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Imperative in the main clause: command


ἀκόλαστον ἔσχε γλῶσσαν

‘Control your undisciplined mouth!’ (Eur. Orest. 10)

The imperative signals a command in the second and third person in the main clause.

Syntactic usage

Choice between aorist and present stem

The reason why a Greek speaker opts for the present stem or the aorist stem is still unclear, despite years of linguistic research. In the scientific literature on this subject one encounters three tendencies (see also the chapter on aspect):

  1. referential theories (‘perfective’ or ‘special’ command [AS] vs. ‘imperfective’ or ‘general’ command [PS]);
  2. pragmatic theories (command ‘in comment’ [AS] vs. command ‘in focus’ [PS]);
  3. sociolinguistic theories (‘polite’ command [AS] vs. ‘less polite’ command [PS])

So far none of the above theories is capable of explaining all the cases of the imperative. It is clear that the third person occurs much more frequently in the present stem than in the aorist stem.

Other aspect stems

Imperatives with a perfect stem are relatively rare. The future stem is normally not used to form an imperative (because both morphological categories refer to the future), but some verbs have unmistakable future forms: e.g. ἄξετε (2nd pl., of ἄγω 'to lead') and οἶσε (2nd sg., of φέρω 'to carry').


An imperative is often preceded by a particle ἄγε δή, φέρε δή or ἴθι δή 'come on!' (sometimes with νύν instead of δή). These particles are fixed, regardless of number or gender. In poetic language πᾶς is sometimes added to the second person singular.

Example Sentences: 

φέρε δή μοι τόδε εἰπέ· καλεῖς τι ἀληθῆ λέγειν καὶ ψευδῆ;

Come on, tell me, is there something you would call 'telling the truth or lies'? [provisional translation]

ἴθι νυν λιβανωτὸν δεῦρό τις καὶ πῦρ δότω

Come on, let somebody bring incense and fire over here now. [provisional translation]

ἀλλ᾽ ἐμοὶ πείθου καὶ μὴ ἄλλως ποίει

Well then, trust me and do nothing else. ֍

τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δίδου ἡμῖν τὸ καθ’ ἡμέραν

Give us today our daily bread. ֍

λαβὲ τὴν μάχαιραν

Take the knife. ֍

ἀνερρίφθω κύβος

Let the die be cast! ֍