English does not allow an imperative to be used in a subordinate clause:

  1. Eat that pizza!
  2. *There's a pizza on the table, which eat! (="which I order you to eat")
  3. *I told you eat that pizza!

(A superficially similar variant of 3 is grammatical: "I told you, eat that pizza!" - but here the imperative clause is not subordinate.)

But there's no obvious reason why this should be so. Pragmatically, an imperative is usually paraphrasable by a declarative, e.g. "I order you to Verb" or "You must Verb", and such declaratives are subordinatable like any others. Indeed, Ancient Greek allows subordinate imperatives to a limited extent (examples from Smyth's Greek Grammar, p. 411):

  1. kratêrés eisin ... hôn krât' érepson "There are mixing bowls ... the rims of which fill!" (="the rims of which you must fill")
  2. oîsth' hò drâson? "Do you know what do (impv.)?" (="Do you know what you are to do / what I'm telling you to do?")

So: which other languages allow subordinate imperatives? (By "imperative" here I mean a morphological form whose main or sole function is to express a directive speech act. There are languages where "subjunctive" forms of various kinds can be used to express commands in both main and subordinate clauses, but I'm not asking about those.) Are subordinate imperatives cross-linguistically rare, or do they only happen to be rare in modern European languages? And if they are rare, why should this be? (Presumably the answer should have to do with the differing pragmatic status of the content of main and subordinate clauses: e.g. in declarative sentences, the content of a subordinate clause often cannot be directly affirmed or denied, which seems relevant somehow.)

  • What about this sentence? "Help me!" was the only thing he could say. Here "Help me!" is the subject of the main sentence, "was the only thing", so it it is a subjective clause, isn't it? :)
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 21:55
  • 2
    @YellowSky I'm not at all sure that direct quotations should be regarded as a kind of subordinate clause, since they're completely autonomous from the rest of the sentence: basically anything can go inside the quotes, including material in a different language or in no language at all.
    – TKR
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 22:06
  • You are absolutely right, I'm sorry, I was just kidding. But seriously speaking, Russian allows real imperatives to be used in a subordinate clause, just like in your Greek examples, and I think it was Greek syntax that influenced Russian that way. I can compose my own examples, but let me find real ones in the Russian Corpus, and I'll submit an answer.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 22:15

1 Answer 1


In Russian, it is possible to use imperatives in different kinds of clauses, including attributive clauses (like your English example 2). Both of your Greek examples can well be translated into Russian with imperatives in the same positions as in Greek. The Russian language lacking Subjunctive and Optative moods, its imperative can be used in their meaning, such cases I will exclude from my answer, although Russian is brimming with them. I will give examples with the imperatives used only as direct commands.

In the following examples imperatives will be italicized.

First, my translations of your examples.

English example 2:

*There's a pizza on the table, which eat! (="which I order you to eat")

Лежит там пицца на столе, которую ты поедай немедля.

Greek 1:

There are mixing bowls ... the rims of which fill!

Посуда там стоит, которую ты до краёв наполни.

Greek 2:

Do you know what do?

Ты знаешь, что сделай?

And there are some examples from the Russian National Corpus:

1. Выложите лакомство в фруктовую вазу, края которой украсьте так, как вам подскажет фантазия. - "*Put out the delicacies on a dish, the rims of which decorate the way your fantasy suggests."

2. Возвратись теперь в своё владение, в котором ожидай меня (...). - "*Now go back to your domain, in which wait for me."

3. Все действия могут проходить по определенным принципам и правилам, которых придерживайтесь в реальном бою. - "*All the actions can take place according to certain principles and rules, which keep in a real combat."

From a letter by Anton Chekhov:

Привези мою фуражку маленькую, которую возьми у Ольги. - "*Bring me my small cap, which take from Olga."

  • Only a few of these translated Russian sentences doesn't sound in a Yoda-style. The first one is especially clumzy and ugly. But Russian imperative is a way different thing, though. The examples for the Corpus are not quite grammatical.
    – Manjusri
    Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 17:42
  • @Manjusri - Really? :D So, the cooking example is not quite grammatical, but Chekhov's one is OK? That's why you downvoted it?
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 18:50
  • Yes, the sentences you have 'translated' are clumzy and ungrammatical.
    – Manjusri
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 4:16
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    In my English translations the subjects are not plural, they are imperative, just the way TKR used them in his question, the English translation weren't meant to be correct according to the rules of English. Perhaps, my mistake was not to put asterisks there, I'll correct that. And what is natural in Russian is just subjective, at least for Chekhov it was natural to use an imperative after a relative pronoun.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 9:26
  • 1
    Conversations like this should take place in chat, not in comments. Those of us who don't speak Russian can get nothing whatever out of this exchange.
    – TKR
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 18:28

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