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What is the use and/or meaning when adding つく to the -ます form of a verb?

Here is a sample sentence ...

たぬきは なんとか 浜辺に 泳ぎつくと、 すたこら さっさと 逃げていました。

”Tanuki somehow swam?? to the beach (then) helter-skelter quickly escaped."

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As you might expect from the verb 着く on its own meaning "to arrive", compound verbs that end in つく generally mean "to X until you arrive", "to reach (somewhere) by X-ing".

So in this case なんとか浜辺に泳ぎ着く means "just about managed to reach the shore" or "just about managed to swim to the shore". (It doesn't seem very natural to include both "reach" and "swim" in the English translation, but 泳ぎ着く of course contains elements of both.)

なんとか浜辺に泳ぐ on its own would convey the same situation, but puts the emphasis on the whole swimming action rather than the moment where they made it to the shore. なんとか浜辺まで泳ぐ would be perhaps a little closer in nuance, since it places a similar increased emphasis on the destination being reached.

Some common つく compounds include:

  • 追いつく ("to catch up with", literally "reach by pursuing")
  • 行き着く (simply "reach", notably used in the common expression 行き着くところまで行く which means "to see something through to its conclusion")
  • たどりつく (another expression that would usually be translated just as "reach" or "make it to" in English - here the implication is that the journey was somewhat long or difficult, since the base verb たどる refers to "following" something like a trail, and so implies some effort finding one's way to the destination).

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