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When using an imperative form, what effect does the speaker's choice of aspect have?

More concretely — what's the difference between (for example) снимай пальто and сними пальто? In both cases, the speaker intends for the action to be completed "immediately", so the choice of aspect (imperfective vs perfective) doesn't seem to have it's usual grammatical significance.

Is the choice of aspect mostly a matter of "etiquette"? It may be just me, but the imperfective form (снимай) seems more polite. But I think I've heard plenty of native speakers use imperfective forms when they intend to be rude (for example, there's a scene in "Brat" when our hero tells a hooligan on the bus to "bezhai").

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3 Answers 3

Imperfective forms as imperatives are usually more demanding and sometimes even rude. While дай денег sounds like a request and can be followed by пожалуйста, давай деньги is a demand, appropriate for a robbery. Давай деньги, пожалуйста is a demand said with a mocking intonation: I'm being polite, but if you don't abide, you're in trouble.

In your example, снимай пальто is not rude, but doesn't leave any place for disagreeing. Sort of "take off your coat, and I will not take "no" for an answer." However, the intonation plays the bigger part than the aspect in all the examples mentioned above.

The usual rules for perfective/imperfective verbs apply too, of course. In "when you visit a friend, you should always take your coat off", you should use снимай(те) (repeated action). In a particular situation, the perfective is more appropriate.

By the way, in "Brat", the hero says бежать. The infinitives are used as imperatives when giving orders (in army, or police.) This is, I guess, a hint to the military past of the character.

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As with other moods, perfective form focuses on state transition (start, end, result) while imperfective focuses on state (or process).

It naturally occurs that a request to perform a process sounds more polite than a request to obtain the result.

Babaytseva et al., Современный русский язык:

Основным модальным значением формы несовершенного вида является выражение побуждения. Внимание говорящего направлено на факт действия, а не на его результат, цель:

Ты скоро соберешься? Собирайся, я подожду на крыльце (Бубеннов).

— Здесь не положено расхаживать, уходите, а не то задержу!
— Задерживайте,— сказал Синцов с полной готовностью (Симонов).

Формы совершенного вида обычно выражают приказание, совет, просьбу и т. д. Примеры:

А ну, расскажи, как ты там жил в эти два года (Горький).

Возьмите деньги и дайте туда.. (Гончаров).

— Леонид, остынь!
— Куда же больше остывать? Я и так из ледяной воды! (Бубеннов).

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Снимай пальто is less polite than сними пальто. -1 –  Anixx May 23 '13 at 21:26
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Actually, "снимай пальто" is more rude and less polite than "сними пальто".

As already mentioned, "сними пальто" may sound like an advice, while "снимай пальто" is like an order.

Also "сними пальто" may imply that the person who says so may help in the action or continue the dialog, while "снимай пальто" somehow implies that the saying person does not want to continue the conversation until the action is done.

So,

снимайте пальто - do it yourself, I will do my business while you are doing it (or I will watch). No further talks with me until you finished, do not bother me until you done.

снимите пальто - do it and I will help you in the process or after you finished. This phrase may be continued with further talk with the saying person during the action.

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