the dummy there. Derived from a biblical model, the inverted formula let there be can yield elevated prose:
Let there be light!
Let there be no confusion: I am the leader of this team.
▼ In other 3rd-person inverted sentences, the verb may be used with the may modal:
Long may she live! ⟺ May she live long!
The modal may is not always explicitly stated:
Long [m̶a̶y̶] live the Queen! ⟺ Long live the Queen!
Long [m̶a̶y̶] live the King! ⟺ Long live the King!
So help me God. ⟺ [So may God help me.]
I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.
▼ With some idiomatic expressions, the subject implied is unclear and may depend on the context:
[Y̶o̶u̶] Let it be!
[Y̶o̶u̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶o̶t̶h̶e̶r̶s̶] Let it be!
Vocative imperatives sentences begin, get interrupted, or end with a direct address form (a vocative), which is set off from the rest of the sentence by commas as a parenthetical element:
Look what I’ve found, coach! Ann, call me later today to discuss the new schedule.
Please remember, honey, that I love you. Come here for a moment, James.
Speak, Memory. Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea.
V. Nabokov’s novel Psalm 55
“Effing is not swearing, you sad bastard,” she said.
S. Townsend, Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years
Vocative “You” vs. Imperative Subject “You”
If you add a longer pause after you, it transforms it into a you-vocative and should not be confused with the you-subject. Imperative subject you is read with almost no pause after you (therefore, no comma is used to set off the subject):
Come here. You come here.
The vocative you is set in apposition (parallel) to the imperative clause, read with a distinctive stress and pause afterwards (and therefore should be set off with commas):
Come here. You, come here.
Pragmatically speaking, vocatives are direct addresses, which usually involve direct interaction. For example, a person addressing someone would turn to that person, looking and speaking directly with them.
The name of the addressee would typically be accompanied by pauses and rising intonation to highlight the address. Imperative subjects are pronounced with no pauses or marking intonation:
Vocative Imperative Subject
Please sit down, everyone. Everybody sit down, please.
Somebody, open this door, please. Somebody open this door.
Mary, stay here. Mary stay here.
The distinctness between vocatives and imperative subjects is manifested by the possibility of their co-occurrence:
Sasha, listen to me! Sasha, you listen to me!
Leah and Josh, come here. Leah and Josh, you two come here.
In publications, you may encounter an uppercased or italicized you to mark the stressed (focused) subject you in a retort in response to a command:
A: “Shut the door!” A: “Shut the door!”
B: “YOU shut the door.” OR B: “You shut the door.”
Another stressed you can be found in this expression of annoyance and impatience, which may be used as a reaction to someone's failure to apologize:
Well, excuse YOU! OR Well, excuse you!
Another example in literature (the formatting is original):
“Excuse me for being rude, but if this is indeed a CRISIS, why am I dealing with YOU and not your director?”
Dan Brown, Angels and Demons
A special group of imperatives is the so-called let-imperatives, which may address specific you or nonspecific (abstract) you, depending on the context. Used with the verb let (allow, permit), these imperatives are used as suggestions, offers, or recommendations:
Let me check this for you. Let me explain why.
addressing the specific you addressing the nonspecific you
Leave it; let him talk. Let her go; she'll be back.
Let them gossip, who cares. Let it sit before baking.
Let it be. [= Leave it alone, as is.] Just let me be done with that.
Let us in. [= Let us come in.] Let them finish first.
In speech, the intonation with which the let-constructions are pronounced determines their meaning. In writing, the punctuation may depend on the context: for example, let me may be pronounced with a rising or falling intonation when we are asking or suggesting that we see something:
Let me see? [= May I see it?] Let me see. [= I'd like to see it.]
Let me see! [= I demand that I see it.]
In writing, we signal different interpretations with a question mark or a period. Or we can use an exclamation point to signal the urgency or insistence.
While regular imperatives address the implicit you, which may include others (nonspecific you), let's (let us) imperatives are different in that the addressee is inclusive of the speaker: you + I.
➤ The 1st-person plural let's (let us) imperatives can be used to suggest that we (you + I) should do something altogether (suggestion) or to propose an action to be taken by the speaker and the person(s) addressed (proposal):
Let’s go home! = We should go home! [= You and I should go home!]
[NOT: Y̶o̶u̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶o̶t̶h̶e̶r̶s̶ should go home!]
Let's have breakfast. [= You all and I should have breakfast.]
Mark, let's open the window. [= Mark and I should open the window.]
Let’s consider now the effect of increasing the velocity.
A: Let’s go for a walk.
B: Okay, just let me put on my coat.
Let's is not the same as let us, or rather let us can be used as both regular imperative and as an inclusive let-imperative:
Inclusive Imperative Regular Imperative
Let's go. [= You and I should go.] Let us go. [= We want to go.]
Let us pray. [= You and I should pray.] Let us check it first before we make any rush decision.
➤ Let's can also function as a command or instruction for the addressed (implied instruction):
Let's see some identification, gentlemen! [= You all should show me your identification.]
Let's have a look at your tongue. [= Show me your tongue.]
Tag Questions with “Let's”
Let's-imperatives sometimes occur with tags that have rising intonation. The tag shall we, appears to be more common in British English, whereas American English tends to use the tag OK. Most writers insert a comma before the tag in these imperatives and end the imperative with a question mark to mark the tag question:
BrE: OK, let’s keep that on, shall we?
AmE: Let's take turns, OK?
The difference in the implied subjects is reflected in the tag questions:
Inclusive Imperative Regular Imperative
Let’s go with her, shall we? Let her go with you, will you?
Negative Let's-Imperatives: Let's Not
Let's-imperatives are negated by placing not after let's:
BrE: Let’s not discuss it anymore, shall we?
AmE: Let's not complicate things, OK?
Let's not talk about what happened anymore, please?
Don't let that happen again, please.
The Idiomatic Use of “Let's see” as a Pause Filler
The let's construction can be used idiomatically when addressing an indefinite and abstract addressee. Let’s see is an idiomatic expression that precedes an utterance and may be preceded and/or followed by a pause filler or a hesitator to indicate that the speaker is thinking, searching for information, or trying to decide on something.
In writing, such speech is transcribed as a parenthetical expression, often preceded and/or followed by a filled pause, which is not accompanied by silence but by a vowel sound, with or without accompanying nasalization. Such hesitators are usually transcribed as uh or um in the AmE transcriptions and as er or erm and in the BrE transcriptions:
Um, let's see, what else?
Well, let's see, now, I could meet you on Thursday.
Now, let's see, oh yes—they wanted to know what time you'll be back on Friday.
OK, let's see what you've got to say. Let's see you do it, then.
The so-called open let-imperative is not an instruction but has a meaning that is best paraphrased with the modal should:
If that is what he really intends to do, let him say so. Let that be a lesson to you.
[= If that is what he really intends to do, then he should say so.] [= That should be a lesson to you.]
If that is what he really intends to do, let him!
[= If that is what he really intends to do, he should do that.]
Let the prisoners be brought in.
This order was issued, let it be noted, by Mr. Smith.
Let x be equal to 25 and y be equal to 30.
Use of Imperatives in Ads, Marketing & Copywriting
Over the centuries and particularly in the last few decades, the English language has increasingly become more and more informal (or rather affectedly familiar), persuasive, and somewhat urgent, with a penchant for theatrics and sensationalism. This largely has to do with the increasingly blurred lines between the industries of non-commercial information (journalism, news reporting, editorials, expert opinions, etc.) and commercial information (advertisement, marketing, and copywriting).
The staple of persuasive copywriting is the use of sentences with active verb forms. And which sentence can be more active if not an imperative one, which directly starts with a verb?
Addressing readers in such a direct manner feeds into the purpose of advertisement and promotional copy, which is to produce an emphatic message that finds its way into the mind of the consumer and prompts them to act in only one particular way—consume. Growing up in the American TV culture, even the most ardent “liberty-loving” Americans would find the ever-present, intrusively “bossy” ads and slogans to be “business as usual.”
Advertising slogans tend to be short, often memorable phrases. They may resemble an inspirational command or a strong motivational suggestion. Advertisers and copywriters believe that such slogans are the most effective ways to draw attention to a product:
Expect More. Pay Less. Shave time. Shave Money. Eat Healthy. Think Better
Target Dollar Shave Club Britannia
Think outside the bun. Don’t crack under pressure. Inspire the Next.
Taco Bell Tag Heuer Hitachi
Move the way you want. Obey your thirst. Taste the Rainbow.
Uber Sprite Skittles
Be more. Be moved. Be There!
PBS Sony NBC
Do the Dew. Do what tastes right. Do what you can’t.
Mountain Dew Wendy's Samsung
Eat Fresh. Find new roads Go Further.
Subway Chevrolet Ford
Let the good times roll. Let us guide you home. Let’s go places.
Kawasaki Compass Toyota
Imperatives are common in digital copywriting: for example, calls-to-actions (CTAs) and callouts, like the ones below, are ubiquitous in the realm of digital content:
Click here Learn more Next Shop now Submit
Download now Read more Back Sign up Continue
Sign Up and Get $50 Off Shop gifts under $50. Request a Demo
Got a project in mind? Say hi. Start your free trial. Contact Us
Schedule a Free Consultation. Sign Up, It's Free. Submit Quote
Imperatives are also effective in technical writing, especially when giving a formal list of instructions. Direct, concise, and compelling lists constructed by using imperatives are generally quicker and easier to follow. The style of writing in contemporary computer technologies also involves the use of instructional imperatives: IT documentation, instructions and commands in guides, manuals, knowledge bases, helpdesk support files, and UI and UX elements:
Press the key for the underlined letter in the menu name. On the File menu, click Save.
For information about available storage formats, see Saving your document. Double-click the Word icon.
Such common use of imperatives in marketing may seem to run contrary to the prevailing culture of individualism (especially in the USA); yet it is perfectly aligned with today's pervasive culture of self-branding.
Using the You-Viewpoint Style of Writing in Marketing & Copywriting
Copywriting has a strong preference for the prose that is informal, clear, concise, and vivid. This can be achieved by using active voice in sentences and by addressing the reader by the neutral, general you—by using the so-called you-viewpoint.
Using the active voice means keeping subjects and verbs close together while, at all cost, avoiding using passive constructions, believed to be evasive, too long, and difficult to comprehend. The you-viewpoint style has a better-defined addressee while shifting the focus from the writer to the reader. The you-viewpoint is often used in marketing, technical writing, and business communication.
Using the you-viewpoint in copywriting creates affectedly intimate and direct communication with the reader. It is less formal and more conversational. Whether it is an advertisement for a car, or instructions on how to assemble a kitchen, using the general you helps connect with the reader. Copywriters believe that using the pronoun you creates a more personalized approach by imitating trust and connection, which adds to the emotional power of the message:
You may have to use passages from a variety of documents to assemble a new text. Beware of inconsistent terminology, repetition or omission: these can undermine the internal logic and clarity of your message. When you paraphrase an author, you restate or summarize her or his ideas in your own words. Suppose, once again, that your topic is Malcolm X. But this time you decide to paraphrase the statement from Bruce Perry's biography rather than quoting it. You might say …