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Bossy verbs – How to teach the imperative from Year 2 onwards

Help children get to grips with sentence types, with these top tips for identifying and using commands
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By Sue Drury

Last updated 05 June 2020

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If you think about it, the imperative must be one of the most basic moods in grammar. Once you get over its rather pejorative ‘bossy’ tag, you realise that it could well be the first verb form we respond to as infants: ‘Open wide’, ‘Come to Mama’ and so on. Even dogs can understand it, although cats less so.

Nevertheless, as teachers, we need to be able to help pupils to both recognise it and use it confidently, not least because it will almost certainly pop up in the SATs. So, get ready, pay attention and see how these tips could help you to teach imperative verbs with confidence.

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Imperative sentence – Know your sentence types

As you no doubt know, your pupils need to be able to identify and write four main types of sentences by the end of KS1: statements, questions, commands and exclamations. For example, ‘This is a book.’What is that book?’ ‘Read this book.’ and ‘What a great book this is!’ respectively.

Imperative verbs are a defining feature of commands. With monotonous regularity, Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling SATs feature questions that require pupils to identify sentence types so it is essential that you teach this thoroughly.

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Instruction – Breaking down commands

Make sure that your primary school class completely understands what we mean by commands in a grammatical sense. If they equate commands with barked orders, they might miss some because they are more like instructions than orders. In short, they are sentences by which someone is told (not asked) to do something.

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What makes a verb imperative?

A command sentence uses an imperative verb to say what is required to happen. The imperative uses the most basic form of the verb, known as the infinitive, without the word ‘to’ before it.

So, if the infinitives are to go, to fetch, to mix, to stir and to cut, the imperatives will be go, fetch, mix, stir and cut. For other examples that you can stick up on your walls, why not get hold of one of our KS1 interactive grammar displays?

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Where to place bossy verbs in a sentence

Resist the temptation to tell your class that the imperative verb goes at the beginning of the sentence. While this is often the case, as in ‘Put on your coat.’ it is not always true.

For example, command sentences often start with adverbials, such as ‘When it has risen, take it out of the oven.’ or even ‘Carefully turn it out of the cake tin.’ Obviously, ‘when’ and ‘carefully’ are not any form of verbs, let alone imperative ones.

You will notice, however, that the actual verbs (take, turn) still use the imperative form, no matter where they come in the sentence.

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Imperative word, polite tone – ‘Bossy’ isn’t always rude

In the same way that commands are not always orders, make sure that your pupils are not misled by the term ‘bossy’. Although it is useful as a sort of verbal shorthand to label imperative verbs as ‘bossy’, this does not mean that it has to be rude or officious.

The simple addition of the word ‘please’, for example, at the beginning of the sentence will prove that. Also, there are many ways to word a command sentence without it sounding bossy. Perhaps you could challenge your class to give an example that does not start with ‘please’.

Similarly, make sure that they do not confuse other sentence types with commands, just because they seem to do the same job. For example, ‘Would you mind being quiet?’ is a question whilst ‘I would like you to be quiet.’ is a statement.

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Bossy verbs – Spot the command

It is good practise in a lesson to ask children to pick out the command sentence from a collection of different sentence types as this is typically the sort of challenge they will find in a SATs paper. If possible, make them superficially as similar as possible, as in the being quiet example in tip 5.

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Writing an instruction text

The best text-type for learning how to write imperative verbs is the set of simple instructions. A cooking recipe is the most obvious example although you could say it is too predictable.

Why not bring a little humour into it? Here’s an idea: get your class to write instructions relating to a part of a story you’ve been sharing, such as how a wolf could eat Little Red Riding Hood or, for older children, how to brew a Hogwarts-style magic potion for a specific purpose.

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Exclamations and imperative verbs

Make sure your class can distinguish between exclamations and exclamation sentences. The latter begin with ‘how’ or ‘what’ and include a verb, such as ‘How clever you are!’ and ‘What big teeth you have!’.

Exclamations, on the other hand, such as ‘Help!’ or ‘Wow!’ express a strength of emotion; some even use imperative verbs, for example ‘Sit down!’ and ‘Come here, now!

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Practicing bossy verbs

As with most things, practising is an essential route to understanding. Our SPaG challenge mats provide an attractive, ready-made resource to secure their learning.

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Imperative form test

Whatever your feelings about tests, SATs practice is very important because it acclimatises pupils to the style of questions they are likely to face. Of course, you can go to the Government’s websites, download some past papers and extract the relevant questions.

Alternatively, you could make your life easier by using our SATs grammar recap worksheet resources.


Please accept our gratitude for reading this far. Now, feel inspired to go and teach the imperative in English lessons with confidence. See, there was nothing bossy about those commands, was there?

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