The imperative is a type of sentence which is used to give orders and commands, but which can also be used to make polite requests. Imperatives differ in structure from declaratives because the verb always takes first position in an imperative (see Sentence structure). Because of the nature of imperatives (they issue a command), they are always addressed to the second person (‘you’): jij/jullie (informal) or u (formal).
Direct imperatives are either addressed to someone you would normally address with jij or jullie or in neutral situations where simple straightforward commands are required, such as directions or manuals. This kind of imperative simply consists of the stem of the verb. No subject is present.
When instructing someone you would normally address formally (u), the imperative needs to be more polite. In Dutch, that is solved by using a formal imperative. In these, the conjugated form of the verb for the second person formal is used, followed by u:
You can make an imperative less direct by softening the tone of the command. To achieve this effect, the modal particle maar is used (informal and formal). When used in this way, maar makes the imperative friendlier and encouraging.
Note that maar can not be translated with ‘but’ in these cases.
This kind of polite request is often heard in shops:
In many other situations commands are also turned into polite requests:
Maar in these examples is crucial: without it, those sentences would sound very rude. You will notice that in all the examples above, maar is not literally translated but please or thanks has appeared in the translation.
Note the position of maar: it occurs before a direct object when it is indefinite (e.g. Doet u maar een kilo) and follows it when it is definite (e.g. Zegt u het maar).
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