ki o tsukete

A Common Mistake in Japanese: ki o tsukete

Posted by on August 7, 2015 – Japanese Study

Have you heard this Japanese expression before? When learning a foreign language, translations can sometimes skip some nuances.  We found out that one of the common mistakes made in Japanese is related to the usage of the expression “ki o tsukete”.

The literal meaning is ‘be careful’. But you can also understand the phrase as a broad ‘(please) take care’. This nuance can be confusing. And this would explain why some foreigners use “ki o tsukete” when leaving someone’s home. Although they believe they are being polite, they are making a mistake. 

The expression is commonly said to someone leaving on a trip and conveys the idea that one is praying for the safe trip of another. Obviously, only the person staying sees off someone will say ki wo tsukete.

A: Please be careful during your business trip.

When they leave school after class, the teachers say to their pupils をつけておかえり. You can translate the phrase as “make sure you get home safely”.

In formal Japanese, the expression’s structure is slighly longer:

B: 「おをつけておかえりください。」

A: Well, I must be going.
B: Please be careful on your way back.
A: Thank you very much.

The casual form is easier to remember:

A: 「おそいから、をつけて~」

You: Since it is late, please be careful.
Friend: Yeah, well, see you tomorrow

Originally, the set をつけるmeans “to be careful” in a possible harmful situation: crossing a street, making a fire, cutting some food… For example, mothers say “ki o tsukete ne” to their children when they are using scissors. Or, when one is walking on a steep mountain path, someone might say “you could slip easily, ki o tsukete ne”.

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