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1.4.2.Imperative
quickinfo

Prototypical imperative constructions exhibit the following properties: (i) meaning: imperatives are directive in the sense that they are used to persuade the addressee to bring about a specific state of affairs; (ii) morphology; imperative verbs are derived from the stem by means of the zero marking -Ø; (iii) syntax: imperative verbs are finite and occupy the first position of the sentence; subjects are not overtly expressed; (iv) phonetics: the sentence-initial verb is stressed. All these properties can be found in the examples in (161).

161
a. Eet dat broodje op!
  eat  that roll  up
  'Eat that roll!'
b. Kom dat boek even halen!
  come  that book  prt  fetch
  'Come and fetch that book!'

This section will show, however, that there are a number of imperative constructions that do not exhibit all these prototypical characteristics, subsection I starts by showing that imperative sentences that exhibit the prototypical formal properties mentioned in (ii)-(iv) above can be used with functions other than those mentioned in (i). After that, Subsection II discusses a number of constructions with imperative semantics, but with formal properties other than those mentioned in (ii)-(iv).

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[+]  I.  Meaning of the imperative

Although formal imperatives are prototypically used with a directive meaning, this is not necessarily the case. Examples (162b&c) show that they can also be used to express a wish or be used in generic statements. The following subsections will briefly discuss these three uses.

162
a. Pak je koffer!
directive
  pack  your  suitcase
b. Eet smakelijk!
wish
  eat  tastily
c. Spreek hem tegen en je hebt meteen ruzie met hem.
generic
  contradict  him  prt.  and  you  have instantly  a.quarrel  with him
  'If someone contradicts him, heʼll instantly have an argument with him.'
[+]  A.  Directive use

Imperative constructions are typically used in clauses that are directive in nature, that is, that aim at persuading the addressee to bring about or maintain a specific state of affairs. They function as commands, requests, pieces of advice, encouragements, etc.

163
a. Zit!
command
  sit
b. Geef me het zout even, alsjeblieft!
request
  give  me the salt  prt  please
c. Bezoek je dokter eens!
advice
  visit  your physician  prt
d. Pak gerust een koekje!
encouragement
  take  carefree  a biscuit

In earlier work, like Vendler (1957) and Dowty (1979), it was claimed that the imperative is only possible with specific aspectual verb classes. States denoted by verbs like weten/kennen'to know', for example, were shown to be either unacceptable or to trigger readings in which the addressee is requested to perform certain actions unrelated to the imperative verb in question but that will ultimately result in the state denoted by the verb.

164
a. $ Weet het antwoord!
  know  the answer
b. Ken uzelf!
  know  yourself

Section 1.2.3, sub III, has shown, however, that all aspectual types can be used as imperatives provided that the addressee is able to control the state of affairs denoted by the verb in question; we give another set of examples in (165).

165
a. Zit stil!
state
  sit still
b. Wacht op mij!
activity
  wait  for me
c. Vertrek op tijd!
achievement
  leave  in time
d. Leg het boek op de tafel!
accomplishment
  put  the book  on the table

[+]  B.  Wishes and curses

Imperatives are sometimes also possible if the addressee is not able to control the event denoted by the verb, in which case the construction typically receives a wish or a curse reading, as in respectively the (a)- and (b)-examples in (166).

166
a. Slaap lekker!
  sleep  nicely
  'Sleep well!'
a'. Eet smakelijk!
  eat tastily
  'Have a nice meal!'
b. Krijg de tyfus!
  get  the typhus
b'. Val dood!
  drop  dead

A special case of this use is the so-called success imperative. The imperative form is followed by the element ze, which is normally used as a third person plural pronoun. It is not a priori clear, however, whether we are dealing with an object pronoun in the success imperative, given that ze is then typically non-referential and may also occur with intransitive verbs like slapen'to sleep' in (167b').

167
Regular imperative
Success imperative
a. Eet de appels/ze!
  eat the apples/them
  'Eat the apples/them!'
a'. Eet ze!
  eat  ze
  'Have a nice meal!'
b. * Slaap ze!
  sleep them
  Compare: '*Sleep them!'
b'. Slaap ze!
  sleep ze
  'Sleep well!'

The success imperative is used in contexts where (i) the addressee has the intention to perform a certain action and (ii) the speaker expresses his wish that this action will be performed to the satisfaction of the addressee; cf. Coppen (1998). Coppen adds that the action must be approved by the speaker, but it seems likely that this can simply be inferred from the fact that the speaker wishes the addressee success. Coppen finally suggests that the action involved is habitual in nature; one could not say spring ze!'jump well' to someone who is planning to jump from a table he is incidentally standing on, but it is perfectly acceptable to say it to someone who is planning to do some springboard diving. The habituality of the action denoted by the verb does not seem to be absolutely necessary, however, since one could readily say Kook ze !'Cook well!' to someone who has never cooked before but who is planning to give it a try. The restriction might therefore be more aspectual in nature in the sense that the action must be durative or iterative; we leave this open for future research.
      Corver (1995) and Coppen (1998) show that success imperatives are subject to several syntactic constraints. First, the verb must be (pseudo-)intransitive in order to occur in the success imperative: the primeless examples in (168) are intransitive and must be interpreted as success imperatives; the verbs in the singly-primed examples can be either transitive or pseudo-intransitive and can be interpreted either as a directive or success imperatives; the doubly-primed examples are necessarily transitive and can only be interpreted as directive imperatives.

168
a. Slaap ze!
  sleep ze/*them
  'Sleep well!'
a'. Eet ze!
  eat ze/them
  'Eat well!/'Eat them!'
a''. # Verorber ze!
  consume them/*ze
  'Consume them!'
b. Werk ze!
  work ze/*them
  'Work well!'
b'. Lees ze!
  read ze/them
  'Read well!/'Read them!'
b''. # Pak ze!
  take them/*ze
  'Take them!'

It is important to note that the element ze can never be used if the direct object is overtly expressed: Eet (*ze) je brood!'Eat your sandwiches!'. This suggests that the non-referential element ze in the success imperative may still act as a pronominal object, as is in fact suggested both by Corver and by Coppen.; the verb is unable to case mark ze because it already assigns accusative case to the direct object.
      Second, the examples in (169) show that although unaccusative verbs can be used in regular imperatives, they cannot enter success imperatives. This again suggests that the non-referential element ze acts as a pronominal object; since unaccusative verbs cannot assign accusative case, the element ze remains case-less and is therefore excluded.

169
Regular imperative
Success imperative
a. Kom/Blijf hier!
  come/stay  here
a'. * Kom/Blijf ze!
  come/stay ze
b. Vertrek nu!
  leave  now
b'. * Vertrek ze!
  leave  ze
c. Sterf!
  die
c'. * Sterf ze!
  die  ze

Finally, the examples in (170) show that although they can be used in regular imperatives, verbs taking a complementive or a verbal particle are not possible in success imperatives.

170
Regular imperative
Success imperative
a. Eet ze op!
  eat  them  up
a'. * Eet ze op!
  eat ze up
b. Lees ze voor!
  read them  aloud
b'. * Lees ze voor!
  read  ze  aloud
c. Verf ze groen!
  paint  them  green
c'. * Verf ze groen!
  paint  ze  green

The analyses proposed by Corver and Coppen are similar in that they assume that the element ze is pronominal in nature; as was already mentioned above this may account for the restrictions illustrated in (168) and (169). Corver accounts for the unacceptability of the primed examples in (170) by assuming that ze must be incorporated into the verb in order to license the success reading; this is possible if the object pronoun is an internal argument of the verb, but blocked if it functions as the logical subject of a complementive/particle. Coppen derives the unacceptability of the primed examples in (170) by assuming that success imperatives contain an empty complementive, which blocks the addition of another complementive/particle. This also accounts for the fact that the verb can be intransitive; the addition of a complementive may have a transitivizing effect and thus licenses the presence of the pronoun ze (see Section 2.2.3, sub I). Coppen further suggests that the postulation of an empty complementive may account for the non-referential status of the pronoun ze; the idiomatic examples in (171) show that ze is more often used non-referentially in such contexts.

171
a. Hij heeft [ze achter de ellebogen].
  he  has  them  behind  the elbows
  'Heʼs a sneak.'
b. Hij bakt [ze bruin].
  he  bakes  them  brown
  'Heʼs laying it on thick.'
[+]  C.  Use in generic statements

All cases discussed so far can readily be seen as directive in an extended meaning of the word. Proeme (1984) has shown, however, that there are also non-directive uses of the imperative. Consider the constructions in (172). These examples are still directive in nature, but the more conspicuous meaning aspect of these constructions is conditional: if the addressee performs the action denoted by the imperative verb, the event mentioned in the second conjunct will take place.

172
a. Kom hier en ik geef je een snoepje.
  come here  and  give you  a candy
  'If you come here, Iʼll give you a candy.'
b. Kom hier en ik geef je een pak slaag.
  come here  and  give  you  a beating
  'If you come here, Iʼll give you a beating.'

In (173), structurally similar examples are shown in which the directive interpretation has completely disappeared. In fact, these constructions are special in that the implied subject no longer refers to the addressee, but is interpreted generically; we are dealing with more widely applicable generalizations.

173
a. Spreek hem tegen en je hebt meteen ruzie met hem.
  contradict  him  prt.  and  you  have  instantly  quarrel  with hem
  'If someone contradicts him, heʼll instantly have an argument with him.'
b. Hang de was buiten en het gaat regenen.
  hang  the laundry  outside  and  it  goes  rain
  'Whenever one hangs the laundry outside, itʼll rain.'

In fact, it is even possible to use imperatives in conditional constructions that are unacceptable in isolation: although the clause in (174a) is infelicitous on an imperative reading—given that, under normal circumstances, the subject is not able to control the property denoted by the individual-level predicate blond haar hebben'to have blond hair'—it can be used as the antecedent ("if-part") of the conditional construction in (174b); cf. Boogaart (2004) and Boogaart & Trnavac (2004).

174
a. ?? Heb blond haar!
  have blond hair
b. Heb blond haar en ze denken dat je dom bent.
  have  blond hair  and  they think  that  you  stupid  are
  'If youʼre blond, people automatically think youʼre stupid.'

Non-directive imperatives can also be used to invite the addressee to empathize in the event, as in (175). Such examples may also be conditional in nature: the addressee is supposed to construe the imperative as the antecedent of an implicit material implication and to figure out the consequence ("then-part") for himself.

175
a. Word maar eens ontslagen als je 51 bent.
  be  prt  prt  fired  when  you  51  are
  'Imagine that youʼre fired when youʼre 51 years old.'
b. Werk maar eens van ochtend tot avond.
  work  prt  prt  from dawn  till dusk
  'Imagine that you have to work from dawn till dusk.'

      In the conditional constructions discussed so far the imperative functions as the antecedent of the implied material implication, but it can also function as the consequence, as is shown in (176).

176
a. Als hij een slecht humeur heeft, berg je dan maar.
  if  he  a bad temper  has  hide refl  then  prt
  'If he has a bad temper, then youʼd better hide.'
b. Als hij je niet mag, pak dan je boeltje maar.
  if  he  you  not  likes,  fetch  then  your things  prt
  'If he doesnʼt like you, then youʼd better pack your things.'

These constructions, which are typically used in narrative speech, exhibit the interesting property that the imperative in the consequence can occur in the past tense when the finite verb in the antecedent is also past.

177
a. Als hij een slecht humeur had, borg je dan maar.
  if  he  a bad temper  had  hid  refl  then  prt
  'If he had a bad temper, then youʼd better hide.'
b. Als hij je niet mocht, pakte dan je boeltje maar.
  if he you not liked  fetched  then  your things  prt
  'If he didnʼt like you, then youʼd better pack your things.'

The same thing holds for constructions in which the imperative is part of the antecedent of the material implication. In a story about his time of military service, the speaker can readily use an example such as (178); see also Proeme (1984) and Wolf (2003).

178
Kwam maar eens te laat of had je schoenen niet gepoetst, dan kreeg je gelijk straf.
  came  prt  some.time  too  late or had your shoes not  polished  then  got  you  immediately  punishment
'If one came too late or didnʼt polish his shoes, heʼd be punished immediately.'

Observe that example (178) contains not only an imperative verb in the past tense but also an imperative past perfect construction. The latter construction is more often used with a special meaning aspect. Consider the examples in (179a&b). Examples like these are counterfactual in nature; the event denoted by the main verb did not take place, and at the time of utterance this has some unwanted result. Examples like these are therefore mainly used as a means of reprimand or as an expression of regret, and are therefore more or less equivalent to if only-constructions, which are given here as translations.

179
a. Had dan ook iets gegeten!
  had  then  prt  something  eaten
  'If only youʼd eaten something!'
b. Was dan ook wat langer gebleven!
  was  then  prt  a.bit  longer  stayed
  'If only you had stayed a bit longer!'

The situation is reversed when the imperative clause contains the negative adverb niet'not', as in (180): the event denoted by the verb did take place, and it would have been better if it had not.

180
Had je dan ook niet zo aangesteld!
  had  refl  then  prt  not  that.much  prt.-pose
'If only you hadnʼt put on those airs!'

Past perfect constructions like (179) and (180) share the property of more regular imperatives that they require that the addressee has the potential to control the state of affairs denoted by the verb; examples such as (181) are semantically anomalous and can at best be used as a pun of some sort.

181
a. * Had het antwoord dan ook geweten!
  had  the answer  then  prt  known
b. # Was dan ook iets intelligenter geweest!
  was  then  prt  a.bit  more.inteligent  been
  'If only you had been a bit more intelligent!'

Constructions like (179) and (180) seem closely related to past perfect constructions with a counterfactual interpretation, which are discussed in Section 1.5.4.2, sub VII.
      Proeme (1984) claims that this kind of counterfactual imperative also occurs with a slightly more aggressive touch in the simple past tense, as in the primeless examples in (182), but at least some people consider examples of this type degraded and much prefer their past perfect counterparts in the primed examples. The cause of this contrast may be that the perfect (but not the past) tense implies current relevance; see Section 1.5.3 for discussion.

182
a. % Stopte dan ook! Nu heb je een ongeluk veroorzaakt.
  stopped  then  prt  Now  have  you  an accident  caused
a'. Was dan ook gestopt! Nu heb je een ongeluk veroorzaakt.
  was  then  prt  stopped  Now  have  you  an accident  caused
  'If only youʼd stopped! Now youʼve caused an accident.'
b. % Dronk dan ook niet zo veel! Nu heb je een kater.
  drank  then  prt  not  that much  now  have  you  a hangover
b'. Had dan ook niet zo veel gedronken! Nu heb je een kater.
  had  then  prt  not  that much  drunk  now  have  you  a hangover
  'If only you hadnʼt drunk that much! Now youʼve got a hangover.'

Simple past tense can be readily used, however, to express an irrealis meaning. The examples in (183) both function as advice, but the past tense variant in (183b) expresses in addition doubt on part of the speaker about whether the advice will be followed. For a more general discussion of the relation between past tense and irrealis, see Section 1.5.4.1, sub VII.

183
a. Rook eens wat minder, dan is die benauwdheid snel over!
  smoke  prt  a.bit  less then  is  that  breathlessness  quickly  cured
  'If you smoke a bit less, that breathlessness will soon be cured.'
b. Rookte eens wat minder, dan is die benauwdheid snel over!
  smoked  prt  a.bit  less then  is  that  breathlessness  quickly  cured
  'If you smoked a bit less, that breathlessness would soon be cured.'
[+]  II.  Formal properties of the imperative

This subsection discusses a number of constructions with imperative or imperative-like meanings. We will begin the discussion with the prototypical imperative, that is, with constructions without a phonetically realized subject in which the imperative form consists of the stem of the verb. After that, we will discuss a number of other verb forms that can potentially be used to express the imperative mood. The discussion will focus on these verb forms and a small number of conspicuous syntactic properties of the structures they are used in.

[+]  A.  Finite subjectless imperatives: stem + -Ø/-t

Finite subjectless imperatives are typically formed by means of the stem with the zero marking -Ø. In the formal register it is also possible to mark the imperative as plural by adding a -t ending, but in colloquial speech this has only survived in fixed expressions like the one given in (184b).

184
a. Komsg/pl hier!
colloquial
  come  here
b. Komtpl allen!
formal/formulaic
  come  all

The reason that we refer to these imperative forms as finite is that they appear clause-initially; while non-finite main verbs always follow verbal particles and complementives, the examples in (185) show that the imperative forms under discussion must precede them—in fact they typically occur in sentence-initial position.

185
a. Leg dat boek neer!
  put  that book  down
a'. * Dat boek neer leg!
  that book  down  put
b. Sla die mug dood!
  hit  that mosquito  dead
b'. * Die mug dood sla!
  that mosquito  dead  hit

In occupying the first position in their sentence, finite imperatives differ markedly from indicative verbs in declarative clauses, which normally are preceded by some constituent; cf. the contrast between the two examples in (186); we refer the reader to Section 11.2.3 for a more extensive discussion of this.

186
a. Dat boek geef ik morgen terug.
  that book  give  tomorrow  back
  'That book Iʼll return tomorrow.'
b. * Dat boek geef direct terug!
  that book  give  immediately  back

The examples in (187) show that imperative verbs can be preceded by left-dislocated elements, which are separated from the clause by means of an intonation break and which function as the antecedent of some pronoun in the sentence. Note that the resumptive pronoun can at least marginally be omitted in imperatives (but not in declaratives).

187
a. Dat boek, ik geef *(het) direct terug.
  that book give     it  immediately  back
  'That book, Iʼll return it immediately.'
b. Dat boek, geef ?(het) direct terug!
  that book  give   it  immediately  back
  'That book, return it immediately.'

      Imperative clauses are always main clauses, and can only be embedded as direct speech; see the contrast between the two examples in (188).

188
a. * Jan riep dat dat boek neer leg!
  Jan called  that  that book  down  put
b. Jan riep: "Leg dat boek neer!"
  Jan called    put  that book  down

      The examples in (189) show that Dutch freely allows negative imperatives with all event types; telic cases like (189c&d) can sometimes be construed as warnings, but more directive interpretation are possible as well: Lees dat boek maar niet!'Donʼt read that book!'. In this respect Dutch sharply differs from languages like Italian, which do not allow finite imperatives with negation; see Postma & Wurff (2007) for discussion.

189
a. Vrees niet!
  fear  not
  'Donʼt be afraid!'
c. Val niet!
  fall  not
  'Donʼt fall!'
b. Zeur Niet!
  nag  not
  'Donʼt nag!'
d. Breek die vaas niet!
  break that vase not
  'Donʼt break that vase!'

      Since the verb is in initial position, the subject is expected to follow it. The examples above have already shown, however, that this expectation is not borne out and that the subject is normally suppressed. This does not imply, however, that it is also syntactically absent. That subjects are syntactically present is strongly suggested by the fact that it is possible to use anaphors like je(zelf)/u(zelf)'yourself' and elkaar'each other', which normally must be bound by an antecedent in the same clause. The form of the anaphors also shows that we are dealing with an empty subject that is marked for second person but underspecified for number and the politeness feature; cf. Bennis (2006/2007). See Section N5.2.1.5 for a more detailed discussion of the binding of anaphors.

190
a. Beheers je!
  control  reflsg
  'Control yourself!'
a'. Beheers jullie!
  control  reflpl
  'Control yourself!'
a''. Beheers u!
  control  reflpolite
  'Control yourself!'
b. Kijk naar jezelf!
  look  at yourselfsg 
b'. Kijk naar jezelf!
  look  at yourselfpl 
b''. Kijk naar uzelf!
  look  at yourselfpolite
c. Help elkaar!
  help  each.other

The examples in (191) show that the pronouns jij, jullie and u can sometimes be used in combination with finite imperatives. They do not have the function of subjects, though, but function as vocatives (which are assigned default, nominative case). This is clear from the fact that at least the primeless examples are unacceptable without an intonation break (due to the lack of subject-verb agreement), that the pronouns can occur in the right periphery of the clause, and that the pronouns can all readily be replaced by a proper noun or an epithet; e.g., Kom eens hier, Jan/sukkel(s)!'Come here, Jan/idiot(s)!'.

191
a. Jij (daar), kom eens hier!
  you  over.there  come  prt here
a'. Kom eens hier, jij (daar)!
  come  prt.  here  you over.there
b. Jullie (daar), kom eens hier!
  you  over.there  come  prt here
b'. Kom eens hier, jullie (daar)!
  come  prt.  here  you over.there
c. U (daar), kom eens hier!
  you  over.there  come  prt.  here
c'. ? Kom eens hier, u (daar)!
  come  prt.  here  you over.there

      Subjectless finite imperatives can also be used to express general rules. This means that the implied subject can also be interpreted like the non-referential second person pronoun in statements such as (192a). On this interpretation the use of a vocative of course leads to a degraded result.

192
a. Je moet elke dag minstens een half uur bewegen.
  you  must  each day  at.least  a half hour  move
  'One has to have physical exercise for at least half an hour each day.'
b. Beweeg elke dag minstens een half uur (*jij daar).
  move  each day  at.least  a half hour    you over.there
[+]  B.  Infinitival subjectless imperative: stem + -Ø/-t/-en

Besides the finite subjectless imperatives discussed in Subsection A, Dutch has infinitival subjectless imperatives. This is illustrated in (193), which also shows that there is no aspectual restriction on the verbs that can be used as such. The only requirement is that the addressee is able to control the event; compare the discussion in Subsection IA.

193
a. Zitten!
  sit
c. Vertrekken!
  leave
b. Wachten!
  wait
d. Neerleggen!
  down-put

According to Haeseryn et al. (1997), infinitival imperatives are used especially to express instructions that are not directed towards a specific person, e.g., in directions for use or prohibitions, and indeed it seems that the primeless examples in (194) are more common in such cases than those in the primed examples. Perhaps this is related to the fact that infinitival imperatives are often experienced as more polite than finite imperatives.

194
a. Schudden voor gebruik.
  shake before use
a'. Schud voor gebruik!
  shake  before use
b. Niet roken, a.u.b.
  not smoke please
  'Donʼt smoke.'
b'. Rook niet, a.u.b.!
  smoke  not please
  'Donʼt smoke, please!'
c. Duwen/Trekken.
  push/pull
c'. Duw!/trek!
  push/pull

Since we are dealing with infinitival verbs, we would expect the verb to be in clause-final position. The fact that the verb leggen'put' must follow the verbal particle neer'down' in (193d) shows that this expectation is indeed borne out. This is also illustrated in the examples in (195), which show that infinitival imperatives can be preceded by more than one constituent.

195
a. Even stil zitten!
  for.a.moment  quietly  sit
  'Sit quietly for a moment!'
c. Graag op tijd vertrekken!
  gladly  in time  leave
  'Leave in time, please!'
<
b.