im·​per·​a·​tive | \ im-ˈper-ə-tiv How to pronounce imperative (audio) , -ˈpe-rə- \

Definition of imperative

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : not to be avoided or evaded : necessary an imperative duty
2a : of, relating to, or constituting the grammatical mood that expresses the will to influence the behavior of another
b : expressive of a command, entreaty, or exhortation
c : having power to restrain, control, and direct



Definition of imperative (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : something that is imperative (see imperative entry 1): such as
a : command, order
b : rule, guide
c : an obligatory act or duty
d : an obligatory judgment or proposition
2 : the grammatical mood that expresses the will to influence the behavior of another or a verb form or verbal phrase expressing it

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Other Words from imperative


imperatively adverb
imperativeness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for imperative


masterful, domineering, imperious, peremptory, imperative mean tending to impose one's will on others. masterful implies a strong personality and ability to act authoritatively. her masterful personality soon dominated the movement domineering suggests an overbearing or arbitrary manner and an obstinate determination to enforce one's will. children controlled by domineering parents imperious implies a commanding nature or manner and often suggests arrogant assurance. an imperious executive used to getting his own way peremptory implies an abrupt dictatorial manner coupled with an unwillingness to brook disobedience or dissent. given a peremptory dismissal imperative implies peremptoriness arising more from the urgency of the situation than from an inherent will to dominate. an imperative appeal for assistance

Examples of imperative in a Sentence

Adjective … I have begun to feel each time as if I am mutilating my antennae (which is how Rastafarians, among others, think of hair) and attenuating my power. It seems imperative not to cut my hair anymore. — Alice Walker, Living by the Word, (1981) 1988 This strange and distorted form of breathing could be interrupted for a minute or two by a strong effort of will, but would then resume its bizarre and imperative character. — Oliver Sacks, Awakenings, 1973 We had a long and interesting evening with the Katzenbachs. He and Lyndon discussed the imperative need to make Washington a law-abiding city and how to go about it. — Lady Bird Johnson 27 Jan. 1965, A White House Diary1970 “Eat your spinach!” is an imperative sentence. “Help” in the sentence “Help me!” is an imperative verb. a verb in the imperative mood People resented his imperative tone of voice. Noun Ellroy has got to be the only writer who still uses "dig" as an imperative — Laura Miller, New York Times Book Review, 20 May 2001 Indeed, under pressure from a new way of life in which radiant heat from woodburning stoves must circulate unimpeded by dividers, virtually every house with a chimney today has abandoned the closed-door imperative of the high-technology kitchen. — Maxine Kumin, In Deep, 1987 "Maturity" had been a code word … for marriage and settling down; "growth" implied a plurality of legitimate options, if not a positive imperative to keep moving from one insight or experience to the next. — Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times Magazine, 20 May 1984 She considers it a moral imperative to help people in need. “Eat your spinach!” is in the imperative. “Go” and “buy” are imperatives in the sentence “Please go to the store and buy some milk.”
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Veysey said that imperative was in conflict with the desire of Landmarks Commission members who wanted the building set back from West 25th Street so as not to obscure views of the nearby St. Malachi Church. Steven Litt, cleveland, "Cleveland Landmarks Commission approves 16-story Bridgeworks apartment-hotel project at west end of Detroit Superior Bridge," 9 Apr. 2021 In the midst of a racial reckoning in America last summer, major media companies recognized the imperative to do a better job of representing the stories — and the projects — of diverse communities. Meg James, Los Angeles Times, "Social justice activist Tarana Burke lands CBS Studios production deal," 6 Apr. 2021 In parallel, all five of HHS’s former chief technology officers — spanning both Democratic and Republican administrations — have highlighted the imperative to rebuild outdated organ donation technology. Greg Segal, STAT, "Reforming and improving organ transplant systems will save lives, taxpayer dollars," 3 Apr. 2021 Perhaps the imperative to focus on domestic life, keep the clan together, burnish the family image and brush away the ugly spots was the central occupation of the Bush women, no matter what was happening outside the White House gates. Washington Post, "For three generations of Bush women, personal pain and a public spotlight," 19 Mar. 2021 And what about his own campaign-trail promise of accountability for the killers of the Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which now seems to have collided with the Realpolitik imperative of not offending a powerful ally’s Crown Prince? Susan B. Glasser, The New Yorker, "What Does National Security Even Mean Anymore, After January 6th and the Pandemic?," 4 Mar. 2021 Finally, the imperative to stay or get well on an individual level before trying to make any contribution to our teams was also felt viscerally in 2020. Nell Derick Debevoise, Forbes, "The GPS You Need To Avoid Getting Left Behind In The Future Of Work," 1 Mar. 2021 All of this would be unfortunate, regardless, but there are significant public policy implications that flow from the imperative to improve diversity at the department, including among the U.S. attorneys throughout the country. Ankush Khardori, The New Republic, "The Justice Department Is Way Too White," 8 Feb. 2021 The new, more forgiving guidelines highlight the difficulties the state has had in balancing the need to vaccinate vulnerable populations quickly with the imperative to prevent fraud and favoritism in the vaccine distribution process. New York Times, "After Unused Vaccines Are Thrown in Trash, Cuomo Loosens Rules," 10 Jan. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The new imperative is to quickly conceptualize, test, launch, and operationalize a series of smaller products and services targeted at specific segments of the market. Ron Shevlin, Forbes, "Embedded Fintech Versus Embedded Finance: Jumpstarting New Product Innovation In Banks," 12 Apr. 2021 This can be difficult in areas where testing lags, but it’s an international imperative. Eve Sneider, Wired, "Tracking Variants, New Hot Spots, and More Coronavirus News," 9 Apr. 2021 Pandemic or no, Brood X will rise—an immutable imperative of nature, human crisis be damned. Katherine J. Wu, The Atlantic, "Cicadas Know How to End a Multiyear Lockdown," 5 Apr. 2021 Rationalizing evil by calling it an imperative of the system, Barnes’s contention has a chilling historical resonance. Kyle Smith, National Review, "The Years Have Not Been Kind to Platoon’s Macho Melodrama," 6 Mar. 2021 For Unapologetic's James Dukes, whatever the fallout of 2020 was for Black artists, the ultimate imperative was simply to find a way to continue to create. USA Today, "From COVID-19 to protests, how 2020 impacted Black artists and creatives," 26 Feb. 2021 The imperative of statesmanship is to bring us together in the wake of the divisive Trump presidency. Donald Brand, Fortune, "Rushing Trump impeachment will only worsen America’s wounds," 15 Jan. 2021 Our shipbuilding and supporting vendor base constitute a national security imperative that must be steadily supported, and grown, to maintain a skilled workforce. al, "Austal USA breaks ground on steel production line, opening ‘new era’," 26 Mar. 2021 Youth advocates, economists, and other policy experts broadly agree on the overall imperative: post-pandemic programs specifically targeted at young people. Ned Temko, The Christian Science Monitor, "Millennials bore COVID’s economic brunt. Will boomers help them out?," 25 Mar. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'imperative.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of imperative


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2a


1530, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for imperative


Middle English imperatyf, borrowed from Late Latin imperātīvus, from Latin imperātus, past participle of imperāre "to give orders, command" + -īvus -ive — more at emperor


borrowed from Late Latin imperātīvus, noun derivative of imperātīvus imperative entry 1

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Learn More about imperative

Time Traveler for imperative

Time Traveler

The first known use of imperative was in the 15th century

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Statistics for imperative

Last Updated

16 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Imperative.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for imperative



English Language Learners Definition of imperative

 (Entry 1 of 2)

formal : very important
grammar : having the form that expresses a command rather than a statement or a question
formal : expressing a command in a forceful and confident way



English Language Learners Definition of imperative (Entry 2 of 2)

formal : a command, rule, duty, etc., that is very important or necessary
: the form that a verb or sentence has when it is expressing a command
: an imperative verb or sentence


im·​per·​a·​tive | \ im-ˈper-ə-tiv How to pronounce imperative (audio) \

Kids Definition of imperative

1 : expressing a command, request, or strong encouragement “Come here!” is an imperative sentence.
2 : urgent sense 1 It is imperative that you see a doctor.


im·​per·​a·​tive | \ im-ˈper-ət-iv How to pronounce imperative (audio) \

Medical Definition of imperative

: eliciting a motor response an imperative stimulus

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