Is the rule for when to prefer tu vs você different with the imperative? I actually thought that it was.

I thought phrases like "vai fora" were typical, and so you would in casual conversation use the "tu" form for imperatives. Today I covered phrases with ver and virar that both used the você form, and were equally (perhaps more so) general phrases.

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    I do not quite understand what you mean in your last sentence. Do you mean you were taught in class to command «veja bem» and «vire à direita» if you address someone by você, rather than say «vê bem» and «vira à direita»?
    – Jacinto
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 17:37
  • Yes, I remember, it was vire .. later looking in the conjugation tables, I noticed that that was not the form I was expecting. Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 20:14
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    I'm just thinking that when people say things like, «vai fora», they're not consciously substituting the second person imperative for the third person; they're probablly substituting the third person indicative for the imperative. It's just that third person indicative and second person (affirmative) imperative are alike in nearly all verbs (the verb ser is the only exception I can think of).
    – Jacinto
    Commented Jan 27, 2016 at 0:26

1 Answer 1


The grammar rules are simple. If you address someone by você then the imperative, as everything else, goes third person singular; if you address someone by tu, then, well, it’s second person singular:

Como está (você)? Sente-se aqui. Esteja à vontade. Tome um café, coma um bolinho.

Come estás (tu)? Senta-te aqui. Está à vontade. Toma um café, come um bolinho.

And in European Portuguese that’s that: tu is informal whereas você is semi-formal (o senhor, a senhora is formal), so you’re very conscious that tome um café, coma um bolinho implies some formality, and toma um café, come um bolinho implies familiarity; so with any particular person you either use one all the time or the other all the time, and never mix the two.

In most of Brazil tu, if used at all, and você are both informal, and so it is easier to mix the two. And it is common in colloquial language to use você together with the second person singular imperative:

Como está (você)? Toma um café, come um bolinho. Oi, você aí! Vai fora!

Now this is colloquial language, so you won't find it in conjugation tables, and you have website after website telling you that in examinations, job interviews, and other formal settings, you are required to follow proper grammar. Here’s one, and here’s another bearing on the use of the imperativo. On the other hand I would have thought Brazilians will not think you have a spoon up your nose just because you follow grammar rules for imperative use. But I am Portuguese and you may want Brazilian advice on this point.

  • I think the question was more in the line of "in the context of Brazilian mixing of tu and você, is there a preference in the use of the 2nd persons imperative form for some verbs?" That will be hard to answer, because some verbs are also more formal than others and therefore will tend for that reason alone to be used more frequently with the 3rd person forms. Another reason is that the imperative forms are shared with other tenses. This makes simple counting impossible; you have to rely on good corpus annotations and control for register.
    – Artefacto
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 22:23
  • @Artefacto My reading is different: I hear people speaking like this, and grammars tell me a different thing.
    – Jacinto
    Commented Jan 27, 2016 at 0:36

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