I know many languages don't have the word "to be" (e.g. Hawaiian), but I don't know how they form "to be" imperatives. I'm not asking specifically about Hawaiian, though that is welcome as well. Mostly, I am interested whether all languages can form imperatives with adjectives denoting emotions.

Any info is appreciated.

  • 2
    Many languages that exhibit a zero copula also exhibit non-zero copula in various contexts, usually emphatic ones. (Russian for example.) It seems to me roughly the same then as the English imperative "Quiet!" instead of "Be quiet!", that is we could say that English optionally exhibits zero copula in the imperative and can form imperatives with an adjective only. So we should assume you want one where "to be" is not just optional but totally non-existent? Sep 3, 2018 at 17:56
  • That's interesting, I haven't thought of "Quiet!" But that can't be done with other adjectives (especially the ones dealing with emotion/feelings) in English. But yes, I'm looking for those languages where "to be" isn't even used in cases such as "be happy" or "be brave" etc...
    – Lazar
    Sep 3, 2018 at 21:13

3 Answers 3


Thai is somewhat similar to what jick described for Korean in that its adjectives are stative verbs but cannot be used as imperatives, so the phrase "be happy" would be achieved by one of any number of circumlocutions.

To me, the most interesting one is that even though Thai has no imperative suffix or particle, it does have an auxiliary adverb อย่า (yàa) which is used to convert an imperative sentence to negative--i.e., it essentially translates as "don't". For whatever reason, อย่า at the beginning of a sentence seems to make speakers comfortable using stative verbs as imperatives, perhaps because in that position it feels like อย่า is actually the main verb of the sentence (just my speculation there). In any event, a Thai speaker could creatively achieve a stative imperative by using อย่า followed by the antonym of their desired adjective. Thus, despite the impossibility of directly saying "be happy," a Thai speaker would have no trouble directly saying "don't be sad" (lit. "don't sad"): อย่าเศร้า (yàa sâo).


Korean is unusual in that its "adjectives" (or "stative verbs") behave like full-fledged verbs. (Imagine, instead of "He is happy" or "a happy person", you say "He happies" and "a happying person".)

Standard Korean used to disallow imperatives for adjectives, so, for example, instead of saying "행복해라 Be happy", you would use "행복해져라 Become happy" or other similar construction. However, these days, many adjectives are used with imperatives freely, though I think it's still frowned upon by prescriptivists.

One place imperatives are still not allowed is actual copula "-이다 ida", which attaches to a noun. E.g.,

그는 행복한 사람이다. He is a happy person.

geu-neun haengbok-ha-n saram-i-da

He-topic [happiness-(adj making suffix)]-(modify following noun) person-be-(sentence ending)

You cannot change it to "Be a happy person", so instead you will need a different verb, such as "Become a happy person", or maybe "Live happily", or something else.

  • 1
    Thank you for the valuable information. So if I understand correctly, since "happy" is more of a verb in Korean anyway (something like "to happy"), the first frowned upon imperative you describe would literally be something like "happy!" as in (go and happy!)?
    – Lazar
    Sep 3, 2018 at 23:19
  • @Lazar Yes, except that Korean has an "imperative" suffix for verbs/adjectives, while in English the plain form also serves as imperative form.
    – jick
    Sep 3, 2018 at 23:47

In Riffian language, adjectives are not associated with a copula, but this latter appears when the imperative is used : d-ameggwed = he is fearful, ili d-ameggwed = to be fearful. It also comes out in the interrogative and the negative modalities.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.