What Are Imperative Sentences? The Key To Strengthening Your Story’s Dialogue

What are imperative sentences? You’re already using imperative sentences in your day-to-day life— check out our guide to learn how to use them in your writing.

Keep reading this article. This imperative sentence provides instruction to you, the reader—and is the perfect introduction to effectively using an imperative sentence in your writing. Imperative sentences communicate what you (or your characters in your story) want others to do. Learn about character archetypes in our guide.

Imperative sentences differ from exclamatory and declarative sentences as they provide instructions, commands, or requests. If you’re writing a dialogue-heavy story, you’ll likely find that using these types of sentences helps keep your plot moving forward, one line at a time (and gives readers some valuable insight into your characters’ personalities).

Imperative Sentences in Literature

What are imperative sentences?
“Call to schedule your appointment” is one example of an imperative sentence that is commonly used in day-to-day English

You already speak using imperative sentences when communicating with people around you. From telling your cat to get off the table, to asking your friend to stop by the grocery store on their way to your house, imperative sentences tell others what to do.

You’re using an imperative sentence when you:

  • Make a request
  • Give an instruction
  • Offer advice
  • State a command

If you’re telling someone to do something, you use an imperative statement. Imperative sentences are direct, clear, and come to a full stop. Let’s take a look at a few examples of imperative sentences that are commonly used in day-to-day English:

  • Please wait for your order at the end of the counter.
  • Leave the key under the mat.
  • Call to schedule your appointment.
  • Remember to stop by the pharmacy on the way home.
  • Tell me what you want for dinner.

Adverbs in Imperative Sentences

Time for a quick English grammar lesson: You can include an adverb in an imperative sentence to let the reader or listener know how you’d like them to proceed. An adverb modifies the verb of the sentence. Typically, adverbs end in “ly.”

For example, in the imperative sentence, “Please quietly check on the baby to make sure she’s still asleep,” the word “quietly” is modifying the verb “check on.” The adverb tells the reader or listener how to carry out the verb. Adverbs commonly used in imperative sentences include:

  • Quickly
  • Directly
  • Quietly
  • Nicely
  • Kindly
  • Safely
  • Politely

There are many other adverbs, but the ones listed above are frequently applied to verbs in imperative sentences. Adding an adverb to an imperative sentence in your writing can help your reader understand how your speaker converses with others and can help convey the tone of a passage or scene in your writing. Check out this list of palindrome words, sentences, and phrases.

Using Imperative Sentences in Character Dialogue

When you use imperative sentences in your writing, you’re helping readers understand the relationships between your characters. A character in a position of authority will likely speak to other characters using many imperative phrases. A character of lesser authority, or a character who has less confidence, may use fewer imperative statements.

If you’re working to convey that one of your characters is typically in charge, providing them with plenty of imperative dialogue can help convey hierarchies to your reader. A character who speaks in imperative phrases can still be polite and friendly but has an air of importance that is easily conveyed by giving commands to others.

Don’t be afraid to get to the point when you use an imperative sentence in your dialogue. Imperatives can be used to convey strength and resolve. Sometimes, a single word of imperative dialogue is all that your character needs to say what they need to say. You might also be interested in learning what are limiting adjectives.

Types of Imperative Sentences

Several types of sentences can make up an imperative phrase. Here, we’ll look at affirmative imperatives (positive imperatives), negative imperatives, and conditional imperatives. An important note: affirmative and negative imperative sentences are different but aren’t categorized by the speaker’s intention. 

A sentence considered an affirmative or positive imperative doesn’t always mean that the speaker is saying something good. In the same way, a negative imperative sentence doesn’t always mean that the speaker is communicating something bad. You might also find our writing tips for dialogue helpful.

Affirmative Imperative Sentences (Positive Imperatives)

Affirmative or positive imperative sentences tell someone what they should be doing. This doesn’t necessarily mean a positive message is conveyed. Instead, it means instruction is being given to do something.

Examples of Affirmative Imperative Sentences

Remember, affirmative sentences give an instruction or request rather than telling someone to change how they’re already doing something. They can also warn someone against doing what they’re expected to do. Some examples of affirmative imperative sentences include:

  • Please go to the mailbox and see if the letter was delivered today.
  • Tell me what you want to do this weekend—I’m too tired to decide.
  • Pass the salt and pepper, please.
  • Go straight to your room—you’re in trouble.

The above sentences give the listener or reader instructions on what they should do rather than what they shouldn’t do. Let’s look at how an affirmative imperative sentence differs from a negative imperative sentence.

Negative Imperative Sentences

Negative imperative sentences tell the reader not to do something. While these sentences may be positive, they differ from affirmative sentences because they tell the reader or listener what not to do.

Examples of Negative Imperative Sentences

Negative imperative sentences often caution the listener or reader to stop engaging in behavior the speaker believes the person is likely to do. The negative form of an imperative provides the reader or listener with the opposite of an instruction.

While some of these sentences are positive in a message, they still tell the reader or listener what not to do, qualifying them as negative imperative sentences. Some examples of negative imperative sentences include:

  • Don’t leave without hugging me.
  • Stop jumping up and down like that—you’ll give me a headache.
  • Never leave the door unlocked, even if you think you’re in a good neighborhood.

Conditional Imperative Sentences

Conditional imperative sentences are more complicated than affirmative and negative imperatives. Conditional sentences follow the general format of “if this happens, then do this.” Conditional imperatives can have several clauses and can be complicated.

Examples of Conditional Imperative Sentences

Some examples of conditional imperative sentences include:

  • If you forget to do your homework, talk to the teacher and ask if you can hand it in the next day.
  • When your parents ask you for help, do your best to provide what they need.
  • When the priest calls the congregation up to receive communion, only stand if you’re a confirmed member of the Catholic Church.

Single Word Imperative Sentences

Single word imperative sentences
A single word can be all your character needs to communicate their point

Sometimes, a single word can be all your character needs to communicate their point. Single-word imperative example sentences include:

  • Wait.
  • Stop.
  • Don’t.
  • Leave.
  • Stay.

Imperative vs. Interrogative Sentences

There’s an important literary distinction between requesting and asking a question. While the two may sound similar, the first is closer to a direct command. Using an imperative sentence over an interrogative sentence can create a tone of authority and importance in your writing. Consider how each of the following sentences sounds to your listener or reader:

  • Your shift just ended, would you like to go home now?
  • Your shift ended. Go home.

While both sentences convey the same basic message, the first is a gentler approach than the second. The listener can undoubtedly say no to either sentence but is much more likely to say no to the first than to the second. Understanding your characters through the character development process can help you decide how often they’ll speak using imperative sentences.

Looking for more? Check out our guide with other words for important to improve your writing!