An imperative sentence usually ends with a period of an exclamation point for added emphasis and to ensure the intended listener gets the message. Additionally, imperative sentences are usually short and simple, but that could change depending on the context and what the speaker wants the listener to do. This kind of sentence might also be called a “jussive” or “directive” sentence.
Explore Imperative Sentence
Definition of Imperative Sentence
Imperative sentences issue the listener a command. It tells the person it’s directed at what they should do. This could be anything from completing a physical task to paying attention and working harder.
The sentences usually use “you,” whether explicitly stated or not, as the subject. Often, readers won’t see “you” in a sentence, and it will be implied instead. For example, “Go to the store and finish the shopping list.” Here, it’s clear that the speaker is talking to “you.” This might be their partner, their child, or someone working for them. The various types of imperative sentences can be broken down into five simpler categories: a request, a piece of advice, and instruction, an invitation, and a command.
- Instruction: “Turn around and take a left at the second light.”
- Command: “Sit down and listen to me.”
- Request: “Make sure to bring enough food for the entire trip.”
- Invitation: “Join us on Zoom at 11:00.”
- Advice: “Consider choosing the healthier option tonight.”
The imperative sentence is one of four different types of sentences in the English language. Explore all four below.
Types of Sentences
- Imperative: the subject is usually implied (refer to the above examples without “you.”). These sentences ask, instruct, command, or request that a listener do something.
- Interrogative: this type of sentence asks a question. It could be directed at one person or a group of people.
- Declarative: the subject and verb are always clearly articulated. These sentences make a statement.
- Exclamatory: a type of sentence that makes an exclamation.
Examples of Imperative Sentences in Literature
Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson
This famous essay was written in 1841 by Emerson, one of the most famous of the American transcendentalists. It explores one of the writer’s most commonly addressed themes, the importance of the individual. One should follow their own instincts, care for their own ideas, and not conform to what the rest of the world is doing. In this essay, there is the famous “hobgoblin” quote which employs the use of an imperative sentence. The lines read:
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today.
Here, Emerson is talking directly to the reader, asking them to consider the “hobgoblin of little minds” and how one should “speak” what they think in “hard words.” He’s giving advice, suggesting what he sees as the best course of action.
Explore Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poetry.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
In the first Harry Potter novel, J.K. Rowling includes several wonderful imperative sentences. In the below example, Albus Dumbledore is quoted. He has just found Harry once more looking into the mirror of Erised, gazing at the images of his parents. He tells Harry about the dangers of the mirror and gives him the following piece of advice:
It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.
Without using “you,” Dumbledore directs his words to Harry, as well as to the broader audience reading the book. It’s an important piece of advice that can apply to anyone who has suffered a loss or is consumed by thoughts of the past.
The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem from Mesopotamia. It is one of the earliest surviving pieces of literature, written around 2100-1200 BCE. The first half of the story discusses Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, and Enkidu. Here are a few lines from the poem that are directed at Gilgamesh but also include an imperative sentence that can apply to anyone reading:
Gilgamesh, fill your belly, Day and night make merry, let days be full of joy, dance and make music day and night. And wear fresh clothes, And wash your head and bathe. Look at the child that is holding your hand, And let your wife delight in your embrace. These things alone are the concern of men.
“Day and night,” the speaker says, “make merry, let days be full of joy, dance and make music day and night.”
Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley
In this famous Kingsley novel, readers encounter the story of Amyas Leigh, a child who follows Francis Drake to sea and then grows up. He spends time looking for gold, finds true love, and is eventually blinded. Here are a few lines from the novel that are a great example of imperative sentences:
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Here, “you” are told to act in a certain way that should make life better.
Read Charles Kingsley’s poetry.
Related Literary Terms
- Coherence: refers to the properties of well-organized writing. This includes grammar, sentence structure, and plot elements.
- Amplification: a rhetorical device that’s used to improve a sentence or statement with additional information.
- Antiphrasis: a rhetorical device that occurs when someone says the opposite of what they mean, but their true meaning is obvious.
- Antistrophe: a rhetorical device that’s concerned with the repetition of the same word or words at the end of consecutive phrases.
- Chiasmus: a rhetorical device that occurs when the grammatical structure of a previous phrase or clause is reversed or flipped.
- Read: The Four Types of Sentences
- Watch: 6 Ways to Start a Sentence
- Listen: What is a Sentence?