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Putting な after a plain verb turns it into negative imperative.

But I noticed that in spoken Japanese, putting な after conjunctive form (連用形) turns it into positive imperative. For example:

遊びに行きなよ。

Is this usage standard or colloquial? Also, it seems that it's usually used by elders towards younger people so does it have special nuances, for example maybe like patronizing?

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3 Answers 3

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By popular demand:

That's not the negative imperative particle. Rather, it's an abbreviation of なさい, probably via the elided form なはい or なあ. See here. It's colloquial and standard (meaning everyone understands what it means).

Your observation that it's a bit patronising is probably correct—notice that なさい has similar connotations—but I'm not a usage expert, so I'll let someone else answer that part of your question.

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    Ha, but I shall (attempt to) answer it in a comment! It is patronizing in the sense that, as sawa explains in the answer Derek linked, it implies that the speaker himself isn't invested in the outcome. 遊びに行きなよ means "Go and play (go on, I know you want to)", 遊んであげなよ means "Play with them (go on, be nice)". Exactly who the suggestion is a "favor" to varies (listener, or some third party), but in both cases, it is implied that the speaker is above such things and doesn't personally care either way. Thus, patronizing.
    – Matt
    Aug 19, 2011 at 3:48
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“な” (and its variation “なよ”) is a suffix to the verb used in imperative form. It's a colloquial version of "...しなさい."

It has a bit of patronizing tone, but sounds much softer, familiar, and amicable than blunt imperative forms of saying, like “行け,” “食べろ,” “読め,” and “言え,” instead of saying “(気を付けて)行きな,” “(ゆっくり)食べな,” “(最後まで)読みな,” and “(はっきり)言いな.”.

“な/なよ” is used often to a child by his / her parents, to a youth by an elderly, to a junior by a senior (in school, in workshop) , or among peers. You mustn’t use “な” to your parents, seniors, teachers, police and those whom you are not familiar with.

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Using な in negative imperative

辞書形 + な
行く  + な -> 行くな  = don't go
食べる + な -> 食べるな = don't eat

遊びに行きなよ。(遊びに行きなさいという意味です) = let's go to play
ケーキを食べなさいの意味はケーキを食べましょうと同じと思います。

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    You're not answering the question. 質問に答えなよ。(笑)
    – Zhen Lin
    Aug 19, 2011 at 9:44
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    "ケーキを食べなさいの意味はケーキを食べましょうと同じと思います。" ←ちょっと違うと思います。。。
    – Chocolate
    Mar 25, 2016 at 10:14

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