When giving directions in German in a formal setting, one has to put the word 'Sie' after the verb, as such:

gehen Sie zwanzig Minuten geradeaus

How could I say the same sentence in an informal setting (using gehst and du)?

1 Answer 1


Gehen Sie zwanzig Minuten geradeaus is an example of an imperative.

There are three main forms for the imperative in German, formal, informal singular and informal plural.

Technically, the formal imperative is a separate verb conjugation, but it's nearly always identical to the infinitive and I think that's the source of confusion here. In the case of sein, the formal imperative is different, seien instead of sein: Seien Sie vorsichtig. The informal singular imperative is more complex, but it's usually just the verb stem with an optional -e at the end. (The -e is sometimes mandatory depending on the verb.)

Also, while the subject must be included in the formal imperative, it's usually dropped in the informal version. So either Geh zwanzig Minuten geradeaus or Gehe zwanzig Minuten geradeaus would work. If you're talking to more than one person in an informal situation, then you need to use the informal plural imperative. Again, this is technically a separate verb conjugation but in this case it's identical to the present tense for ihr. So Geht zwanzig Minuten geradeaus would be the usual way to say it.

There are (at least) three other imperative forms in German, but they aren't relevant for giving directions. Also, I omitted some of the details on forming the imperative here, so you should refer to a grammar for more complete information; most have either a separate section or chapter on imperatives.

  • 1
    @planetmaker: My understanding is that while the inclusion of du or ihr is certainly unusual, it can be done if you want to strongly emphasize that the person you're addressing is specifically who you want to perform the action. This is similar to the situation in English where "you" is normally dropped but can be included for emphasis. Bruce Duncan's site gives the example, among others: Fahr du mal ohne Bremse! -- "You try driving without brakes!"
    – RDBury
    Mar 19, 2022 at 10:54
  • Still I wouldn’t say that the subject is dropped, just like in English there normally isn’t one in the imperative. Of course there is originally no third person plural imperative, so German had to adapt another form, I think Konjunktiv I.
    – Carsten S
    Mar 19, 2022 at 11:46
  • You're right @RDBury. Thanks for the example Mar 19, 2022 at 11:47
  • I think the short "Zwanzig Minuten geradeaus" is also an informal variant.
    – Paul Frost
    Mar 23, 2022 at 8:32
  • @Paul Frost: I would call that an ellipsis, technically not allowed but done anyway to save time. I suppose "gehen", since it's meaning is usually implied by context, is a frequent victim.
    – RDBury
    Mar 23, 2022 at 10:40

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