Imperative: How to Give an Order in German

Hafen, Berlin-Tempelhof
Hafen, Berlin-Tempelhof, a blog run by singers and opera enthusiasts, recently published ten tips on social media etiquette for opera singers. The article advises to think twice before you post photos from or comments about your public performance to make sure you “do not upset friends or colleagues unintentionally.” The website and therefore the article on etiquette is written in English, but it gives us a chance to review the imperative in the German language. With an imperative we express a command, an order or, shall we say, a forceful recommendation.

One tip in Operacandy says, “Always ask the people in your photo for permission to post.”

When we want to form an imperative, we must put the verb in the first position of the sentence. We also have to change the verb, so that it is understood as an imperative.

With second person familiar (du) the verb appears as verb stem only, blunt and without ending.

The verb in the above mentioned tip is bitten (to ask for a favor or permission). To form the imperative we cut off the ending –en: bitt.

always = immer
people = die Leute
permission = die Erlaubnis
to post = here: veröffentlichen

We start the tip with the verb:

Bitt die Leute in deinem Foto immer um die Erlaubnis, es zu veröffentlichen.

Another advice by Operacandy says, “Thank everyone who came and saw you in your show.”

to thank = danken
everyone = jeden (here: jedem)
to come = kommen (perfect tense: sein + gekommen)
to see = sehen (perfect tense: haben + gesehen)
show = here: die Aufführung

Dank jedem, der zu deiner Aufführung gekommen ist und dich gesehen hat.

With second person formal (Sie), we have to add the pronoun Sie.

Bitten Sie die Leute …
Danken Sie jedem …
With the second person informal, plural (ihr = you all) we drop the personal pronoun again and add a –t to the verb stem.
Bittet die Leute …
Dankt jedem …

Of course, there are irregular verbs like essen or sprechen.

Iss eine Banane! Essen Sie deutsches Brot!

Sprich langsamer! Sprechen Sie klar.

The verb sein (to be) is most irregular.
First person singular, formal (du-people)
Sei still!

Second person formal (Sie-people).
Seien Sie nett.

First person plural, informal (ihr-people)
Seid heute nett!

After an argument with his music teacher, the young composer in the Strauss opera “Ariadne auf Naxos” asks in a conciliatory tone to be good again.

The aria is called, “Seien wir wieder gut!” The character introduces another level of imperative, directed at wir, the first person plural. The imperative with wir is less a command, more a suggestion.

Trinken wir einen Tee.

Der Artikel ist jetzt langweilig (boring). Singen wir jetzt.

You will find the ten tips on the social media etiquette for opera singers at

You can read more about the imperative and a linguistic analysis of the aria “Seien wir wieder gut” in my book “Ach ich fühl’s – German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing.” Lulu Press, 373 pages, ISBN: 978-1-312-46345-5

product_thumbnail More information about the book: click here.

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Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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