italian-commands

Master and Commander: How to Use Italian Commands Like a Total Boss

Why, you might ask, do you need to learn Italian commands?

After all, you’re not commanding an army at the gates of Rome.

Perhaps you’re not even a particularly bossy person.

All that may be true, but at some point you’ll need to learn this essential aspect of Italian grammar. It’s used in all kinds of daily communicative situations. For example:

Dimmi l’ora. — Tell me the time.

Fammi sapere. — Let me know.

Aspetta! Lasciami pensare! — Wait! Let me think!

All of those sentences use the Italian command form (also known as the imperative form).

This is the verb form in Italian used to make direct suggestions or give orders. You’re going to need to understand it and use it in just about any substantive conversation (and of course in lots of silly, worthless chats).

Master and Commander: How to Use Italian Commands Like a Total Boss

Despite what I said about imperatives being very common, this is more of an intermediate-level grammar topic.

If you’re just starting out, you can use this post to familiarize yourself with the imperative form anyway. You might come across it in beginner books, songs, videos or podcasts. But to learn to form it yourself, you’ll have a much easier time if you already know and understand the Italian present indicative and the present subjunctive.

It’s also wise to first understand the Italian object pronouns and reflexive pronouns (including how they combine with verbs).

As with the present tense and other conjugations, the Italian imperative changes depending on the verb’s subject. That is, you’ll use different forms of the verbs depending on the person you’re bossing around.

For this reason, it’s easiest to learn each form of the imperative separately.

We’ll start this article with the trickiest form, tu (informal singular “you”).

Then we’ll look at lei (formal singular “you”) and finish with the easier noi (“we”) and voi (plural “you”) forms.

As we go, we’ll also cover the dreaded irregular verbs that follow none of the rules.

Note that, when we make a command in Italian, we don’t actually include any of the above subject pronouns (tu, lei, noi, voi) in our sentences. In the third example above we saw just “aspetta”not “tu aspetta,” which would sound strange.

Also note that Italians are more liberal with their sprinkling of exclamation points after commands than English writers tend to be.

To get a better sense of what Italian commands look and sound like when used by actual native speakers, check out FluentU.

FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons, as you can see here:

FluentU helps you get comfortable with everyday Italian by combining all the benefits of complete immersion and native-level conversations with interactive subtitles.

Tap on any word to instantly see an image, in-context definition, example sentences and other videos in which the word is used.

Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and review words and phrases with convenient audio clips under Vocab.

Once you’ve watched a video, you can use FluentU’s quizzes to actively practice all the vocabulary in that video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.

FluentU will even keep track of all the Italian words you’ve learned to recommend videos and ask you questions based on what you already know.

Plus, it’ll tell you exactly when it’s time for review. Now that’s a 100% personalized experience!

The best part? You can try FluentU for free with a 15-day trial.

Start using Fluent on the website, or better yet, download the app from the iTunes or Google Play store for iOS and Android devices.

Learn a foreign language with videos

Tu Commands in Italian

We use tu to address a single person informally in Italian.

The tu command form comes up quite a lot. After all, who do we boss around more than the people we’re closest to?

The tu section of this article is the longest and most complicated. For example, you’ll notice that tu has different positive and negative command forms.

But don’t lose hope here at the outset!

I’ve broken tu into easy-to-swallow subsections. It’s more fun and useful to spend a full study session learning and practicing each of these separately.

I also promise that there’s light when you come out the other end of this section. The other imperative subject conjugations are much simpler.

Positive tu commands with -are verbs

The positive imperative tu form of verbs ending in -are is the same as the conjugations you first learned for lui/lei.

You’ll just end these tu commands with a.

In other words, the positive imperative tu form is the same as the present tense third-person indicative form. (I know that sounds complicated, but present tense indicative is just the “normal” present tense.)

So, let’s try this with the verb guardare (to watch). First, we take the verb’s third-person indicative form, lui guarda (he watches). Then we repurpose it to give an informal order to a single person.

Guardare → lui guarda

Guarda attentamente. — Watch carefully.

Not too bad, right?

Another example:

Mischiare (to combine) → lui mischia (he combines)

Mischia l’aceto con l’olio d’oliva. — Combine the vinegar with the olive oil.

Positive tu commands in Italian with –ere and –ire verbs

The positive imperative tu form with –ere and –ire verbs is easier.

It’s exactly the same as the present tense indicative (“normal”) tu form.

Mettere (to put) → tu metti (you put)

Metti l’altoparlante sulla mensola. — Put the speaker on the shelf.

Finire (to finish) → tu finisci (you finish)

Finisci l’arista! — Finish the pork loin.

Aprire (to open)  tu apri (you open)

Apri la valigia! — Open the suitcase.

This pattern holds for most verbs that have irregular present tense indicative tu forms.

Cogli le mele dall’albero! — Pick the apples from the tree.

Tieni duro! — Hang in there/you’ll survive. (Literally “Hold hard!”)

Esci da qui! — Get out of here!

Using pronouns with positive tu commands

With positive tu commands, the object pronouns and reflexive pronouns (lo, ci, te, etc.) come after the verb and are attached to it, and the result is spelled as a single word.

Mettilo qua! — Put it here!

Mangialo! — Eat it!

Vestiti ed esci! — Get dressed and get out!

Note: There are a few irregular spelling changes that can take place with pronouns and tu commands, as described in the next section.

The very irregular but also very useful positive tu commands

There are eight (and thankfully only eight) verbs that don’t follow the above patterns for positive tu commands, nor any other real pattern.

You’ll absolutely want to memorize all of them as they’re also quite common.

Below are the eight verbs with their conjugations and examples of how they can be used in context.

Spelling note: When followed by a pronoun, the forms da’, di’, fa’, sta’ and va’ listed below cause the pronoun’s initial consonant to double. The example of this that you’ve likely already seen is dimmi (tell me) rather than dimi. There are other examples of this shown with the various verbs below.

Also, where used, the apostrophes are important. They distinguish the written verbs from other short words in Italian that are spelled the same. For example, di’ means “Say!” whereas di is the preposition meaning “of,” “from” or “by.”

1. Andareva’ / vai

Both conjugations shown above are correct. The first tends to be used more for making suggestions and the second more for giving orders.

Va’ a Roma domani. — Go to Rome tomorrow. (It’s an interesting option; you might enjoy it.)

Vai a Roma domani. — Go to Rome tomorrow. (I’m no longer amused with your company; pack your bags and get out.)

Va’ dove ti porta il cuore. — Go wherever you like. (Literally “Go where your heart brings you.”)

Vai a quel paese! — Stay away from me! / Get the hell away from me! (Literally “Go to that land!”)

The following song makes rather exuberant, tongue-in-cheek use of andare in its tu command form to encourage someone to take their leave.

As a bonus you’ll also hear another use of the expression a quel paese.

Did you catch the use of the tu command form? And how did the song use a quel paese?

2. Avere (to have) → abbi 

Abbi cura di te. — Take care of yourself, take a break. (Literally “Have treatment of you.”)

Abbi pazienza. — Be patient. (Literally “Have patience.”)

3. Dare (to give) → da’/dai 

Both conjugations above are correct and interchangeable.

Da’ lo zaino a tuo zio. — Give the backpack to your uncle.

Dai ascolto a tuo padre. — Listen to your father. (Literally “Give listening to your father.”)

Dammelo. — Give it to me.

Dallo ai tuoi genitori. — Give it to your parents.

4. Dire (to tell / to say) → di

Di’ cosa ne pensi del viaggio. — Say what you think of the trip.

Di’ la verità! — Tell the truth.

Di’ la tua. — Say your piece. (Literally “Tell yours.”)

Diccelo. — Tell us it.

5. Essere (to be) → sii 

The above is a two-syllable word. Pronounce both i’s!

Sii forte! — Be strong!

Sii cauto. — Be cautious.

6. Fare (to do / to make) → fa’/fai 

Both conjugations above are correct and interchangeable.

Fa’ quello che vuoi! — Do what you want!

Fai attenzione. — Pay attention.

7. Sapere (to know) → sappi

Sappi che questa valigia è molto pesante e non ti conviene! — Know that this suitcase is very heavy and isn’t right for you!

Sappi che ho passato una bellissima giornata con te. — (You should) know that I have spent a lovely day with you.

8. Stare (to be [temporarily] / to be located / to stay) → sta’/stai

Both conjugations above are correct and interchangeable.

Sta’ attento! — Pay attention!

Stai zitto! — Be silent!

Sta’ fermo! — Stand there! / Don’t move! (Literally “Be stationary!”)

Sta’ qui! — Stay here!

Negative tu commands

Uffa! (Phew!)

Once you’ve mastered the positive tu commands, things get much easier.

In all cases, negative tu commands are simply the same as the imperative form of the verb, with a non in front of it.

So:

Mischiare (to mix) → Non mischiare! (Don’t mix!)

Non mischiare i frutti di mare con il formaggio! — Don’t mix seafood with cheese!

Similarly:

Non sporcare la forchetta! — Don’t get the fork dirty!

Non ordinare, non siamo ancora pronti. — Don’t order; we’re not ready yet.

Non bere! — Don’t drink.

With negative tu commands, reflexive and object pronouns can come either before or after the verb, as you wish.

If they come after, the final –e is removed and they’re written as a single word (as you’ve likely already seen with pronouns added to infinitive forms).

Non dirmelo! / Non me lo dire! — You don’t say! / That’s crazy! (Literally “Don’t tell me it!”)

Here are some more examples with pronouns:

Non dirmi cosa devo fare! — Don’t tell me what to do!

Non farlo! — Don’t do it!

Positive and Negative Lei Commands

These imperative conjugations are used for telling a single person, formally, what to do.

If you’ve learned your present subjunctive well, they’re quite easy.

That’s because the lei form of the indicative is the same as the lei form of the subjunctive (whether regular or irregular, and whether it’s an –are, –ere or –ire verb).

So:

Prendere (to take) prenda

Prenda il libro. — Take the book.

Here are more examples of formal commands that you might issue to a single person.

Prepari lo zaino. — Pack your rucksack.

Salga in macchina. — Get in the car.

Prenda le sue cose. — Take your things.

Finisca il viaggio a Bari. — Finish the trip in Bari.

Esca da qua. — Get out of here.

Beva questa tisana. — Drink this herbal infusion.

Lavi i piatti. — Wash the dishes.

Muora! — Go die!

Negative lei commands follow the same pattern.

Non mi dica questo. — Don’t tell me this.

Non ordini la pizza. — Don’t order the pizza.

Non lasci il bagno sporco. — Don’t leave the bathroom dirty.

Unlike with the other command forms, when addressing someone with lei, the pronouns always come before the verbs.

Lo prenda! — Take it!

Lo dica! — Say it!

Lo prepari! — Prepare it!

Non lo faccia! — Don’t do it!

Positive and Negative Noi and Voi Commands

Noi is the first-person plural (“we”), so it’s used in the command form like an equivalent of “Let’s…”

Voi is the second-person plural, and it’s used for telling two or more people what to do.

Sometimes, in some southern parts of Italy, especially among older people, voi is also the second-person formal singular—and thus used for telling a single person, formally, what to do.

Noi and voi imperative conjugations are simply the same as their present tense forms (whether those forms are regular or irregular).

So when you’re making a suggestion for what to do with your group, you’ll use the same conjugation as the noi present tense, but without actually saying the word noi.

Andare (to go) andiamo (we go / let’s go)

Andiamo al cinema! — Let’s go to the movie theater!

Prendiamo il treno! — Let’s take the train!

Usciamo! — Let’s go out!

Ceniamo al ristorante. — Let’s dine at the restaurant.

Semplicemente moriamo! — Let’s just die.

Likewise, when you’re telling a group of people what to do, you use the same conjugation as present-tense voi.

Pulire pulite (you clean / clean!)

Pulite le vostre pochette. — Clean out your toiletry bags / purses.

Other similar examples include:

Prendete il percorso riservato alle biciclette. — Take the path that’s reserved for bicycles.

Non vi voglio vedere più, andate via! — I don’t want to see you guys anymore, go away!

The negative forms of noi and voi commands are the same.

Non portiamo troppi pesi nello zaino. — Let’s not take too much weight in the backpack.

Non andiamo troppo in fretta. — Let’s not rush.

Non corriamo troppo. — Let’s not hurry too much.

Pronouns are attached to the end of noi and voi commands and the results are written as single words.

Prendiamolo. — Let’s take it.

Datemelo! — Give it to me.

Andatevene! — Get out of here. (This is a tacking-on of both the ve and ne pronouns; recall that ne can mean “of something.”)

There are three irregular voi command forms to memorize.

They might look familiar, though. With these three verbs, instead of using the indicative voi form for voi commands, you use the subjunctive.

Avere (to have) abbiate

Abbiate in mente quello che ho detto. — Keep in mind what I said.

Essere (to be) siate

Siate saggi nel viaggio. — Be good on the trip.

“Siate affamati. Siate folli.” — “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

This is the typical Italian translation of the motivational quote made famous by Steve Jobs, which he in turn had read in the last issue of the “Whole Earth Catalog.”

Sapere (to know) sappiate

Sappiate bene l’itinerario. — Know the itinerary well.

Two Bonus Uses of the Italian Imperative

There are two Italian verbs that are sprinkled throughout conversations in their imperative forms.

They’re so common that they serve more as interjections than what you might think of as “commands.”

These are:

Ma dai! — Come on! No way!

The above is usually said with encouraging enthusiasm or disbelief. Literally it means “but give.” If you’re spouting some bullcrud and your Italian interlocutor says this, it’s a playful invitation to keep going!

Ma va’! — Go on! You don’t say!

This is also an expression of incredulity similar to that above. It literally translates to: “but go!”

Senti. (formal) / Senta. (informal) — Hey. / Listen here now.

 

If you’ve made it this far and you want even more, I highly recommend the imperative and pronoun explanations in the grammar textbook “Soluzioni: A Practical Grammar of Contemporary Italian.” There are also written exercises for practice.

If you already have a good level of comprehension of written Italian, you can check out this encyclopedia chapter on the imperative mood, its uses and the controversial aspects from the point of view of Italian speakers. (There are four grammatical moods in Italian; the other three are the indicative, subjunctive and conditional.)

It’s interesting to see what troubles Italian speakers about this mood when they’re evaluating their own use of the language.

And finally there’s a number of websites where you can get decent information and practice the conjugations you’ve just learned, though the very best practice is to be found in bossing around the Italians you might meet on italki, or when wandering the boot yourself.

Divertiti! (Have fun!)


Mose Hayward writes while wandering Italy, plus also the world’s lesser countries, always carrying the best wheeled carry-on backpack.

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