The Imperative Form in Japanese: 10 Ways to Say Japanese Commands
You probably already know some Japanese commands, even at a basic level of Japanese.
Whether you want to be blunt and informal or if something more polite is in order, you need to learn some basic command forms to be fluent in conversation.
Once you can tell anyone to do something—or not to do something—in Japanese (and you know which forms to use when), you can take command of any situation!
- When to Use the Imperative Form
- When Not to Use the Japanese Imperative
- 1. The Blunt Command Form
- 2. The Casual Command Form
- 3. The Standard Form
- 4. The Tough Love Form
- 5. The “Please” Commands
- 6. The Colloquial “Please” Form
- 7. The Negative ~な Form
- 9. ~ないで、The Negative ~て Form
- 10. ~ないでください、”Please Don’t” Negative Commands
- Examples of the Imperative Form in Japanese
When to Use 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
Put your left hand in, and shake it all about.
Don’t touch my mustache!
Pharaoh, please let my people go!
In this post, we’ll focus on asking and telling other people to do things. That mainly means giving commands and making requests. Exhortations and suggestions are a whole other story.
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.
Politeness is also crucial. What Japanese lacks in basic verb forms, it makes up in its classifications 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, imperatives are used in Japanese in the same contexts that they’re used 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.]”
Mix the eggs.
二番目の信号で曲がる。 (にばんめの しんごうで まがる。)
Turn at the second light.
ゴムベラで生地を広げる。 (ごむべらで きじをひろげる。)
Using a rubber spatula, spread the batter.
お婆さんとぶつからないで、まっすぐ行く。 (おばあさんと ぶつからないで、まっすぐ いく。)
Without hitting the old lady, go straight down the street.
1. The Blunt Command Form
This is the bluntest form of the imperative. It’s 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.
It has two easy patterns:
Pattern: ~る becomes ~ろ
Put your damn hand in!
ウィップを見ろ！じゃ、ネイネイも見ろ！ (うぃっぷをみろ！じゃ、ねいねいも みろ！)
Watch me whip! Now, watch me nae-nae.
Pattern: ~う becomes ~え
Smell the roses.
Pikachu, bite them!
Patterns: 来い (こい), “Come”; せよ 、 しろ , “Do.”
Note: “Do” has two interchangeable forms in the imperative
こっち来い！ (こっち こい！)
Hey, hey, hey! Do your studying!
もう一度しろ！ (もう いちど しろ！)
Do it again!
2. The Casual 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:
- 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 → 泳ぎな
運び → 運びな
書き → 書きな
Pattern: ~る becomes ~な
僕の短パン食べな! (ぼくの たんぱん たべな!)
Eat my shorts!
Boil all of the eggs.
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 .
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。)
先に行きな。 (さきに いきな。)
お前、こっち来な*。 (おまえ、こっち きな。)
Hey, you. Come here.
Clean your room.
*Note: 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:
部屋を掃除しなよ！ (へやをそうじ しなよ！)
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. The Standard Form
て形 (てけい) 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.
Pattern: ~る becomes ~て
Teach me (tell me) your name.
- 見る (みる): To look → 見て (みて): Look
This is where it gets difficult, and it pays to group verbs into small categories:
~う , ~つ and ~る become ~って
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
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
ちゃんと泳いで。 (ちゃんと およいで。)
~ぬ, ~む and ~ぶ become ~んで
~す becomes ~して
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.
七時頃に来て。 (しちじごろに きて。)
Come around 7:00.
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。)
Like with よ and the な-forms before this, the て形 also has a fondness for sentence ending particles, specifically ね , the solicitation particle.
安全に遊んでね！ (あんぜんに あそんでね！)
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. The Tough Love Form
I call なさい 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 .
Pattern: ~る becomes ~なさい
Turn on the lights.
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.
Pattern: ~な form + ~さい
軽く踏みなさい。 (かるく ふみなさい。)
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。)
To make these phrases softer, add お~ before the verb. The phrase then becomes honorific imperative.
Please sit here.
5. The “Please” Commands
We use 〜てくれ and 〜てください to create what I call 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 of a request.
For example, 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.
Turn on the music for me (please.)
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.
6. The Colloquial “Please” Form
ちょうだい does the same as the previous but is 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!
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!
7. 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 ！/ だまれ ！), 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.
そっちに座るな！ (そっちに すわるな！)
Don’t sit there!
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!
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.
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.
Don’t teach evolution.
I’m changing, don’t look!
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
テストに 書かないで。 (てすとに かかないで。)
Don’t write on your tests.
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.”
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.
Please don’t knit a sweater.
不気味な人形を縫わないでください。 (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.
Examples of the Imperative Form in Japanese
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 in other situations, or they’re idiomatic and you wouldn’t think of them organically) and others are just really useful for everyday conversation.
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!
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.”
These forms may seem like a lot to remember now, but you’ll find understanding them will get easier as you see and hear them in the context of everyday speech and writing.
To get some exposure to everyday Japanese, you can watch authentic TV shows or web videos. You can also try using a video focused language learning program like FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
After you’ve mastered these 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!
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