In German, Dutch, and other languages, the imperative is distinct from the infinitive:

  • Dutch would be doe mee! (singular), doet mee! (plural or formal, dated).
  • German would be mach mit (singular) or macht mit! (plural or formal, less dated than Dutch form).

(literal meaning in English do along, better translation join me/us!)

Yet in both languages, the infinitive can also be used to give an order, functionally similar to the imperative, but different in form and tone. Dutch would be meedoen!, German would be mitmachen!. Other examples are opruimen! / aufräumen! (tidy / clean up!), wegwezen! (get out!), werken! / arbeiten! (work!), or ga stemmen! (go and vote!). The actual imperative form may sound quaint: ruim op!, wees weg!, werk!, or stem! (but werk ze! or stem op mij! sounds quite normal). A friend would say kom mee! (come along!), but if someone says meekomen! or mitkommen! they sound more like an unfriendly police officer or soldier.

What is the context of using the infinitive form to give an order, making it functionally similar to the imperative form? Are there other languages (that have a separate imperative form) that share this characteristic? Is using the infinitive to give orders more recent than using the imperative?

Related: Forming an imperative mood by using other grammatical moods or aspects across the languages

  • 2
    In Italian the negative form of the singular imperative is identical to the infinitive form (cf. parla!, speak, with non parlare!, don't speak) Apr 12 '21 at 15:50
  • At least in German (don't know about Dutch here) the infinitve is the now most popular way of writing a cooking receipe. This has changed over time: Oldest is the use of imperative (Nimm zwei Eier) than there was a phase of conjunctive (Man nehme zwei Eier) and nowadays it is infinitive Zwei Eier nehmen. Apr 12 '21 at 15:55
  • 3
    @DenisNardin in Italian it's also common to use the infinitive for the positive form, when giving "formal" instructions, such as in "Premere il pulsante per prenotare la fermata", or by police, as in stereotypical "Circolare, circolare, non c'è niente da vedere!". I think that sort of usage isn't dissimilar from the way it's done in German and Dutch, although I'm not very familiar with them.
    – LjL
    Apr 12 '21 at 19:19
  • 1
    It seems like a sort of elision of a longer sentence with modals. The tone feels roughly the same as the negated subjunctive in languages like Spanish or Armenian. Also it avoids having to decide between formal and informal or singular and plural. Apr 12 '21 at 19:21
  • @DenisNardin: Rather unsurprisingly, the same holds true for Romanian as well.
    – Lucian
    May 16 '21 at 1:39

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