What is the difference between and how can we explain the grammar in the expressions for "follow" in the examples below?
子供が母親のあとをついていく (A child is following his/her mother)
母親の買い物についていく (go shopping with mother)
彼の考えにはついていけない (I can't go along with his idea)
彼の後をつける (I follow/tail him-see also * below)
I wondered if this was because:
- についていく allows the subject to "attach itself to the object" and move after it (grammatically this works well because both are intransitive)?
- 後をつく and 後をつける are both idioms whereby:
- つける can only be used with あと ("mark left behind") and as a transitive verb takes を to mark the object？
- つく is intransitive so grammatically を is used "spatially" as in 信号を曲がる
- 〜ついていく can only be used when there is continuous movement/"one journey", as opposed to say a child following its mother 24 hours a day who will start and stop/"make several journeys"?
References/notes on examples 1-4:
All can be found in 総まとめ 語彙 N2-p132 (ex1-3) N1-p100 (ex4);
*Example 4 also appears in the Apple dictionary as: こっそり人 (の後) を付ける｜follow a person secretly / shadow [stalk / ｟口｠tail] a person
Or (long shot suggestion): - Is the つく verb the same in all cases? (last week I noticed that 付く is intransitive but 吐く as in うそをつく is transitive.)
Update to reflect two answers received as of 28 Aug 12:
To summarise answers received, there are two explanations:
The main difference b/w the examples can be explained by the difference b/w あとに & あとを:
- 後に is a temporal/spatial use of を. Essentially the follower is following the same course as the object but not necessarily at the same time.
- 跡を is a physical (or if emotionally used, metaphorical) use: the followers moves behind the object of its pursuit in "lockstep", speeding up and slowing down to maintain the same distance.
Regarding use of つくvsつける： 後をつく is ungrammatical because つく is intransitive but the ついていく in 後をついていくis thought of as independent transitive verb, taking 後 as object. (つける is a transitive verb and can take the object あとを）
Explanation 2 (Revised):
The main pts of this explanation was proposed after referring to the explanation 1 (above):
- （～の後を）ついて行く is defined as "trail", and it classifies this usage with を as being intransitive (【自動】). It might literally be "follow someone's behind".
- (人）の後について行く is defined as "tread in someone's footsteps"/"tread in the steps of", and ～の後について行く is listed as "follow" and classifies this usage with に as being transitive (【他動】).
- 後をつける is used for shadowing/tailing and 跡をつける leaving traces,
Explanation 3 [Original Explanation 2]:
- When the particle に is used the person being followed is the main actor in the sentence.
- When the particle を is used the main actor in the sentence is unchanged.
This is similar to the difference b/w に伴う and を伴う
(Although this was explanation was replaced, I have kept it here for reference as I think it still has credibility.)
Any further comments or input are welcome.