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一段 verbs may be conjugated to form imperative forms of ~よ or ~ろ.

For example:

  • 見る forms either 見よ or 見ろ
  • 食べる forms either 食べよ or 食べろ

How did the two forms come about?
What is the difference in usage of the imperatives?
When will one form be used over the other? Or what determines the preference?

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To the best of my knowledge, よ is classical/western, ろ is modern/eastern. I think ろ goes all the way back to the 東歌 of the 万葉集. – Zhen Lin Sep 16 '12 at 6:26
up vote 7 down vote accepted

How did the two forms come about?

The original imperative did not end in -yo or -ro. In Old Japanese, it took the following form: upper monograde: -i1, upper bigrade: -i2. To this, an emotive -yo may be added, but it was optional.

During the transition to EMJ, the 上代特殊仮名遣い distinction 1/2 was lost. This resulted in confusion between the irrealis and imperative for mono/bigrade verbs, which both now ended in either -i or -e. The solution for this was to require the emotive suffix -yo to the end of the imperative, which then became mandatory for mono/bigrade verbs and as such is now inseparable.

The -ro suffix found in volumes 14 and 20 of the Man'yōshū, which are the chapters covering the eastern dialects. Usage is identical to western -yo. Like emotive -yo, an emotive particle -ro may also be found. (cf #3552)

What is the difference in usage of the imperatives? When will one form be used over the other? Or what determines the preference?

With the propagation of the Tōkyō dialect, -yo forms sound old and even formal. As such, you will typically find the -yo forms in written materials (test instructions etc) while the -ro forms in spoken discourse.

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Care to edit to explain this in plain English for those of us who aren't linguists? (honest petition, not being sarcastic). I have no idea what "upper monograde: -i1" and "upper bigrade: -i2" are. – istrasci Sep 16 '12 at 21:41
Monograde (一段) is a verb conjugation type characterized by the irrealis (未然形) and adverbial (連用形) both ending in -i (上) or -e (下). The 1/2 (甲乙) notation indicates two different phonologically sounds. For example, there were two types of ki: /ki1/ and /ki2/. One phonetic reconstruction for this *ki and *kɨ. (The * indicates a reconstruction.) This difference cannot be be written in kana. Look up 上代特殊仮名遣 for further details. These are large topics and cannot be fully covered in a comment, but I hope that this pushes you a bit in the right direction. – Dono Sep 16 '12 at 23:51
According to the table here, 未然形 and 命令形 were not distinguished even back when they had the 甲乙 distinction. – Zhen Lin Sep 17 '12 at 1:14
@ZhenLin Horizontal they are not. But vertically they are. Hence, the 未然形 and 命令形 for 上一段 verbs -i1 and -i2 for 上二段. This question is about monograde verbs, but in a fuller context, quadrigrade (四段) -e1 and lower bigrade (下二段) -e2 also loose distinction. All of these provide the opportunity for innovation which resulted in -iyo/eyo forms in mono and bigrade verbs. – Dono Sep 17 '12 at 1:39

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