In English the imperative is (outside of "let's") inseparable (to me) from commanding the person you are addressing (second person) to do something: "Stop walking!" is identical to "You stop walking!" and vice versa.

Because in English "you" can be tú or vosotros, I can understand having distinct conjugations for these. I also understand a nosotros conjugation (like "let's").

But I have seen the translation of the Scratch computer programming language using infinite-form imperatives. "decir 'algo'" and "repetir hasta que <...>"

What does this mean? Why is the imperative being used?

Is there a way to intuit it, or a parallel in English?

  • Infinitives have been used for practically ever as a totally neutral command form, e.g., on signage. Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 22:47
  • If you decide to use a personal form then you need to choose: "di (tu) 'algo'", "diga (usted) 'algo'", "decí (vos) 'algo'", "decid (vosotros) 'algo'", "digan (ustedes) 'algo'". That's why the infinitive "decir 'algo'" is normally used in recipes, instructions, algorithms...
    – aerobiomat
    Commented Feb 9, 2021 at 11:18

1 Answer 1


As @user0721090601 said in the comment above, the infinitive can be freely used instead of the imperative when an impersonal form of addressing people is allowed, i.e. not in a conversation. Signage is the typical case where the infinitive will be allowed and usually used. Instructions is another case.

The imperative is always personal and can be singular or plural depending on the number of people being addressed.

The only case where a nonfinite is similarly used in English occurs with the V-ing in the negative:

  • No trespassing (No pasar)

  • No smoking (No fumar)

  • Instructions like in a cooking recipe?
    – minseong
    Commented Feb 9, 2021 at 2:22
  • 1
    @theonlygusti exactly, or instructions for building a piece of furniture, for example. Such infinitive imperatives are more "distant" or "formal" than standard imperatives, so you will wind many cooking recipes that use the standard "tú" imperative or the "we" indicative, though.
    – wimi
    Commented Feb 9, 2021 at 8:16
  • Does this usage have any connection to the fairly common "(favor de) no fumar" or "(favor de) esperar aquí"? I always assumed it was a shortened form of this somewhat polite imperative, which itself seems a shortened form of the more formal (and more polite) "haga el favor de no fumar", or "tenga la bondad de esperar aquí".
    – cuevero
    Commented Feb 9, 2021 at 17:32
  • @cuevero I agree with you that "favor de no fumar" comes from "haga el favor de no fumar". We can also find "Por favor no fumar", a more polite way of saying "No fumar". I have also heard or seen the even shorter "Favor no fumar". With "favor de", the infinitive is not equivalent to the imperative but the term to the preposition "de".
    – Gustavson
    Commented Feb 9, 2021 at 17:46

Your Answer

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

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