japanese-commands

It’s Imperative That You Learn These 10 Ways to Form Japanese Commands

“Don’t touch my mustache!” I just had it waxed.

Sorry, was I too blunt? Let me try again: “Don’t touch my mustache, jerk.”

Or, perhaps something more polite is in order: “Please, sir, kindly refrain from touching my mustache!”

I apologize for before. It wasn’t my place to order you around, but, you see, mustache waxing is a very expensive and painstaking process and I would hate for you to have to pay for my untidy ‘stache. And you would pay for it, you know.

To make up for being so bossy, let me teach you some commands in Japanese. Then you can tell anyone to do something—or not do something—in your target language.

You’ll also be pleasantly surprised to learn that you probably already know some Japanese commands, even at a basic level of Japanese.

Even my mustache-related commands are easy to learn and remember in Japanese. どういたしまして, which equates to “you’re welcome,” is, in fact, an obscure imperative form and sounds just like “don’t (どうい) touch my (たし) mustache (まして.)” Therefore, the command itself is a mnemonic device.

And a pun. Bazinga.
 


 
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What’s the “Imperative Form”?

“Imperative” means “coming from authority,” or “vital,” and in regards to grammar, it means “commands.” The imperative has many functions:

  • Suggestions or exhortations

今日、海へ行きましょう!(きょう、うみへいきましょう! )
Let’s go to the beach today!

  • Some Instructions

左手を入れて、振る。 (ひだりてをいれて、ふる。)
Put your left hand in, and shake it all about.

  • Commands

ひげを触るな! (ひげをさわるな!)
Don’t touch my mustache!

ファラオ、私達を放してください!(ふぁらお、わたしたちをはなしてください!)
Pharaoh, please let my people go!

Today, we’ll focus on asking and telling other people to do things, so that mainly means giving commands—and command-like requests, and request-like commands. Exhortations and suggestions are a whole other beach day.

In many languages, there’s one way to make the imperative and a few different ways to change the verbs to fit the situation.

In Japanese, depending on who’s speaking and to whom they’re speaking, there are easily a dozen different styles for each form of the verb. Japanese only has one person (“I,” “you,” “they,” etc., all share one verb conjugation), and no change between singular (“I do”) and plural (“We do”), so verbs are relatively simple to learn.

On the other hand, politeness is key, and what Japanese lacks in basic verb forms, it makes up in its spread of “vulgar,” “casual,” “plain,” “polite” and “humble/honorific” forms. The difficulty in learning Japanese verbs is learning each level of politeness.

When we get to the verbs below, we’ll learn them in order of blunt/vulgar, casual and polite.

When Not to Use the Japanese Imperative

Often, instances in which imperatives are used in Japanese are the same as in English.

However, there are some common situations in which Japanese does not use command forms where English does. Some examples include instructions, recipes and giving travel directions.

In these cases, the assumed meaning is “You do [action],” rather than the imperative, “Do [action.]”

卵を混ぜ。(たまごをまぜ。)
Mix the eggs.

二番目の信号で曲が。(にばんめの しんごうで まが。)
Turn at the second light.

ゴムベラで生地を広げ。(ごむべらで きじをひろげ。)
Using a rubber spatula, spread the batter.

お婆さんとぶつからないで、まっすぐ行。(おばあさんと ぶつからないで、ますっぐ い。)
Without hitting the old lady, go straight down the street.

10 Powerful Forms of Japanese Commands

1. The Blunt Command Form

This is the bluntest form of the imperative, used between friends or enemies, or when a person is angry/desperate. It’s usually the equivalent of swearing and yelling, though sometimes not as forceful, and it has two easy patterns:

る-verbs

Pattern: ~る becomes ~ろ

Examples:

  • 入れる (いれる): To put in → 入れろ (いれろ): Put in

手を入れ!(てをいれ!)
Put your damn hand in!

  • 見る (みる): To watch → 見 (み): Watch

ウィップを見!じゃ、ネイネイも見!(うぃっぷをみ!じゃ、ねいねいも み!)
Watch me whip! Now, watch me nae-nae.

う-verbs

Pattern: ~う becomes ~え

  • 嗅ぐ (かぐ): To smell → 嗅げ (か): Smell

バラを嗅。(ばらをか。)
Smell the roses.

  • 待つ (まつ ): To wait → 待て (ま): Wait

、待!(ま、ま!)
Wait, wait!

  • 噛む (かむ): To bite → 噛め (か): Bite

ピカチュウ、そいつを噛!(ぴかちゅう、そいつをか!)
Pikachu, bite them!

Irregular

Patterns: 来い (こい), “Come”; せよ、しろ, “Do.”

Note: “Do” has two interchangeable forms in the imperative

Examples:

  • 来る (くる): To come → 来い (こい): Come

こっち来い!(こっち こい!)
Come here!

  • する: To do → せよ: Do

おいおい、勉強せよ!(おいおい、べんきょうせよ!)
Hey, hey, hey! Do your studying!

  • する (To do) → しろ (Do)

もう一度しろ!(もう いちど しろ!)
Do it again!

2. The ~な Command Form

This is less abrupt than the previous form, and is made by attaching ~な to the 連用形 (れんようけい, stem form) which is the polite form of the verb minus ます.

The first way to find the 連用形 is to:

  1. Look at the polite form.

For example, the polite form will look like 泳ぎます (およぎます – swim), 運びます (はこびます – carry) or 書きます(かきます – write)

2. Remove the ~ます ending.

泳ぎます → 泳ぎ
運びます → 運び
書きます → 書き

3. Now, we add our command, ~な, to the stem:

泳ぎ → 泳ぎ
運び → 運び
書き → 書き

る-verbs

Pattern: ~る becomes ~な

Examples:

  • 食べる (たべる): To eat → 食べな (たべ): Eat

僕の短パン食べ! (ぼくの たんぱん たべ!)
Eat my shorts!

  • 煮る (にる): To boil → 煮な (に):Boil

卵、全部煮。(たまご、ぜんぶに。)
Boil all of the eggs.

う-verbs

Pattern: ~う becomes ~いな

It’s extra easy to convert う-verbs into this form, because rather than finding the 連用形 form, you can simply change the ending う sound to an い.

  • 歌う (うたう): To sing → 歌いな (うたいな): Sing

もっと大きい声で歌いな。(もっと おおきい こえで うたいな。)
Sing louder.

  • 行く (いく): To go → 行きな (いきな): Go

先に行きな。(さきに いきな。)
Go first.

Irregular

  • 来る (くる): To come → 来な (きな): Come

お前、こっち来な*。(おまえ、こっち きな。)
Hey, you. Come here.

  • する (To do) → しな (Do)

部屋を掃除しな。(へやをそうじしな。)
Clean your room.

*One thing to note is Japanese leans towards word forms that are easier to hear and pronounce. Since 来な doesn’t stand out when surrounded by other words, 来い (こい), 来なさい (きなさい) and 来て (きて) are more common.

Finally, due to the casual and expressive nature of this imperative, it’s most often used with the sentence ending particle よ, which denotes surprise and/or exclamations:

部屋を掃除しな!(へやをそうじ しな!)
Clean your room!

It also sounds more natural to finish those sentences with the particle instead of the imperative, so go ahead and slap on よ liberally!

3. て形 (てけい)、The ~て Form

て形 has a few different functions, but for the purposes of this article, we’re only focusing on giving orders.

Of all of the imperative forms, this is the standard.

It’s more polite than the 命令形, more casual than any of the polite commands and it serves as the backbone for many other grammatical structures.

The て形 has a sort of gravitational pull. This is the structure you’ll find yourself using most of the time. It can be used among friends, strangers, family members or by a superior towards their inferior. It’s common between parents and children, or teachers and students.

-verbs

Pattern: ~る becomes ~て

  • 教える (おしえる): To teach, to tell → 教え (おしえ): Teach, tell

名前を教え。(なまえをおしえ。)
Teach me (tell me) your name.

  • 見る (みる): To look → 見 (み): Look

ほら、見!(ほら、み!)
Hey, look!

う-verbs

This is where it gets difficult, and it pays to group verbs into small categories:

~う, ~つ and ~る become ~って

  • 打つ (うつ): To hit → 打って (うって): Hit

拳で顔を打って!(こぶしで かおをうって!)
Hit his face with your fists!

~く becomes ~いて

  • 書く (かく): To write → 書いて (かいて): Write

名前をはっきり書いて。(なまえをはっきり かいて。)
Write your name clearly.

~ぐ becomes ~いで

  • 泳ぐ (およぐ): To swim → 泳いで (およいで): Swim

ちゃんと泳いで。(ちゃんと およいで。)
Swim properly.

~ぬ, ~む and ~ぶ become ~んで

  • 遊ぶ (あそぶ): To play → 遊んで (あそんで): Play

安全に遊んで。(あんぜんに あそんで。)
Play safely.

~す becomes ~して

  • 落とす (おとす): To drop → 落として (おとして): Drop

汚れた衣類をシュートに落として。(よごれた いるいをしゅーとに おとして。)
Drop your dirty clothes into the chute.

Irregular

  • 来る (くる): To come → 来て (きて): Come

七時頃に来て。(しちじごろに きて。)
Come around 7:00.

  • する (To do) → して (Do)

廊下を掃除して。 (ろうかをそうじ して。)
Clean the hallway.

Telling someone to “go”: In this case, 行く is irregular. Instead of becoming 行いて, following the rules above, it becomes 行って.

ゆっくり歩いて行って。(ゆっくり あるいて いって。)
Go/walk slowly.

Like with よ and the な-forms before this, the て形 also has a fondness for sentence ending particles, specifically , the solicitation particle.

安全に遊んで!(あんぜんに あそんで!)
Y’all play safely now!

The particle softens the command and makes most (not all) imperative sentences of this type sound more natural. It’s the “I-need-to-command-you-but-don’t-want-to-sound-harsh” or “You-should-already-know-this-but-I’m-telling-you-anyway” particle. Learn more about sentence ending particles with this handy guide.

4. なさい、The Tough Love Form

I call this the “tough love form” because it’s gentle like the word “please,” but it’s not rude like the first imperative mentioned here. It’s stern but it cares about you. It’s only telling you to eat your vegetables because it knows fiber is good for growing children.

This is the imperative of the verb なさる, an honorific verb meaning “to do,” and is thus more respectful than any of the previous imperatives.

Moreover, because you’ve already learned 連用形 + な, this imperative is easier to learn. Just add water…I mean…just add ~さい.

る-verbs

Pattern: ~る becomes ~なさい

  • つける (To attach, engage, turn on) →つけなさい (Turn on, attach, engage)

電気をつけなさい。(でんきをつけなさい。)
Turn on the lights.

  • 起きる (おきる): To wake up → 起きなさい (おきなさい): Wake up

さきちゃん、早く起きなさい。(さきちゃん、はやく おきなさい。)
Saki-chan, hurry and wake up.

う-verbs

Pattern: ~な Form + ~さい

  • 踏む (ふむ): To step → 踏みなさい (ふみなさい): Step

軽く踏みなさい。(かるく ふみなさい。)
Step lightly.

  • 歌う (うたう): To sing → 歌いなさい (うたいなさい): Sing

もっと大きな声で歌いなさい。(もっと おおきな こえで うたいなさい。)
Sing louder.

To make these phrases softer, add お~ before the verb. The phrase then becomes honorific imperative.

  • 座る (すわる): To sit →りなさい (すわりなさい): Please sit

こちらにりなさい。(こちらにすわりなさい。)
Please sit here.

5. & 6. 〜てくれ、〜てください、The “Please” Commands

Something in this area feels…familiar…it’s the て形! Specifically, this is a more polite way to make a command, formed by adding the word “please” (specifically, くれ or ください, “hand down to me.”)

Depending on the situation and your relationship with your listener, this can either be more imperative or more a request (eg., you probably wouldn’t command your boss to do…much of anything, but you might command a coworker to be a little quieter in the office.)

くれ is the casual, colloquial “please,” while ください is polite. The former is used with equals and friends, but is less harsh than any of the previous commands. The latter is the standard, basic level of politeness, used with strangers and superiors.

  • つける (To attach, engage, turn on) → つけてくれ (Please turn on, attach, engage)

音楽をつけてくれ。 (おんがくをつけてくれ。)
Turn on the music for me (please.)

  • 待つ (まつ): To wait → 待ってくれ (まってくれ): Please wait

ちょっと車で待ってくれ。(ちょっと くるま で まってくれ。)
Please wait in the car.

7. ちょうだい、The Colloquial “Please” Form

This is the same as the previous but more colloquial. This form is generally more common among women, but in some areas of Japan it’s standard.

  • 座る (すわる): To sit → 座ってちょうだい (すわってちょうだい): Please sit

隣に座ってちょうだい! (となりに すわってちょうだい!)
Pleeeease sit next to me!

  • 起きる (おきる): To wake up → 起きてちょうだい (おきてちょうだい): Please wake up

アアアア、もう、早く起きてちょうだい!(ああああ、もう、はよく おきてちょうだい!)
C’mon, wake up, pleeeeeease!

8. The Negative ~な Form

There are fewer negative forms for the imperative than there are affirmative, and each one does slightly more work.

You’ll notice, for example, that there’s no equivalent to the 命令形 (~ろ, ~え) in the negative form, and instead the negative な form is used.

Where one student might say “Shut the hell up!” (黙れ!/だま!), another might say, “Don’t f***ing touch me!” (触るな!/さわるな!), each using a totally different form of the imperative.

This is the negative of the な form above (食べな/たべな、書きな/かきな), and all verbs follow the same pattern: 辞書形 (じしょけい, plain/dictionary form) + な.

  • 座る (すわる): To sit → 座るな (すわるな): Don’t sit

そっちに座るな! (そっちに すわるな!)
Don’t sit there!

  • 食べる (たべる): To eat → 食べるな (たべるな): Don’t eat

俺の食べ物を食べるな!(おれの たべものをたべるな!)
Don’t eat my food!

  • 触る (さわる): To touch → 触るな (さわるな): Don’t touch

ひげ触るな!(ひげ さわるな!)
Don’t touch my mustache!

Easier than pie!

9. ~ないで、The Negative ~て Form

If you know the 否定形 (ひていけい – negative indicative forms) of verbs—e.g., 食べない (たべない – not eat)—then this is an easy one: Negative + で.

As with its positive counterpart, て形, the negative construction also benefits from the particle ね and for the same reasons. It softens the meaning of the command and it sounds natural.

-verbs

Pattern: For る-verbs, you add the negative ending ~ない to the stem, so ~る becomes ~ない, and then you add the command ending ~で.

  • 教える (おしえる): To teach, tell → 教えないで (おしえないで): Don’t teach, tell

進化を教えないで。(しんかをおしえないで。)
Don’t teach evolution.

  • 見る (みる): To look → 見ないで (みないで): Don’t look

今、着替えてるから、見ないでね〜。(いま、きがえてるから、みないでね〜。)
I’m changing, don’t look!

  • 落ちないで (おちる): To fall → 落ちないで (おちないで): Don’t fall

落ちないでね!(おちないでね!)
Don’t fall!

う-verbs

Let’s review how to make 否定形 with う-verbs: ~う becomes ~あない. You change the last hiragana of the verb to the hiragana with an “a” sound:

  • 歌う (うたう): To sing → 歌わない (うたわない*): Does not sing

上手に歌わない。(じょうずに うたわない。)
You don’t sing well.

*~う becomes ~わ, rather than ~あ, though when spoken at a natural speed, the difference isn’t noticeable.

  • 行く (いく): To go → 行かない (いかない): Does not go

魔女の所へ行かない。(まじょの ところへ いかない。)
We don’t go to the witch’s house.

  • 死ぬ (しぬ): To die → 死なない (しなない): Does not die

彼女は絶対死なない。(かのじょは ぜったい しなない。)
She will never die.

Now, the imperative: ~あない + で

  • 縫う (ぬう): To sew → 縫わないで (ぬわないで): Don’t sew

そんなにめちゃくちゃに縫わないで。(そんなに めちゃくちゃに ぬわないで。)
Don’t sew it so messily/carelessly.

  • 書く (かく): To write → 書かないで (かかないで): Don’t write

テストに 書かないで。(てすとに かかないで。)
Don’t write on your tests.

  • 嗅ぐ (かぐ): To smell → 嗅がないで (かがないで): Don’t smell

毒を持った花を嗅がないでね〜。(どくをもった はなをかがないでね〜。)
Don’t smell poisonous flowers.

10. ~ないでください、”Please Don’t” Negative Commands

This is the negative of the 〜てください, and like that request form, for this one you can use any level of politeness when saying “please.” It’s made in the same way as the 否定形, plus “please.”

  • 教える (おしえる): To teach, tell → 教えないでください (おしえないでください): Please don’t teach, tell

スパイだと教えないでください。(すぱい だと おしえないでください。)
Please don’t tell them that you’re a spy.

  • 編む (あむ): To knit → 編まないでくれ (あまないでくれ): Please don’t knit

セーターを編まないでくれ。(せーたーをあないでくれ。)
Please don’t kit a sweater.

  • 縫う (ぬう): To sew → 縫わないでください (ぬわないでください): Please don’t sew

不気味な人形を縫ないでください。(ぶきみな にんぎょうをぬわないでください。)
Please don’t sew me a creepy doll.

7 Useful Imperative Phrases You’ll Need to Say All the Time

The following are some common or useful phrases that use the imperative. Some of these are less intuitive (you probably won’t use the same words or phrases other situations, or they’re idiomatic and you wouldn’t think of them organically) and others are just really, really, truly useful or everyday.

1. 腰をかけてください。(こしをかけてください。)

Translation: Sit down.

腰 (こし) means “lower back/butt,” and かける is the verb for “to engage/attach.”

2. お帰りなさい!(おかえりなさい!)

Translation: Return home; Welcome home!

If you’ve studied set phrases and basic greetings, this should be familiar: it’s how you greet someone who has returned home. You’re literally, and humbly, commanding them to return home (Hello, this is the Agency of Redundancy Agency. How may I help you?)

3. 帰れ!(かえれ!)

Translation: Go home, idiot!

4. ___を出してください。(___をだしてください。)

Translation: Please take out your___.

5. 頑張れ!(がんばれ!) or 頑張って!(がんばって!)

Translation: Good luck! (literally, “Try hard!”)

6. 気を付けてね!(きをつけてね!)

Translation: Take care!

7. おやすみなさい!

Translation: Go to sleep; Good night!

Is this deja vu again? This looks familiar, too! Maybe it’s because the common phrase “good night” is, like “welcome home,” an honorific imperative: “Go to sleep.”

Summary

It’s a lot to remember, but you may have noticed that all of the different imperative structures can be boiled down to no more than three verb forms (for each positive and negative).

Positive:

  • 命令形 (dictionary form with ending changed)
  • 連用形 (verb minus ~ます)
  • て形 (conjunctive/request form)

Negative:

  • 辞書形 (dictionary form with no change)
  • 否定形 (negative indicative form)

After you’ve mastered those forms of the verbs, the rest of the battle is deciding how polite you want to be.

Now, go forth and take control of your life.

Command the world!
 


 

And One More Thing…

To see these commands (and more!) used authentically, you’ll love the FluentU app.

Like the site, the FluentU app takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, commercials, vlogs, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons. It naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You’ll learn real Japanese as it’s spoken in real life.

The FluentU app has a broad range of contemporary videos—like music videos, dramas, TV shows and TV commercials:

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FluentU makes these native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts. Tap on any word to look it up instantly.

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All definitions have multiple examples, and they’re written for Japanese learners like you. Tap to add any words to personal vocab lists for easy review.

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And FluentU has a learn mode which turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples.

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