The Imperative vs The Declarative

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Differences between Imperative and Declarative Sentences

Imperative SentenceOpens in new window is a kind of sentence that directly give commands, orders, instructions, or requests upon someone to do something. In this post we will examine the distinguishing factors between Imperative and Declarative Sentences.

Imperative sentencesOpens in new window can be seen as variations of simple declarative sentencesOpens in new window. They have the same intonation as declarative sentences, but they differ in three ways.

First, imperative sentences do not need visible subjects, but declaratives do. The declarative sentences in 1) will always be interpreted as imperative commands if their subjects were to be removed.

Imperative SentenceDeclarative Sentence
1a)  Look at me.You look at me.
1b)  Take her to dinner.You take her to dinner.

Second, the main verb in an imperative is always in its bare infinitive form, whereas declarative sentences can have inflected verb forms, as is the case in 2), where the verb “are” in the declarative sentence agrees in number with the subject pronoun “you”. But the corresponding imperative sentence has the bare infinitive form “be”.

Imperative SentenceDeclarative Sentence
2a)  Be quietYou are quiet.

Again, the sentence in 3), shows that it is possible to have an inflected verb after the copular “be” in an imperative sentence, but the verb must be in the progressive (–ing) formOpens in new window.

The meaning of 3) is similar to “You had better be working when I get back” or “I expect you to be working when I get back.”

3)  Be working when I get back. → (Imperative )

The third major difference between imperative and declarative sentence lies in the ways they are negated.

To negate a declarative sentence, as shown in 4), “do” is absent and “not” is contracted with the verb. In the corresponding imperative, the auxiliary “do” is combined with “not” and placed at the beginning of the sentence before the verb.

Imperative SentenceDeclarative Sentence
4)  Don’t be lazy.You aren’t lazy.

As shown in 5), negative declarative sentences whose affirmative forms do not contain an auxiliary verb or copular “be” also take “do not” before the verb.

Unlike their imperative counterparts, however, these negative declaratives must still have a visible subject.

Imperative SentenceDeclarative Sentence
5)  Don’t use it.You don’t use it.

Another way to distinguish negative declaratives from negative imperatives is by using the Tag Test.

Negative declaratives such as 5) can take a tag, like “do you”, to form a tag question, as in 6a). This is not possible with the negative imperatives, as 6b) shows. Positive imperatives can, however, have tags with “will” or “would”.

6a)  You don’t use it, do you?

6b)  Don’t use it, do you!

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  • References
    • The Teacher's Grammar of English with Answers: A Course Book and Reference Guide Forms of Imperatives (Pg 110-111) By Ron Cowan.

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