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  • Writer's pictureGalina Blankenship

Imperatives in English and Turkish: From Direct Orders to Suggestions to Polite Requests (Part 1)

Updated: Mar 7

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 & softener 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).

Painting "Snowstorm Madison Square" by Childe Hassam
Snowstorm Madison Square by Childe Hassam

Imperative Sentences in English

In English, we may distinguish three types of imperatives:


English Pronouns

Unlike many other languages, English does not distinguish between the plural you and the polite you.





1st-person sing.



my (mine)


2nd-person sing.



your (yours)


3rd-person sing.

she, he, it

her, him, it

her (hers), his, its

herself, himself, itself

1st-person pl.



our (ours)


2nd-person pl.



your (yours)


3rd-person pl.



their (theirs)


💡 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.


Negative Imperatives

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 a Syndetic Compound Sentence (Linked with and/or) Whose First Clause is Imperative

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 and 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. = [] 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</