What is the difference between a command and an invitation?

Both seem to be directed to elicit an action. Are there structural differences between the two?

  • 1
    If it's coming from the Godfather, very little.
    – Sam
    May 5, 2011 at 2:36
  • The simple answer is a command requires you to do something, whereas an invitation simply requests or permits you to do so. But it's never that simple in real life... May 5, 2011 at 2:49

2 Answers 2


I think command / invitation is a dichotomy much the same as desirability / probability as recently explored by this question.

IMHO you will not find 'rules' unambiguously telling you how distinguish between modes of command, invitation, permission, expectation, etc. because speakers frequently wish to blur those distinctions.

At one extreme is simply the wish to avoid giving offense, by couching a command as an invitation. At the other is the domineering tactic of a powerful person assuming that his slightest indication in favour of some particular outcome should be taken by his underlings as a direct command to progress things in that direction.

Human interaction is the primary function of language, and the dominant / submissive juxtaposition is one of the key elements of that interaction. All of us 'bend' language in this area from time to time to suit our own agenda. And over time, all of us unconciously connive at making sure the language is easily bent in this area.

In short - if you want to identify structural differences between a command and an invitation, you'd do better to ask a psychologist rather than a grammarian or linguist.

  • @dsg: Better later than never for that acceptance after 6-7 weeks! Seriously, I do think the 'related question' I linked to offers some fascinating insights. So I do hope you followed the link and read it. Jun 20, 2011 at 17:22

There's an old response that country folk like to give when someone appears to be giving them an order: "Are you asking me or telling me?"

An invitation is asking you to do something. A command is telling you to do it.

invitation |ˌinviˈtā sh ən| noun a written or verbal request inviting someone to go somewhere or to do something : a wedding invitation.

command |kəˈmand| verb 1 [ reporting verb ] give an authoritative order : [ trans. ] a gruff voice commanded us to enter | [with direct speech ] “Stop arguing!” he commanded | [with clause ] he commanded that work should cease | [ trans. ] my mother commands my presence.

[Source: NOAD]

  • So when one is issuing a command he/she assumes a position of superior status/authority, whereas with an invitation there is no connotation of superiority. Is that correct?
    – dsg
    May 5, 2011 at 2:44

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