The two-word sign "take free" in English is increasingly used in Japan to offer complimentary publications and other products. Is the phrase, which is considered kind of trendy in Japan, also used in English-speaking countries with the same meaning? Does it make sense to native English speakers? Is another phrase "take one free" a better choice of expression?
"Take free" is not a conventional expression in English and it's not grammatically correct either.
Here are some expressions which would be more commonly seen, on complimentary magazines and so on:
"Free - take one"
"Please help yourself"
"Please take one"
Here's some real life examples:
I live in the U.S. When people set a give-away out by the edge of the street for anyone to adopt, they usually write the following minimalist message, so they can write with really big, fat letters and use the whole space on their piece of cardboard:
This can also be used for free newspapers and advertising brochures, as one of J. Taylor's pictures showed.
As Japanese has no articles or concept of noun singular or plural, "Take Free" would not burden the ears of a native Japanese speaker.
It does burden the English speaker. The imperative "take" is clearly a verb, but it has no grammatical object. "Free" , alone, is hard to compute in English as an object, and probably wouldn't be one in any event. "Free" is just too much an adjective.
Take one free
Please take one
would work as well. While "free", alone, has no article indicating a number, "free" alone creates no burden on the English speaker.
I would also add "free for the taking" to the list. But "take free" while sounding strange to native English speakers could be allowed for brevity.