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

Keep scrolling for more

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.”
See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective In addition to the logistical challenge, an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system that minimized the risk of exposing hospital staff and non-infected patients to COVID-19 was imperative. David Ziegler, Fortune, "Passengers are afraid to fly. The right tools could help airlines woo them back," 18 June 2020 The imperative now should be figuring out how to maintain and improve social distancing in places like bars and restaurants, and certainly requiring that masks be worn in public settings, according to Hotez. Kate Gibson, CBS News, "Returning to work led to dad's COVID-19 death, anguished daughter says," 18 June 2020 Fast-tracking the removal of Interstate 345 is another imperative project. Mark Lamster, Dallas News, "How to suture a Dallas divided by racism," 12 June 2020 First and foremost, the FDA’s rigorous oversight – rather than a race to satisfy an aggressive and perhaps political agenda – is imperative during this pandemic. Leigh Turner, The Conversation, "Could pressure for COVID-19 drugs lead the FDA to lower its standards?," 10 June 2020 The Citizen Complaint Authority is required to complete case investigations in 90 days, imperative because it's supposed to be a part of the disciplinary process. Sharon Coolidge,, "Cincinnati's Citizen Complaint Authority: The director quit, it's underfunded & it's behind on cases. Now what?," 8 June 2020 But although anti-communism may no longer be the overriding imperative for the United States, its legacy is palpable elsewhere. Andre Pagliarini, The New Republic, "Where America Developed a Taste for State Violence," 5 June 2020 Given the potential for multigenerational health consequences and the exacerbation of existing health disparities, the imperative for action against police brutality is high. Chijioke Nze, STAT, "Police brutality is our lane too, doctors say," 5 June 2020 Before committing to painting an entire room, or even just an accent wall, testing is an imperative part of the process. Elizabeth Sweet, Better Homes & Gardens, "Top 10 Expert-Recommended Gray Paint Colors, Plus How to Pick the Best Shade," 1 June 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun This tsunami of pain and grief, of anger and outrage requires our attention as academic leaders just as much as the imperative of responding to the worst public health crisis our nation has experienced in a century. Time, "The Righteous Revulsion Driving the Demands for Racial Change in America," 19 June 2020 Economists are divided over how much damage moral hazard will incur, but largely agreed that the real imperative is to get a powerful package into place and to send a political signal as well as an economic one. Paul Gordon,, "EU Has the Cash for Virus Recovery So Here’s How to Spend It," 7 June 2020 She’s known for having a radical morality, as well as an imperative to get the story right. Haley Mlotek, The New Republic, "Barbara Ehrenreich Still Wants to Be Surprised," 1 June 2020 The data generated by mobile phones can play an incredibly valuable role by providing insights that can allow public health and economic imperatives to work in sync, rather than in opposition to one another. Alain B. Labrique For Cnn Business Perspectives, CNN, "It's foolish to worry about privacy when data can help fight coronavirus," 21 Apr. 2020 Normal imperatives like academic credit have been set aside. Matt Apuzzo, New York Times, "Covid-19 Changed How the World Does Science, Together," 1 Apr. 2020 By Diana Preston Atlantic Monthly, 398 pages, $28 Suffering from advanced congestive heart failure, the 63-year-old president made the long and perilous journey to Yalta with two imperatives. Benn Steil, WSJ, "‘Eight Days at Yalta’ Review: A Complicated Betrayal," 4 Feb. 2020 But questions have been raised about the very different imperatives that drive the three different professions at play: physician, journalist, TV personality. Jeffrey Kluger, Time, "In a Time of Pandemic, TV Doctors Wield Growing Influence. Is That A Good Thing?," 29 Apr. 2020 Who sets the technological, legal, and commercial policy imperatives in these cases? Ananya Bhattacharya, Quartz India, "The Reliance Jio deal could give Facebook a much-needed image makeover in India," 23 Apr. 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about imperative

Time Traveler for imperative

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for imperative

Last Updated

26 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Imperative.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Jul. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on imperative

What made you want to look up imperative? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

A More Exception(al) Quiz

  • hot dog  hot dog  hot dog  hot dog cat
  • Which of the following words is not a synonym for ‘a young person’?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Dictionary Devil

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!