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 For predominantly Black communities such as Warrensville Heights, distributing information about the vaccine is imperative, said Mayor Brad Sellers. Cameron Fields, cleveland, "How wide is the racial disparity between Black and white Ohioans receiving coronavirus vaccines?," 19 Feb. 2021 This small but significant add-on is imperative to keep things safe. Carsen Joenk, Popular Science, "Best space heater: Stay warm in every space, from the garage to the basement," 18 Feb. 2021 The Sox added to their bullpen, namely with Adam Ottavino, but the overall production of the pen — including more consistent outings from Matt Barnes — is imperative. Globe Staff,, "A lot of questions to be answered by Red Sox in spring training," 13 Feb. 2021 Those numbers were halved in 2020 due to the pandemic, making the return to travel more imperative than ever. Stacey Leasca, Travel + Leisure, "California Just Set up a Hotline You Can Call to Help Plan a Future Trip to the State," 22 Jan. 2021 With that struggle, the run game became even more imperative. Giana Han, al, "Instant analysis: Auburn defense crumbles in loss to Texas A&M," 5 Dec. 2020 Right now, amid a global pandemic, an all-enveloping news feed, and an incredibly polarizing political and social divisiveness, listening to your entire being is even more imperative. Shauna Harrison, SELF, "How to Plan Your Workout When Your Mind and Body Are All Over the Place," 4 Dec. 2020 Their play against a veteran Seton Hall team became all the more imperative when Samuell Williamson went out in the second half with a right toe injury and did not return. Shannon Russell, The Courier-Journal, "What we learned from Louisville basketball's thriller win against Seton Hall," 27 Nov. 2020 The coach behind the backfield knows that a better ground game is imperative, if USC has any hope of taking a step forward in 2021. Ryan Kartje, Los Angeles Times, "There’s no excuses for USC’s poor running game, Mike Jinks says," 15 Jan. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun And the crudeness wasn't some moral imperative, though some Limbaugh denouncers presented it as such. Frank Bruni, Star Tribune, "Progressives: Must we dance on Limbaugh's grave?," 22 Feb. 2021 There is also a moral imperative, Ms. Selenski said. New York Times, "Saving at Work for Retirement: A Perk Coming to More States in 2021," 22 Dec. 2020 Educators said immunizing school employees early is a moral imperative because millions of children are struggling to learn at home and falling behind academically, as well as in their social and emotional development. Dustin Gardiner,, "California teachers push to be near front of COVID vaccine line," 14 Dec. 2020 Above all, our greatest imperative is to protect the planet for future generations. Gretchen Whitmer, Fortune, "How cities and states can work with the Biden administration to address America’s biggest challenges," 14 Nov. 2020 Malcolm, who faces different constraints, urges them to connect their own freedom with something larger, an imperative that each of the others, in his own way, acknowledges. New York Times, "One Night in Miami," 14 Jan. 2021 The regulations already in place include strict mask and social distancing requirements for employers who deem on-site work an imperative. Dave Boucher, Detroit Free Press, "Whitmer warns she's 'strongly considering' any action to combat COVID-19 spread," 12 Nov. 2020 New data from the Rhodium Group, analyzed by ProPublica, shows that climate damage will wreak havoc on the southern third of the country, erasing more than 8% of its economic output and likely turning migration from a choice to an imperative. Lucas Waldron, ProPublica, "Climate Change Will Make Parts of the U.S. Uninhabitable. Americans Are Still Moving There.," 10 Nov. 2020 For Lindsey Leininger, a public health educator and clinical professor at Dartmouth University, winning more people over to the side of science is an existential imperative. Nicholas Florko, STAT, "‘Science was on the ballot’: How can public health recover from a rebuke at the polls?," 4 Nov. 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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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

27 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Imperative.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.

Style: MLA
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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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