Formal and Informal Commands (los mandatos formales e informales)


  1. Formal Commands

    Use the 3rd person (singular and plural) of the present subjunctive.

    Affirmative Negative
    Singular (usted) ¡Hable!
    ¡Venga! (venir)
    ¡No hable!
    ¡No coma!
    ¡No venga! (venir)
    Plural (ustedes) ¡Hablen!
    ¡No hablen!
    ¡No coman!
    ¡No vengan!

    All of the verbs that are irregular in the present subjunctive will keep that irregularity in the command forms. Review the irregular forms.

  2. Informal Commands

    Use the 3rd person singular of the present indicative to form the affirmative command and the 2nd person (tú) of the present subjunctive to form the negative commands.

    Affirmative Negative
    Singular (tú) ¡Habla!
    ¡Ven! (venir)
    ¡No hables!
    ¡No comas!
    ¡No vengas! (venir)

    As you can see with “venir”, there are common irregular informal affirmative commands. Here is a list to remind you of them. Note that the negative commands are not irregular—they follow the rule of using the “tú” form of the present subjunctive:

    Affirmative Negative
    decir di no digas
    hacer haz no hagas
    ir ve no vayas
    poner pon no pongas
    salir sal no salgas
    ser no seas
    tener ten no tengas
    venir ven no vengas

    Note: There are informal plural commands, or “vosotros” commands, but we will not be learning these. In every corner of the Spanish-speaking world apart from Spain, the command forms that correspond with “ustedes” (3rd person plural formal command above) are used in formal and informal contexts when you are addressing more than one person.

    Remember that referring to commands as “negative” and “affirmative” has nothing to do with their meaning. When we refer to negative commands, we do not mean commands that are in some way insulting or discouraging (“Shut up!” or “Go away!” for example), but rather commands that are grammatically negative because they begin with the word “no” in Spanish (“don’t” in English).

Uses of the Commands

These structures function much like you would expect—you should use informal commands with those individuals who you call “tú” (people you know well, people your own age or younger, etc.) and formal commands with people who you would call “usted” (people who you do not know well and are not your same age or younger, people who are known but are much older, in formal contexts like a place of business or court, people to whom you would like to show special respect—a cop, maybe). It is very important to point out that commands (both formal and informal) are used much more frequently in Spanish than in English. For the English speaker, this can sound too direct (or even rude), but that is because Spanish and English have different ways of expressing meaning. English speakers need to use their “Spanish ears” when hearing commands and remember that commands don’t have the same force in Spanish that they do in English.

In Acceso Hub: Forma y Función (LingroLearning) you will find input and output activities to practice this structure.