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I know that a sentence that ends in the て form of a verb can be imperative. How do you know for sure if it is? Why is「~しようとして」not imperative?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

As sawa said, the て form has many usages. One of them being used to formulate requests (what you're confusing with the grammatical term "imperative")

しようとして (and all the forms in ようとして:食べようとして...etc.) can all be perfectly correct requests or commands depending on how the sentence ends.

To understand this, you need to know that the よう form of a verb is called Volitional and is used (in brief) to say "let's do..."

Now, adding として to this volitional form, it should be decomposed as follows:

-と is the particle (same as と言う、と思う)

-して (て form of する)

  • If the sentence doesn't end after the て form:

虫が草を食べようとして、鳥に食べられた。

The insect was about to eat grass when he got eaten by a bird.

Then the て form is used to combine sentences (see the Wikipedia article above). ようとして then means "to be about to" or "try to".

  • On the contrary, if the sentence ends with として, then you have the request form.

The volitional form of a verb + として corresponds to the English "(Please) Try to...". (you can still add ください、ほしい、くれ...etc. like for any other request) It's a very natural way to request someone to do something and see how it goes.

Some widely used examples to illustrate this:

(browser doesn't display flash) フラッシュをダウンロードしようとしてください。Please try to download flash.

(internet connection lost) 再度接続しようとしてください。Please try to reconnect.

このポイントを明らかにしようとしてください。Please try to clarify this point.

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I do not think that …しようとしてください is a natural expression in Japanese. I suspect that it is a poor literal translation of the English expression “Try to ….” –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 16 '11 at 21:26
    
@Tsuyoshi: It appears a lot on internet, especially about technical assistance or customer service. As you said, daily use is apparently not so frequent... –  repecmps Jul 17 '11 at 2:06
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That reinforces my suspect that it is a poor translation. I will not claim that …しようとしてください is never correct in Japanese, but I am sure that almost all occurrences of this construct on the web are artefacts of machine translation. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 17 '11 at 3:23
    
I have deleted the comments after this one because they had degenerated into rudeness. Please try to be civil when you disagree. Thanks! –  Amanda S Jul 19 '11 at 14:53
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@Tsuyoshi: しようとして is too complex for a machine translation. All automatic translators will use 試す to translate any form of "try". Additionally, しようとしてください is used by huge international companies (japanese or foreign) for their remote assistance. I believe they have professional translators for this job. –  repecmps Jul 20 '11 at 2:16
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is a form that is quite basic (called gerund, infinitive, or participle in modern linguistics depending on the researcher) and has different usages. Among the various usages, it can be used as an omitted form of ...てください 'please do ...' or ...てほしい 'I want you to do ...', expressing request with various strength depending on the context, but it cannot be imperative. Imperative is ...しろ or ...せよ.

しようとして can be used as request but is not natural because, if you want someone do something, you would simply say して instead.

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