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
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 Even during the coronavirus pandemic, exercise is imperative. oregonlive, "How to keep kids active, occupied during coronavirus crisis," 21 Mar. 2020 With waning public trust in our institutions and a newer generation of socially conscious workers stepping onto the scene, this has become an imperative both in our workplaces and in society. Shelby Hawker, Quartz at Work, "Three questions that will bring your workplace closer to gender equality," 12 Mar. 2020 Universities have an imperative to recognize the intersectionality of climate justice and divest from these unethical, extractive and exploitative industries. De Elizabeth, Teen Vogue, "Protesters Interrupt Harvard-Yale Football Game to Fight Back Against Climate Change," 24 Nov. 2019 The possibility that all weakness could be hushed through sheer force of willpower was an imperative that Sontag suffered under for her entire life. Leslie Jamison, The New Republic, "The Remaking of Susan Sontag," 12 Sep. 2019 The increase in America’s racial diversity is an opportunity to embrace racial equity as an economic and moral imperative. Fortune, "We Can Fix the Racial Wealth Gap by Reforming Hiring Practices," 3 Sep. 2019 Other founders and investors echo this refrain—not just as a matter of principle, but as an imperative for the future growth and evolution of their own companies. Hilary George-parkin, Glamour, "The Unspoken Hurdle of Getting Funding for Plus-Size Fashion Brands," 28 Aug. 2019 What is clear is that some of Biden’s rivals see an imperative to begin taking him on aggressively. Bill Barrow, The Denver Post, "Biden is still the Democrat to beat, but rivals see weakness," 10 Aug. 2019 The moral imperative that such an atrocity should never again be visited upon any people already implies the possibility of a reprisal—with all of its terrifying consequences. Peter E. Gordon, The New York Review of Books, "Why Historical Analogy Matters," 7 Jan. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Any strategy to rid the country of Netanyahu now feels like a democratic imperative. Bernard Avishai, The New Yorker, "In Israel, an Unprecedented Political Crisis Is Compounded by the Coronavirus—and Netanyahu Is Benefitting," 19 Mar. 2020 In Seattle, the intersection of these interests became the site of a major pile-up, a collision, a clash of priorities and imperatives. Nick Perry,, "Former WTO leader and New Zealand premier Mike Moore dies," 2 Feb. 2020 Even the cosmic imperative for the three realms to exist in harmony are mentioned. Ariana Romero,, "How The Heaven Does CAOS‘ Time-Splitting Ending Actually Work?," 24 Jan. 2020 These geopolitical imperatives will continue to drive the despoliation of the region and its people. Steven Simon, The New York Review of Books, "The Middle East: Trump Blunders In," 16 Jan. 2020 This brief piece is rich with historical detail from the military dictatorship forward, weaving together the Brazilian political situation with global climate imperatives in an easily digestible essay. Will Meyer, Longreads, "Fire Sale: Finance and Fascism in the Amazon Rainforest," 4 Oct. 2019 Hiring and training refugees and other skilled immigrant workers is an economic imperative as well as a moral one. Katie Nielson, Quartz, "The US has a skills gap problem—and it’s ignoring its most obvious solution," 10 Jan. 2020 Every Tuesday and Friday for six weeks, Holmes developed the idea that the common law had evolved not according to any internal reason but according to the felt imperatives of the day. John Fabian Witt, The New Republic, "The Shrinking Legacy of a Supreme Court Justice," 1 Oct. 2019 The very gray world of redefining goals and moral imperatives provides a thread that ties together the series and applies to the ordinary reality many of us experience. cleveland, "‘Orphan X’ author Gregg Hurwitz to speak about latest thriller at Strongsville Library Feb. 5," 12 Jan. 2020

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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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

24 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Imperative.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Mar. 2020.

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More Definitions for imperative


How to pronounce imperative (audio)

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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