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Recently I've noticed several verbs where the imperative form is used in a way that is not the "correct" conjugation.

  1. くれる → くれ! → The one we're all used to
  2. つける → つけ! → An example from my プログレッシブ dictionary: 「気をつけ」と先生が号令をかけた。
  3. はじめる → はじめ! → Said often by Master Splinter when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have training sessions in Nickelodeon's newest incarnation of the series.

With #1, I don't know if I've ever learned why this is the standard conjugation. Is it just because it sounds more natural? With the latter two, I'm assuming that these are acceptable because maybe in 戦前/classical Japanese, はじむ existed as a real word, and つく could be used both as a transitive and intransitive verb; (both) similar to what we discuss here and here.

I have to admit that hearing はじめ! in those TMNT episodes sounded completely natural to me, and it didn't even click for a long time that it was not the 命令形 I was expecting. Even つけ sounds very natural when used as a 他動詞.

So I guess my question is, is there a limited set of verbs where the imperative is "different", yet acceptable to use even in modern Japanese? If my assumption about #2 and #3 is correct, can any verb with an "obsolete" form use the imperative conjugation of that form? What are some other common verbs with different imperative forms like this (if any)?

  • くれ seems to have been contracted from くれい/くれよ. I think noun(+da) and o+inf.(+da) are often used as imperatives, such as, 起立, 突撃, お休み, etc. I think they are more like giving instructions. As for 気がつく/気をつける, I think it's one verb consisting of four/five syllables rather than a verb phrase. For example, we have 気がつかせる. 気をつけ and はじめ are also nouns. – Yang Muye Oct 16 '14 at 21:00
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    Looks like the "regular" imperative form くれろ was used until around the Meiji period, and then disappeared for some reason. I haven't even noticed くれ is irregular... – naruto Oct 17 '14 at 1:16
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    Is this just a case of the old (shimo-)nidan meireikei surviving in fossilised expressions in Modern Japanese? – Sjiveru Oct 18 '14 at 4:52
  • Perhaps it's sound shift from はじめよ to はじめい to はじめ. – user4092 Jun 15 '16 at 13:09
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~くれ

The word, くれ, is a special word. The original form of this is くれる (呉れる) and the imperative form is くれろ, while it's a deprecated expression.

According to Daijirin:

〔命令形は「くれ」が普通〕

  1. その動作者{どうさしゃ}が話{はな}し手{て}または話題{わだい}の人物{じんぶつ}のために何{なん}らかの動作{どうさ}をすることを表{あらわ}す

    (Translation: [くれ is general in imperative form]

    This means that the hearer do thing for speaker or another person.)

Daijirin says that くれ is general and it implies that くれ is a special case.

According to Wikipedia:

ラ行{ぎょう}下一段{しもいちだん}活用{かつよう}に属{ぞく}する「呉(く)れる」は、一般{いっぱん}に命令形{めいれいけい}が「くれ」となる。ただし方言{ほうげん}や古{ふる}い口語{こうご}では「くれろ」となることもある。

(Translation: くれる belong to ラ行{ぎょう}下一段{しもいちだん}活用{かつよう} group. Its imperative form is くれ generally. But in some dialects or old use, it will be くれろ sometimes.)

My impression is that this word has varied in special way like する and 来{く}る.

する belong to the unique conjugation called サ行{ぎょう}変格{へんかく}活用{かつよう}, and only this word belongs to this conjugation group. Also 来{く}る belongs カ行変格活用 in similar way.

Both する and 来る have varied in special way because they are very very old word and are used very often.

気をつけ

The example you showed, 気{き}をつけ, is spoken by captain, leader, teacher and some person like them. I think 気をつけ is used like noun because person like teachers use this word like below when they make children stand at attention:

気をつけ しよう。

気をつけの 姿勢{しせい}に なって。

(Both can be translated as: Stand at attention.)

It is interesting that 気をつけろ doesn't mean Stand at attention.; it simply means Pay attention.

はじめ

Person like teachers use this when an exam begins. For example:

(試験{しけん}、)はじめ!

(Translation: Begin your exam.)

It's similar to 気をつけ and used widely. We can declare the beginning of something with this, while 気をつけ means only Stand at attention.

用意{ようい}、はじめ!

(Translation: Get set, go! / start!)

Another example: やめ

This and はじめ are used together in many cases. It's similar to 気をつけ and はじめ that it's used like a noun.

試験、はじめ! -> やめ!

(Translation: Begin your exam. -> Stop writing.)

EDIT

In the other words, I wanted to say that:

  • くれ is a conjugation of くれる.

  • つけ is NOT a conjugation of つける; it's a noun. But on 気をつけ, Japanese includes me feel like whole 気をつけ constructs one noun. Here is a reference.

  • はじめ is NOT a conjugation of はじめる; it's also a noun. Declaring the beginning of something with this word is a special use.

  • やめ is NOT a conjugation of やめる. Furthermore, やめ, やめろ and やむ are not a conjugation of each other except a few cases (the cases are written below).

    やめ = (noun) やめること。中止{ちゅうし}。とりやめ。

    やめる = (transitive verb) 1. 続{つづ}けてきたことを,終{お}わりにする。 2. しようとしていたことを,しないことにする。

    やむ = (intransitive verb) 1. それまで続{つづ}いていたことが,切{き}れて続{つづ}かなくなる。 … 〔「止{や}める」に対{たい}する自動詞{じどうし}〕

In old Japanese, やむ has a transitive meaning. In modern Japanese, the transitive meaning is no longer available.

Why traffic signs say とまれ instead of やめろ is that とまれ and やめろ is a different word (even if they use same Kanji .)

  • Basic meanings

    やめろ (Stop doing that. (To a human))

    とまれ (Stop moving. (To something moving, not only a human))

    とめろ (Stop moving something. (To a human))

  • Example of above

    私は車を運転するのをやめる。 (I stop driving a car.)

    車がとまる。 (A car stops.)

    私は車をとめる。 (I stop a car.)

Well, I thought it's funny that the sign doesn't ask human to stop his/her car. But any way, the word on traffic sign is とまれ.

A exception of use of やめ

In a few cases, やめ is used like a imperative verb. The targets are the nature or some awesome things in most cases.

雨{あめ}よ止{や}め! (Stop raining! (To the nature)) 木枯{こが}らしよ止{や}め! (Stop blowing! (To the nature))

  • ご回答、ありがとうございました。 Thank you for including やめ, but is it really an irregular case of やめろ, or is it just the normal 命令形 of やむ? I always thought it was the latter, like "Be stopped!" -- similar to how streets and traffic signs say 止まれ instead of 止めろ. Very interesting about the difference between 気をつけ and 気をつけろ. – istrasci Dec 2 '14 at 16:15
  • I added some explanation. Please read the section EDIT. – Takumi Sueda Dec 2 '14 at 17:30
  • If you included the comparison between やむ・とまる and やめる・とめる because you thought I was confused by them, I was not. I meant that I originally thought やめ! was the 命令形 of the 他動詞 やむ, just as 止まれ is the 命令形 of the 他動詞 止まる -- I didn't think やめ was the noun. – istrasci Dec 2 '14 at 19:02
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    Analysing つけ as a noun seems… not quite right to me. It may well be that native Japanese speakers (I am not one) think of 気をつけ as a simple noun, but it is clearly in origin a verb and its object. Can nouns take postpositional phrases with を? I can’t think of any way to create a valid phrase/sentence with NをN. For example, 「車を運転!」 does not seem like it should be valid to me. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 26 '16 at 13:45
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    @TakumiSueda But that's not what your answer says—your answer says that つけ is a noun. I have no trouble with 気をつけ as a collocation being seen as a noun, but saying that within that collocation, つけ on its own is also a noun doesn't seem right to me. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 27 '16 at 16:35

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