Common Japanese Mistakes: Using 気を付けて (Ki o Tsukete)
Meaning of 気を付けて (Ki o Tsukete)
Have you ever heard of this Japanese expression before? When learning foreign languages, some nuances can often get lost when we try to translate a certain word or phrase into our native language. We found out that one of the common mistakes made in Japanese is related to the usage of the expression “気を付けて (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 would explain why some foreigners use “気を付けて (Ki o Tsukete)” when leaving someone’s home believing they are being polite but they are actually making a mistake.
When to use 気を付けて (Ki o Tsukete)?
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. However, this can get misused in a context where nothing is inherently dangerous about the activity that the other party is engaging in. By using 気を付けて (Ki o Tsukete) in such a context, it can be indirectly used to suggest that you’d hope for something dangerous to happen.
Nevertheless, the phrase 気を付けて (Ki o Tsukete) is typically only used by the person staying behind.
A: Please be careful during your business trip.
When they leave school after class, the teachers say to their pupils 気をつけてお帰り. You can translate the phrase as “make sure you get home safely”.
When trying to be formal in the Japanese language, the expression’s structure would become slightly longer:
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: Since it is late, please be careful.
B: Yeah, well, see you tomorrow
Originally, the set 気をつける means “to be careful” in a possibly harmful situation: crossing a street, making a fire, cutting some food… For example, mothers say “気をつけてね (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, 気を付けて (Ki o Tsukete)”.
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