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Spanish imperatives

Spanish imperatives can be tricky, especially some of the most-used imperatives such as ve, ten, and váyase. Let’s learn both the positive and negative imperatives of Ir, Irse, and Tener — and get lots of practice using them in context.

Full Podcast Episode


Uno, dos, tres —

Intro: Join us on a rigorous, step-by-step journey to fluency. I’m Timothy and this is LearnCraft Spanish.

Today we're going to learn a few new adjectives.

To begin with, let's learn some numbers. Now, you may already know these numbers: “one” is uno, “two” is dos, and “three” is tres.

The thing about numbers is that they don't always work exactly the same way as other adjectives do. First of all, they have to go before a noun. It's not optional whether you put them before or after a noun, as in the case of bueno. Second, numbers don't tend to change based on the number or the gender of the noun that follows them. For example, two guys is dos chicos, and two girls is dos chicas.

The exception is the number one. Uno does change based on the thing after it. And you've actually kind of learned this already — the indefinite articles, un and una, are actually just variations on the word for “one”. So if you put uno before a masculine noun, such as chico, it becomes un. So you would say un chico.

Of course, this begs the question: How will we ever use the word uno rather than just un or una? Well, you’ll use uno with an O at the end when you're just naming the number by itself, or when it's separate from what it's representing. For example, one guy is un chico, but “one of the guys” is uno de los chicos. This is actually pretty easy to practice.

By the way, now that we have some numbers, we can start to talk about the time! To say “at two”, you say a las dos, literally “to the two”. Incidentally, the reason that you use las is because hours are feminine in Spanish, as we’ll explore soon. To say “at three”, you say a las tres, and “at one” is a la una.

Let’s do a little quizzing with numbers.

There are two girls.

Hay dos chicas.

One of the guys was here at three.

Uno de los chicos estaba aquí a las tres.

I will have three, please.

Tendré tres, por favor.

I have to be in one place.

Tengo que estar en un lugar.

She left at one or at two.

Se fue a la una o a las dos.

Let’s talk a little bit more about the words uno and una, because there are even more funny things they can do.

For one thing, the word uno is often used as a pronoun to mean “one”, as in “one person”, vaguely defined. You’d usually do this when talking in the abstract. For example, “one must wash one’s hands before eating.” This sounds super formal in English, but it’s actually pretty common even in informal Spanish. As another example:

Can one do that without help?

This would be:

¿Uno can hacer eso without help?

¿Uno puede hacer eso sin ayuda?

Another thing you can do with these words is you can actually make the words uno and una plural! So instead of saying una cosa, we can say unas cosas. What does this mean?

Basically, this translates into English as “some things”, or “a few things”. Spanish doesn’t have a simple translation for “some” or “a few”, so what we’re technically doing is using the indefinite article, “a” or “an”, and making it plural. We’ve already done this with the definite article “the”: We can turn “the thing”, la cosa, into “the things”, or las cosas. This is basically doing the same thing, but with items that are less specific. As another example, “a place” is un lugar, but if you change it to unos lugares, it means “some places” or “a few places”.

Let’s practice this a bit.

There are a few men in his house.

Hay unos hombres en su casa.

How nice that we have some things here!

¡Qué bueno que tengamos unas cosas aquí!

One has to do this like this.

Uno tiene que hacer esto así.

Why are there some guys here?

¿Por qué hay unos chicos aquí?

Some girls and I had to do it.

Unas chicas y yo lo teníamos que hacer.

Now let’s revisit the word dos, which most strictly means “two”, but it also has some funny things it can do. Here’s a very common pairing of words: Los dos, or “the two”. For example:

The two will be there.

Los dos estarán ahí.

Los dos is actually the most common way to say “both” in Spanish. And we can change it to las dos for feminine nouns. So for example, “both girls” or “both of the girls” is simply las dos chicas, literally “the two girls”. For example:

Both girls were here.

Las dos chicas estaban aquí.

All right, let’s move on to some other very common adjectives, and one of the most frequently used in Spanish is the word otro, which means “other”. Now this word, just like numbers, has to go before a noun, not after it. So for example, to say “other guy” you would say otro chico. Or to say “other girl”, you would say otra chica.

This word works a little bit differently from the English word “other”, simply because you don't put indefinite articles before it. What does that mean? Well, in English, we say “another guy”. it's like saying “an” “other” guy or, un otro chico. In Spanish, you leave off the un and you just say otro chico for “another guy” or otra chica for “another girl”.

Another way to think of this is that the word otro (or otra) simply means “another” as well as “other”.

Another very common adjective is the word mucho. Now, we already learned this as an adverb; you can do something “a lot” or you can do something mucho. But you can also put mucho before a noun to say that there's a lot of it, or many of them. And this adjective version, unlike the adverb, will change based on who it’s describing. For example, “many girls” would be muchas chicas. “Many guys” would be muchos chicos. You would also use mucho in singular, without the S at the end, if you're talking about a quantity of something that we would consider a mass noun, such as time. For example, “a lot of time” or “a long time” is simply mucho tiempo. But “many times”, or many instances or events, would be muchas veces.

Now incidentally, the word veces is a bit weird, spelled v-e-C-e-s, even though the singular was spelled v-e-Z. Sometimes Z turns into C when a word is made plural.

Now, let’s also learn the adjective for “better”, which is mejor. Of course, once again, you've already learned this as an adverb, but it can also be used as an adjective right before or after a noun. For example, “a better day” might be un mejor día. “Some better houses” might be unas mejores casas.

Now something funny is that this word also means “best”. So “a better day” would be un mejor día, but “the best day” would be el mejor día. This seems really strange to English speakers. We prioritize keeping “better” and “best” separate. But it's actually pretty easy to tell which one is happening from the context.

Let’s practice mejor, muchos, and otro with a mini-quiz.

I want her to have a better house.

I want que ella tenga una mejor casa.

Quiero que ella tenga una mejor casa.

You(formal) won’t have much time.

Usted no tendrá mucho tiempo.

You have done that many times.

Has hecho eso muchas veces.

They have to be in another place.

Tienen que estar en otro lugar.

He is the best boy!

¡Él es el mejor chico!

I have had other things.

He tenido otras cosas.

There were many men there.

Había muchos hombres ahí.

They have done it another time.

Lo han hecho otra vez.

Note that this two-word combination, otra vez, is very frequent in Spanish and it’s one way to say “again”. So for example:

I have to do it again.

Lo tengo que hacer otra vez.

Now, all of the adjectives that we’ve been practicing tend to go before a noun rather than after it. However, there are some cases where we’ll put mejor after a noun or pronoun, as in the case of algo mejor, literally “something better”. This is interesting because we do that in English as well, in these cases, even though adjectives rarely go after nouns in English.

So see if you can predict this next example:

I have done something better for a long time.

He hecho algo mejor por mucho tiempo.

All right, we’re going to get more practice with these adjectives at the end of the episode, but first, let’s revisit the idea of obligation that we were talking about in the previous episode.

In general, using Tener + que or Haber + que is considered a fairly gentle way of expressing an obligation. We’ll get some more practice with these on today’s quiz. But first, what if you don’t want to be gentle and polite — what if you just want to boss someone around? In that case, you’ll need imperatives.

There’s obviously a bit of a different tone between these two sentences: “You have to go to that place” versus “Go to that place!” Depending on the culture you’re in, you might want to make sure you have a certain relationship with someone to use direct imperatives like that.

Then again, sometimes imperatives can be polite, especially if you’re giving directions for how to do something, or if you say por favor along with the imperative. And of course, either way, becoming fluent in a language does involve learning all the different ways the language is commonly used, and some imperatives do occur quite high on the frequency list. So let’s learn some imperatives for both Ir and Tener.

To start with, if you’re talking with one person in an informal voice, the word for “go”, as an imperative, is ve, spelled V-E. For example:

Go to the place right now.

Ve al lugar ahora.

That’s an Ir conjugation. And then the counterpart for Tener is ten, spelled T-E-N. For example:

Have this!

¡Ten esto!

Now, it IS possible to use imperatives even in a formal voice, when you’re using usted. But to do this, we don’t actually have to learn any new forms — we’ll simply use vaya and tenga, which are exactly the same as the subjunctive. For example:

Have(formal) this.

Tenga esto.

Go(formal) to the place, please.

Vaya al lugar, por favor.

When you’re talking to a group of people, the imperative is going to be the “panda subjunctive”. Here are some examples.

Go(plural) to the place right now.

Vayan al lugar ahora.

Have(plural) this.

Tengan esto.

Now, what if we want to tell someone not to “go”, but to “leave”? We’ll have to make Ir reflexive so that we’re using Irse. And in the case of imperatives, something weird happens. Compare these two sentences:

Por favor ve al lugar.

Por favor vete del lugar.

In the second case, we used the word vete, spelled v-e-t-e, which means “leave”, as an informal imperative. This word is composed of the imperative, ve, plus the word te, which makes it reflexive.

Now this is super weird, because we’ve learned that object pronouns, such as te and lo and se, are always supposed to go right before the verbs in a sentence. Why is te being stuck on the end of the verb like this?

This is something that we call a contraction, and it’s an exception to the rule that we’ve been following. We’ll learn more about verb contractions very soon, but for now, note that imperatives have a tendency to do this. In fact, there’s no way to order someone to leave, using an imperative, without putting the reflexive pronoun at the end of the word.

So for example, let’s say you’re using a formal voice. To tell usted to go somewhere, you’ll use vaya. But to tell them to “leave” from somewhere, you’ll use the word váyase, which is vaya with the reflexive se at the end. And then if you’re talking to a group and ordering them to leave, you’ll tell them váyanse.

Perhaps the most common imperative in Spanish is the word vamos, which is how you say “let’s go”. It’s basically like ordering you and the group of people around you to go somewhere. Now, it looks and sounds exactly like the word for “we go”, but it tends to be clear from context whether you’re saying “we go” versus “let’s go”.

And then to say “let’s leave”, you’ll stick nos at the end, literally “let’s go ourselves”. This creates the word vámonos. (It would be “vamosnos”, but the S in the middle disappears.)

By the way, some people learning Spanish get this strange idea that vámonos means “let’s go”, but that’s not true; “let’s go” is vamos. Vámonos specifically means “let’s leave”.

Let’s practice using ve, vete, vamos, and vámonos, and other imperatives with a mini-quiz.

Let’s go to the place!

¡Vamos al lugar!

(All of you) go to his house!

¡Vayan a su casa!

Leave now!

¡Vete ahora!

Let’s leave the house!

¡Vámonos de la casa!

(All of you) leave this place!

¡Váyanse de este lugar!

Go now!

¡Ve ahora!

(Formal) Leave this place!

¡Váyase de este lugar!

Now an important note about negative imperatives. What if instead of saying “go”, what you want to say is “don’t go”? In those cases, we use no, and then instead of the imperatives you just learned, you simply use the subjunctive form. For example:

Don’t go.

No vayas.

And then if you want to say “don’t leave”, we don’t use the contraction vete; instead we say no te vayas.

No te vayas.

So even though this is considered an imperative, this is a way that negative imperatives work differently from positive imperatives: You use the normal subjunctive, and you don’t use contractions.

Let’s practice this with the negative versions of some of the sentences we just practiced.

Don’t leave.

No te vayas.

Let’s not go to the place.

No vayamos al lugar.

(All of you) don’t go to his house!

¡No vayan a su casa!

Let’s not leave the house!

¡No nos vayamos de la casa!

(All of you) Don’t leave this place!

¡No se vayan de este lugar!

(Formal) Don’t leave this place!

¡No se vaya de este lugar!

All right, if you’re ready, let’s get some more practice with these, as well as with all our new adjectives, using today’s final quiz.

One has to do what is right.

Uno tiene que hacer lo que está bien.

(formal) Leave!


Let’s leave since he has to study.

Vámonos ya que él tiene que study.

Vámonos ya que él tiene que estudiar.

Leave again!

¡Vete otra vez!

You didn’t have to have one.

No tenías que tener uno.

Have the thing that I had!

¡Ten la cosa que yo tuve!

Let’s go to another place at three.

Vamos a otro lugar a las tres.

Let’s go since there isn’t a lot of time.

Vamos ya que no hay mucho tiempo.

I hope they have what they have to have.

I hope que tengan lo que tienen que tener.

Leave now or they will have to clean.

Vete ahora o ellos tendrán que clean.

Vete ahora o ellos tendrán que limpiar.

You(formal) had to be there with her.

Usted tenía que estar ahí con ella.

There will be a need to work that day.

Habrá que work ese día.

Habrá que trabajar ese día.

There was a need to study for the test.

Había que study para the test.

Había que estudiar para el examen.

Go to the place where there are three houses!

¡Ve al lugar where hay tres casas!

¡Ve al lugar donde hay tres casas!

We’ll have to have it at two!

¡Lo tendremos que tener a las dos!

(All of you) Go now! We have to help them(m)!

¡Vayan ahora! ¡Los tenemos que help!

¡Vayan ahora! ¡Los tenemos que ayudar!

They had to do something better.

Tenían que hacer algo mejor.

She didn’t have time at 1, so she hasn’t done it.

No tuvo tiempo a la una, así que no lo ha hecho.

There’s a need to be there; let’s leave.

Hay que estar ahí, vámonos.

You have to tell them: “leave!”

Les tienes que tell: “¡Váyanse!”

Les tienes que decir: “¡Váyanse!”

She doesn’t want me to have both.

No she wants que tenga los dos.

No quiere que tenga los dos.

I had to cook for everyone.

Tenía que cook para todos.

Tenía que cocinar para todos.

(Formal) Go there with your friends!

¡Vaya ahí con sus amigos!

I hope you don’t have to work this weekend.

I hope que no tengas que work this weekend.

Espero que no tengas que trabajar este fin de semana.

Go to the place now!

¡Ve al lugar ahora!

I know we’ve covered a lot in this episode, and you may need to drill down on something specific, such as the word otra or using Irse imperatives. To get more practice with anything in particular, go to LCSPodcast.com/54 and work on whatever’s giving you trouble.

This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach Michael Agudelo. Our music was provided by the Seattle Marimba Quartet, and I’m Timothy, encouraging you to do the hard work of learning Spanish. Acquiring a second language is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, so start your fluency journey today at LCSPodcast.com.

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