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The Portuguese Imperative Mood: How to Phrase Requests, Instructions, and Commands


The Portuguese imperative mood is used for instructions, requests, commands, and similar phrases and sentences. This area of Portuguese grammar is relatively easy to learn for superficial purposes, but it is very difficult to completely master, because once you move beyond the basics, there are a number of grammatical complexities. The best way to get up to speed with Portuguese imperatives is to work with an expert tutor. Our tutors can both help you practice the basics, and for more advanced students, help you master the grammar.

In this post we’ll look at how to conjugate regular verbs for the imperative and some of the most common irregular verbs, and we'll also briefly discuss negative imperatives.


Conjugating for the Imperative

The vast majority of Portuguese imperative conjugation is into the second person because the nature of an instruction, request, or command implies that it is directed to a second person or group of people. However, because of the nature of Portuguese grammar, this still allows for quite a wide variety of different suffixes due to the number of alternative pronouns. The following personal pronouns can be used for Portuguese imperatives:


Tu (You, informal)

Você (You)

Vocês (You, plural)

Vós (You, plural/formal, antiquated)

Nós (We)


Of these, nós is a special case, as it is first-person plural; we’ll return to it later. The others are all second person; tu and você are singular, vocês is plural, and vós can be either, depending on context, but is relatively uncommon.


With the exception of certain irregular verbs, Portuguese imperative conjugations follow similar kinds of rules to the indicative mood, although there are fewer conjugations to learn. The imperative suffixes for regular verbs that end (in the infinitive form) with -ir are all the same, as are those for regular verbs ending with -er or -ar. We’ll illustrate this using three regular verbs with the three different suffixes: trabalhar (to work), permitir (to allow or permit), and receber (to receive). The imperative conjugations for these three verbs are as follows:


Trabalhar

Tu: trabalha

Você: trabalhe

Vocês: trabalhem

Vós: trabalhai

Nós: trabalhemos


Permitir

Tu: permite

Você: permita

Vocês: permitam

Vós: permiti

Nós: permitamos


Receber

Tu: recebe

Você: receba

Vocês: recebam

Vós: recebei

Nós: recebamos


Again, the same conjugations as above apply for all regular verbs with the same infinitive suffixes, that is, all regular verbs ending with -ar use the same Portuguese imperative suffixes as trabalhar, all regular verbs ending with -ir use the same imperative suffixes as permitir, and all regular verbs ending with -er use the same imperative suffixes as receber.

This looks like a lot to learn, but it’s not as difficult as it appears. For most practical purposes, you won’t need to learn the conjugations for vós, because it’s semi-obsolete, and for nós, for reasons we’ll discuss in a moment. In many parts of Brazil, you can also eliminate tu. Using imperatives for groups of people is also a relatively uncommon usage unless you’re in a leadership position. Therefore, while it’s good to keep all the above in mind, you can make yourself understood in most situations simply by learning the imperative conjugations for você.


Let’s Do It: First-Person Plural Imperatives

Although most Portuguese imperatives are in the second person, first-person plural imperatives also exist. As we have seen above, these have their own conjugations; however, these are seldom used, with a few minor exceptions such as vejamos, meaning “let’s see” or “let’s take a look,” and one major exception: vamos.


Vamos literally translates as “let’s go,” but it is commonly used for most situations where “let’s” would be used in English. In these cases, it is followed by the infinitive form of the verb—so, for our three examples above, you’d be more likely to say vamos trabalhar (let’s work), vamos permitir (let’s allow), and vamos receber (let’s receive) than you would be to use the imperative conjugations for nós. Vamos is a very useful word—it saves us from having to memorize a whole lot of conjugations!


Common Irregular Verbs

Unfortunately, as in most languages, the most common Portuguese verbs tend to be irregular. This means that the rules for suffixes discussed above don’t necessarily apply to them, and you have to simply learn them by memorizing—if you work on it with a tutor, this process will go a lot more smoothly. Below, we’ll list five of the most common Portuguese irregular verbs and their imperative conjugations for the second-person personal pronoun você, with usage examples.


Ser: to be (permanent)

Imperative: seja

Example: seja uma pessoa melhor, “be a better person.”


Estar: to be (impermanent)

Imperative: esteja

Example: esteja feliz, “be happy,” “cheer up!”


Ter: to have

Imperative: tenha

Example: tenha misericórdia, “have mercy.”


Fazer: to do, to make

Imperative: faça

Example: faça um bolo para mim, “make me a cake.”


Ir: to go

Imperative:

Example: vá embora, “go away.”


Negative Imperatives

We also have to consider negative Portuguese imperatives when we are asking or commanding somebody not to do something. Fortunately, for the pronoun você, in most cases this is as simple as adding the word não; so, vá embora means “go away,” and não vá embora means “don’t go away.”


Unfortunately, this does not apply for other pronouns. For instance, for the pronoun tu, vai embora means “go away” and não vás embora means “don’t go away.” So, in some advanced cases, you’ll have to learn negative conjugations too; however, this is only really when you’re perfecting your grammar. Particularly in Brazil, you can get by with just the você conjugations and adding não for the negative.


The Portuguese Imperative: Both Simple and Complex

As you can see, learning the basics of Portuguese imperatives is relatively simple because you can make yourself understood simply by learning the conjugations for você. But if you want to sound fluent, there’s a whole lot more to learn, and there are complex subtleties of grammar to master. Put in the time, and you can get all the way from novice to master if you learn with a tutor. Our tutors are waiting to hear from you.

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