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This question has come up on the side of at least a couple of other questions, but I don't think it's been definitively answered, so let's see if we can come up with something solid.

After going through the first ten pages of Google results for both "ていてください" and "ていて下さい" (very scientific, I know), I found 43 verbs and expressions that precede these forms. The most common:

待つ (まつ):                50 results
見る (みる):                33
楽しみにする (たのしみにする):  25
覚える or 憶える (おぼえる):  19
生きる (いきる):              9
期待する (きたいする):         5
見守る (みまもる):            4
強いる (しいる):              3
離れる (はなれる):            3
知る (しる):                 3
思う (おもう):                3

待つ is somewhat expected, but there are some interesting entries here, such as 生きる and 離れる. How is 生きてください different from 生きていてください, and likewise, how is 離れてください different from 離れていてください? At a minimum, let's try to answer:

  1. What is the difference in nuance between these two?
  2. When should you choose one over the other?

Bonus points if you can draw from a trusted reference.

Related:

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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I think each verb is somewhat a case of its own, but generally speaking they all seem to relate somehow to the progressive nature of the ~ている form.

If we get to the specifics, here are my impressions, based on my experience, intuition and grammatical understanding (all of them seem to point to the same thing in this case, which is good). Sorry, no references now, but maybe I'll try to search for some academic papers later. There's a good chance you can find some on Google Scholar:

  • 生きていてください
    I'm almost positive I've already heard or seen it somewhere. It seems to mean something along the lines of "Please keep being alive" or "Please stay alive", instead of 生きてください which means just "Please live", with an implied meaning such as "living through something" or "choosing life over death", but not "staying alive". According to Google, it's actually much more common than 生きてください, and that's only natural, since in English too you'd usually ask people to stay alive instead of just "live". :)

  • 離れていてください
    This is again the case of a request for keeping some state for a prolonged period instead of just doing a single action. I don't think I've encountered this specific verb in this form (though it does seem very common according to Google), but it's easy to understand it as "separate and remain separated", or maybe even more simply "stay away", "keep distance".

  • 覚えていてください
    Remember for a prolonged period. Or as we'd probably say in English: keep in mind.

  • 見守っていてください
    Observe closely for a prolonged period. Or idiomatically: Keep an eye.

  • 期待していてください Expect for a prolonged period. Or idiomatically: stay tuned.

You've probably noticed how much I've had to resort to idioms in English to translate these Japanese phrases more accurately. That's because English doesn't have an progressive imperative construction. And you may have also noticed I heavily used the verbs keep and stay in most of the idioms I gave. That's because while English cannot express a progressive imperative, it can always express a meaning of remaining in a certain state by using verbs such as stay, remain and keep. These verbs usually take an adjective or an adverb (including a preposition-as-adverb) and not another verb, so their use is very idiomatic and not as regular as in Japanese.

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This all makes sense and falls in line with what I have personally suspected, but I'm wondering if we can lump everything under the banner of progressive action. For instance, 見守る already implies a prolonged period of activity, does it not? So 見守ってください by itself would seem to be sufficient for saying "keep an eye [on something for a period of time]". At this point 見守っていてください starts to sound redundant, but there must be some reason you would use ~ている (6.3M on Google) over ~て (2.1M on Google). And it gets more fun if we add in things like 見続けていてください ("please keep keep watching"?). –  Derek Schaab Jun 22 '11 at 17:50
    
@Derek: there's something called "lexical aspect" or "Aktionsart" which refers to aspectual information (such as durativity of action) which is already embedded inside the word itself (even without conjugation). Technically speaking, you can say that English verbs like "continue" or even "walk" refer to an action that is inherently durative - and it's still far from rare to find the verb forms "continuing" or "walking". The same thing can be said about Japanese. –  Boaz Yaniv Jun 22 '11 at 21:45
    
In the end maybe it's best to say that using just 見守って doesn't necessarily imply that the action is not durative. It just doesn't put a focus on the durativity of the action. –  Boaz Yaniv Jun 22 '11 at 21:49
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Grammatically speaking, I totally and completely agree with Boaz Yaniv san.

But I guess Derek san might need ‘feeling’ when choosing the words.

I would think this way only based on my experiences.

てください

doesn’t require the listener’s attention to the speaker’s request so much, because it refers to one point in time. Therefore, てくださいtends to be used in easy-going situations.

  • Time: now
  • Things: in front of your eyes
  • The speaker’s emotion: easy
  • The listener’s emotion: easy

ていてください

requires the listener’s attention very much. Also, the speaker pays more attention to the way the listener answers to his requirement. The speaker’s feeling is ‘I’m always with you.’ This is because it refers to long time. Therefore, ていてくださいtends to be used in serious situations.

  • Time: from now to the future
  • Things: invisible
  • The speaker’s emotion: serious
  • The listener’s emotion: serious

Let’s see some words out of your word collection. (Excuse me for you, you, you expression.)

待つ

Your friends are walking on and on. You are left behind. You say 待ってください to them. But they keep going. Then you say 待って(い)てください. (Your hope is growing stronger. You want to be with them and want them to wait until then. Your hope is sent to your friend by saying that.) (Of course you can say 待ってくださいagain, but the feeling is a little calmer than 待っていてください)

Another 待ってくださいcommon situation. Your Japanese friends are speaking Japanese very quickly and you can’t understand. Then you say 待ってください to interrupt their conversation. Another 待っていてくださいcommon situation. You have to go abroad on work for a long time. Your girlfriend is home land without you. Then you say 待っていてください. (I’ll soon be with you! Then we are going to get married!).

生きる

You go to Japan for volunteer activity after a big earthquake. When you finish your work, you say 強く生きてください to the local people. It’s a pretty normal situation. The people accept your great kindness, because it is a kind farewell phrase for such people. But if I were an affected person, I would be happier to hear 元気で生きていてください. Some people might not feel such difference, but I would accept your be-with-you feeling. 生きてくださいsounds from distance for some reason. When I hear 生きていてください, I have a picture in my mind; you might come back to Japan in the future and we might drink to each other’s happiness!

見守る

You are a celebrity. You got married with your girlfriend. In a press conference, you say 僕たちを温かく見守ってください to the audience. (Well, sometimes you say 見守っていてください. But any celebrity has a pretending be-with-you feeling, I think.) After that, you hold a marriage party inviting your friends. You say 僕たちを温かく見守っていてくださいto your friends. (Well, of course, you can say 見守ってください. But if you have a strong emotion, you will naturally say the longer phrase to express your feeling.

All in all, contexts are more important than rules to understand the meaning. Some people say there are no such differences between them. I understand the opinion in some points. But the core meaning of two phrases seems like this, at least to me. This might be a hypothesis, but it might be interesting to add something to it or correct it through your Japanese experience.

Now, my English writing energy is up. Whew! I’m hoping you like this explanation. Thank you.

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Please notify me if there’s something rude or something unacceptable in my expression. –  user364 Jun 25 '11 at 21:18
    
Cool, I think examples really help in explanations =D –  Pacerier May 24 '12 at 19:27
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~てください:

  • one-off request

enter image description here

~ていてください:

  • asks for continued commitment to the requested action
  • the speaker may not be there during that time, but it's assumed that the two will meet again in the near or far future (and check back on the result)
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I agree with you. I think it is very effective way to explain. I'm really impressed. –  user364 Jun 25 '11 at 21:12
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