Present & Future Imperative: when to use one or the other?

Filius Regis

New Member
I suppose I already have some ideas about when to use one or the other, but I think I require some explanation. What I need is clear and essential explanation, preferrably with clear exemplification, of when to use the future imperative and when the present imperative. I want to recognize cases when to use one or the other. So is there a nice short essential list of information (with examples) of typical cases?

I can imagine that one might use the future imperative in, for example, the following case:

Locutus est dux digitum intendens eis militibus, "Ite et, cum coram hosti stetis, ne oppugnatote nec capimini metu, sed manetote primo incursionem eorum. Tum proficitote et necatote secundum consilium quod ante exposui."
It is obvious that the soldiers in this example are not yet in the battle which is to come. They are still receiving instruction before their leader. In this way it looks as though one may use the future imperative for the envisioned situation of when the battle will occur (if it will indeed occur).

What if person A tells person B, "Go, my son, and get me the glass of water!" Is it then proper to use the future imperative? I would sooner in this case use the present imperative, e.g.:

Vade, fili, et affer poculum aquae!
In this case it seems (more) immediate, so the present imperative may be used.
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  • Snodv

    Senior Member
    English - Mid-Southern US
    I wish I had the answer. I admit that I have often wondered what the difference was, for it seems to me that every command represents an action that will (or will not) take place in the future. Your hypothesis that the difference is between the immediate future and the more distant future seems very reasonable. Perhaps a more seasoned scholar will know whether the literature bears this out.


    Senior Member
    saluete sodales!

    A quick scan of A&G's Grammar (online at Perseus, sorry I haven't yet mastered the link-technique), §§ 448-9, suggests two things immediately.

    (1) what A&G call the 'Future Imperative', i.e. the forms in -ito/-eto(-te), seem mainly confined to older texts (Plautus and Terence feature largely among their examples), or more 'vulgar', appearing more often there than they do in the classical literary Latinity of most of Cicero, Caesar, Livy and later experts such as Augustine &c. Some of these forms however were, so to speak, 'fossilised' into legal(istic) or other formal language throughout antiquity (such as scito, for example).

    (2) From the (admittedly sparse) examples I have looked at, the distinction between this and the 'Present' imperative seems to be a difference more aspectual than of tense or proximity in time. As Snodv remarks in # 2 here, any imperative is a recommendation for, at the time of the utterance, a future action, be it immediate or remote. So it is less an issue of time so much as of the continuity or singularity of the action.

    And as a footnote, may I remark? When I was learning Latin, from the age of about 8 until my undergraduate days in Oxford, I never encountered, for Latin, even the concept of a 'Future Imperative'.

    Such distinctions do however apply in classical Greek, in (literary) Russian and presumably some other languages.

    I hope this is marginally helpful.

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    Filius Regis

    New Member
    Ah, I was already wondering why I did not find the relevant part or parts in A&G. Thanks. I find its explanation pretty clear. Especially 449 and 448a seem to confirm some of the thinking I have had.

    And indeed, Snodv, it occurred to me also that the word would suggest future action in all cases. But we want to know, don't we, what it is really all about? Heh heh heh. Now we know.

    As a quick question, by the way: is it possible to have an offline version of Perseus? For example, a separate offline application?