Media Monday: Die Bücherdiebin and the German Imperative

Media Monday is a feature I post every two weeks where I discuss an interesting word or phrase (or sentence or paragraph) from what I’ve been reading or watching.

Since I’ve finished reading Harry Potter and The Book Thief has only just come out here (literally, last Wednesday!), I’ve been trying to read that in German. I’m 10% in, so it’s not exactly going quickly, but there’s one verb form I keep coming across that I’m just terrible at using. It’s the imperative.

Essentially, the imperative form of a verb is when you tell someone to do something. So if you turned to your friend and went, “Look at that!” the verb ‘look’ is in the imperative form.

Usually in English, the verb is in the you-form (e.g. stay there, do that, sit down) and it’s the same for German – but that’s where the problem arises because obviously, unlike in English, German has more than one word for you.

“Schau mal”, sagte Rudi.
“Kommt schon, ihr zwei”, rief Kurt, der Älteste der Steiner-Kinder […].


Both of the above examples use the familiar you-form: du and ihr.

Forming the imperative with du is fairly simple, in that with most verbs, they stay the same as the second person singular verb, but they drop the ending and you don’t say du.

For example: du isst –> iss
du sprichst –> sprich

Sein is an exception, as ever – it becomes sei (e.g. sei ruhig!). Then there’s the verbs that end in -d, -t, -ig, -m and -n (after another consontant). They keep the -e on the end.

For example: du antwortest –> antworte
du öffnest –> öffne

So, schauen becomes schau when Rudi is talking to his friend because the second person singular form of schauen –> schaust –> schau.

That’s the most difficult one.

Ihr is easy. The verb stays exactly the same; you just take away the word ihr.

So sagen –> sagt
schauen –> schaut
kommen –> kommt

Easy peasy. 🙂

Sie is not any more difficult than the du form; it’s just a little different. As with ihr, the verb stays in the same form (i.e. sagen Sie, essen Sie), but the verb and the pronoun switch places, so the verb goes at the beginning of the sentence.

The exception is, as usual, sein, which becomes seien in this instance. The Sie form is also the only one where the pronoun remains in the sentence.

For example: Seien Sie unbesorgt!
Essen Sie weniger Zucker!

There we are, a quick overview of the imperative in German! This was good practice for me too; I’ve been having some trouble with this one ;).

rufen (rief) – to call
schauen – to look
Seien Sie unbesorgt – don’t worry!

This post was aided by this website and Deutsch als Fremdsprache – Übungsgrammatik für die Mittelstufe (Hering, Matussek and Perlmann-Balme, 2009). There are also exercises you can use to practice this further here and here.

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