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New Testament Greek
Course III
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  Lesson 6 Imperative Mood, Prohibition  
  Imperative Mood  

An imperative verb is a verb used as a command or instruction. As noted in lesson 1 of this course, there has not been unanimity regarding the classification of the imperative as a mood. But because we have been discussing mood in terms of contingency, it makes sense to think of the imperative as a mood. When you instruct or command someone to do something, the performance of the instructed action is contingent upon the person's compliance. But the contingency is of a more specific sort than that indicated by the subjunctive mood.

The subject of the imperative verb is the one who is commanded or instructed. In English, we will often leave the subject unstated. We say the subject is "you" understood. For example, a parent tells a child, "Clean your room." The word clean is an imperative verb. Its subject is not explicitly stated, but is understood to be you. "(You) clean your room."

In English, true imperatives are always 2nd person verbs. Of course, we wouldn't expect a 1st person imperative. It doesn't make much sense to go around commanding or instructing oneself. Nor does English have 3rd person imperatives. But unlike English, Greek verbs are conjugated so that it is possible to give a command or instruction using a 3rd person imperative verb. So in Greek, we have 2nd person imperative forms and 3rd person imperative forms.

Translating 3rd person imperatives

Translating 3rd person imperatives into English is a bit tricky. If we say "He clean his room," it doesn't sound like a command; it just sounds like bad grammar. If we say, "Him clean his room," we have an objective case pronoun used as a subject. Instead, we end up using a work-around in English. Where the Greek has a 3rd person imperative, (a command or instruction to a 3rd person), English translations usually say "Let him..." We can think of Marie Antoinette who is supposed to have said, "Let them eat cake!" Or, using our previous example, the parent would announce, "Let my children clean their rooms." That's a command to the children, not an instruction to someone else telling him to allow the children to clean their rooms. Note carefully that although the English sentence might be diagrammed so that the word "let" would be considered a 2nd person imperative with "you" understood as the subject, the Greek phrase which is thus translated is a 3rd person imperative, a command or an instruction of which the subject is a third party. Examples will be offered below in the section under Syntax.

Imperatives as Entreaties

In many contexts, imperatives are more entreaties than commands. In English, "Pass the potatoes, please," is a request. Nonetheless, in this context the verb "pass" is considered an imperative even if it is spoken by a seven year old child to her mother. So it is in Greek also. The prayer, Τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον (Give us today our daily bread), uses the imperative verb δὸς (2nd person singular, present active of δίδωμι). But it is a request made to God. In the plea, ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν (Forgive us our debts), ἄφες is an imperative mood verb. Matthew's account of Jairus' plea on behalf of his daughter uses an imperative, ἐπίθες τὴν χεῖρά σου ἐπ’ αὐτήν, "Lay your hand upon her." In Mark's account, the same request was represented using a subjunctive, ἵνα...ἐπιθῇς τὰς χεῖρας αὐτῇ, "that...you might lay your hand on her."


In Greek, we see imperatives only in two tenses, the present tense and the aorist tense.


In the present tense, the following endings are attached to the 1st principal part stem by means of the usual connecting vowel. The endings are as follows:


1st principal part




singular 2nd person   --- σο
3rd person   τω σθω
plural 2nd person   τε σθε
3rd person   τωσαν σθωσαν

Inasmuch as none of the endings begin with μ or ν, the connecting vowel is always ε rather than ο.

In the middle voice, as in the present tense indicative mood, and more especially as in the secondary tense of the indicative mood, the σ drops out and the connecting vowel ε combines with 2nd person singular ending ο according to the usual rules of contraction to form ου.

λύ + ε + ο = λύου

The accent is recessive as is usual for verbs, and otherwise follows the general accent rules.

Notice that the 2nd person plural forms are indistinguishable from the 2nd person plural present indicative forms λύετε and λύεσθε. We will have to rely on context to determine whether these forms represent imperatives or indicatives, and there will be more than a few occasions where that determination will not be easy.

The present imperative is formed as follows:

present stem + connecting vowel + imperative personal ending

The conjugation of the present imperative of λύω is:


1st principal part




sing. 2nd person   λῦε λύου
3rd person   λυέτω λυέσθω
plur. 2nd person   λύετε λύεσθε
3rd person   λυέτωσαν λυέσθωσαν



The aorist imperative is formed in similar fashion. Remember, the secondary tense augment occurs only in the indicative mood. We won't see it in the imperative mood. And with 1st aorist stems, because they end in σα, we won't see a connecting vowel. As in the present tense, a contraction occurs in the second person singular middle form. The final α of the 1st aorist stem combines with the 2nd person singular ending αι according to the usual rules of contraction to form αι. That is, the two alphas combine to form one alpha. And so we have

λυσα + αι  = λῦσαι

The aorist (active and middle) imperative is formed as follows:

aorist stem + imperative personal ending

The conjugation of the aorist imperative of λύω is:


3rd principal part




sing. 2nd person   λῦσον λῦσαι
3rd person   λυσάτω λυσάσθω
plur. 2nd person   λύσατε λύσασθε
3rd person   λυσάτωσαν λυσάσθωσαν

We noticed that in the present tense, 2nd person plural imperatives look exactly like 2nd person plural indicatives. In the aorist tense, the secondary tense augment serves to distinguish between a 2nd person plural indicative form and a 2nd person plural imperative form. For example, in Acts 22:1 when Paul calls upon the people to listen to his defense, he uses the imperative ἀκούσατε. The indicative form, ἠκούσατε, is augmented.



With the exception of the 2nd person singular form, the same endings are used for the aorist passive imperatives as for the aorist active present. But for the passive voice, these endings are added to the aorist passive stem which ends in θη.

The aorist passive imperative is formed as follows:

aorist passive stem + imperative personal ending


6th principal part



sing. 2nd person λύθητι
3rd person λυθήτω
plur. 2nd person λύθητε
3rd person λυθήτωσαν

The following then, is the conjugation of the imperative of λύω:


1st principal part

3rd principal part

6th principal part






sing. 2nd person λῦε λύου λῦσον λῦσαι λύθητι
3rd person λυέτω λυέσθω λυσάτω λυσάσθω λυθήτω
plur. 2nd person λύετε λύεσθε λύσατε λύσασθε λύθητε
3rd person λυέτωσαν λυέσθωσαν λυσάτωσαν λυσάσθωσαν λυθήτωσαν



In the introduction to the imperative mood, we discussed its use conceptually. Now we need only illustrate what we have already described.

EXAMPLE 1, 2nd person

καὶ προσκυνήσατε τῷ ποιήσαντι τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν
καὶ θάλασσαν καὶ πηγὰς ὑδάτων
And worship the one who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of water.

EXAMPLE 2, 3rd person

δοξαζέτω δὲ τὸν θεὸν ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τούτῳ.
And let him glorify God in this name.

EXAMPLE 3, 3rd person

Καὶ προσκυνησάτωσαν αὐτῷ πάντες ἄγγελοι θεοῦ.
And let all angels of God worship him.

EXAMPLE 4, 3rd person

ἔχουσι Μωϋσέα καὶ τοὺς προφήτας· ἀκουσάτωσαν αὐτῶν.
They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.

EXAMPLE 5, 3rd person

Ὁ ἀναμάρτητος ὑμῶν πρῶτος ἐπ’ αὐτὴν βαλέτω λίθον
The one of you without sin, let him cast a stone against her first



The negated imperative expresses prohibition. As is true generally outside the indicative mood, μή rather than οὐ will typically be used to negate an imperative.

Μὴ θησαυρίζετε ὑμῖν θησαυροὺς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς
Do not store for yourselves treasure on the earth (Mt. 10:34)

Notice the μή embedded in μηκέτι in the following examples:

EXAMPLE 1, 2nd person (two imperatives, on affirmed and one negated)

πορεύου, καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν μηκέτι ἁμάρτανε. Jn. 8:11
Go and from now on no longer sin.

EXAMPLE 2, 3rd person

ὁ κλέπτων μηκέτι κλεπτέτω Eph. 4:24
The one who steals, no longer may he steal

Prohibition may also be expressed using an aorist subjunctive. The semantic difference between the negated aorist subjunctive and the negated present imperative has been exaggerated in not a few grammars including some notable ones. (Robertson , p. 851, Moulton, p. 240, D&M, etc.) Specifically, it has been said that the present imperative is used in prohibition when the intent is "Stop what you are doing," and the aorist subjunctive is used in prohibition when the intent is "Don't start doing it." For a less simplistic but more accurate analysis, see McKay (NovT 27 [1985] 201-26) Naylor (Classical Review 19, [1905] 26-30), and Mounce (p. 309), Wallace (p. 715), or Fanning (325-388).

If we keep in mind the fact that the present tense is fundamentally characterized by ongoing action and the aorist tense is used without defining kind of action, we will discern what distinction there is.


Given that the present tense is fundamentally characterized by ongoing action, a negated present imperative verb could be used to prohibit the continuation of an activity that is already in progress, but it could also be used to prohibit the habitual activity though it is not in progress.

The former is clearly indicated in John 8:11 because of the presence of ἔτι:

ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν μηκέτι ἁμάρτανε.
From now on, sin no more! [Cease doing what you have been doing]

But in 1 Peter 4:15 there is no need to suppose the readers were presumed to be suffering already as murderers, thieves, evildoers, and meddlers in other men's matters, even though a present imperative is used in the prohibition:

μὴ γάρ τις ὑμῶν πασχέτω ὡς φονεὺς ἢ κλέπτης ἢ κακοποιὸς
For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evildoer


In Greek generally, the aorist imperative was rarely used in prohibitions (Smyth, p. 409, §1840). It is found in the New Testament (e.g. Mt. 24:17), but not often. In prohibitions, the aorist subjunctive usually takes its place. The aorist imperative as a prohibition gives no hint of whether or not the activity is actually in progress. (However, see Robertson, top of p. 852)

Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον βαλεῖν εἰρήνην ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν.
Do not think that I came to cast peace upon the earth. (Mt. 10:34)

  Assignment for Lesson 6