The Imperative or How to order people around

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The imperative is the form of verbs used to give commands or to forbid something, when used in the negative. In Gaelic, it corresponds to the citation form of verbs, i.e. the form of a the verb you will find in a dictionary. To give a command to more than one addressee, the suffix -(a)ibh [ɪv] is added to the root, for example:

glan seo! clean this!
glanaibh seo! clean this! (to more than one)
ith seo! eat this!
ithibh seo! eat this! (to more than one)

If a basic verb phrase includes a preposition, the preposition is usually dropped in the imperative, for example:

éist ri rudeigin! listen to something!
éist seo! listen to this!
éistibh seo! listen to this! (to more than one)
feuch ri rudeigin! try something!
feuch seo! try this!
feuchaibh seo! try this! (to more than one)

Emphasis is expressed by using the emphasized personal pronouns, for example:

éist thusa seo! you listen to this!
éistibh sibhse seo! you guys listen to this!
feuch thusa seo! you try this!
feuchaibh sibhse seo! you guys try this!

There are also imperative forms for the first and third persons singular and plural. These carry a sense of encouragement or request, and they're best translated as 'let ...'. These forms are also referred to as subjunctive forms. The third person is always followed by a personal pronoun. Thus the full paradigm of suffixes is:

-(e)am 1st Person Singular let me ...!
2nd Person Singular ...!
-(e)adh e/i 3rd Person Singular let him/her ...!
-(e)amaid 1st Person Plural let us ...!
-(a)ibh 2nd Person Plural you guys ...!
-(e)adh iad 3rd Person Plural let them ...

N.B. In the imperative, 'let' does not carry the meaning of 'give permission'. It's more like a suggestion or encouragement, like in English 'let's go!' or à la Marie Antoinette 'let them eat cake!'. For example:

òladh ise uisge! let her drink water!
òlamaid uisge! let us drink water!

The negative is formed by putting na in front of the imperative forms. Na prefixes h- to a verb beginning with a vowel, for example:

na glan seo! do not clean this!
na glanaibh seo! do not clean this! (to more than one)
na h-ith seo! do not eat this!
na h-ithibh seo! do not eat this! (to more than one)

There's another negative particle that you can stick in front of imperatives: nar, a leniting particle. However, they're both a bit tricky to translate. They're normally translated as "don't let/let not" but they have a different force, in Gaelic. The one above, na is meant as a straightforward order. But the other, nar, is what linguists call a negative optative complementiser. It's use reflects something like wishful thinking. Here are some examples of where you might see this:

nar leigeadh Dia! Heaven forbid, God forbid!
nar fhaiceam i! may I not see her, let me not see her!

There are a few verbs which are only used in the imperative:

thugainn/thugnaibh let's go!
trobhad/trobhadaibh come along!
siuthad/siuthadaibh go on, carry on, go for it!



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