What is the logic behind the similar sounding expressions 後へ引く and 後を引く? Are they idioms? Apple dictionary lists these examples:


'It's too late to turn back now.'
'We're in too deep to back out now.'


1 影響が残る

'The pain of the wound [won't go away / still lingers].'

'The aftereffects of that incident are still being felt.'

2 次々に欲しくなる

'Once I start eating these crackers, I can't stop.'

The idiomatic meanings don't quite fit the individual words or similar idioms (eg 潮が引く "the tide goes out" or 事故が後を絶たない "there continue[s] to be [no end to the] accidents").


1 Answer 1


This is because 後 has the same roots as 跡. In, the first version 後へ引く, 後 literally means to go backwards, etc. However, the second version does not mean that, it is closer to 跡. I guess you could think of the meaning as "to leave a mark". They are both idioms.

  • Thank you. This helps a lot. In the first version 引く must be taking the same meaning as it does in the expression: 潮が引く(?). This seems to be the only use of 引く as an intransitive verb. Other examples of this use are: 朝になったら熱が引いていた (In the morning my fever was gone.) and 洪水が引いたあと家に帰された (We were sent home after the flood subsided.) Combining this with 後/跡へ we get the expression "going back". However I still do not understand why the second expression (後を引く)can mean "to want more and more"...
    – Tim
    Aug 5, 2012 at 1:05
  • 1
    @Tim: Even though you may have seen somewhere that 後を引く means "to want more and more", it is actually more accurate to say that it means "the feeling of wanting more remains (or doesn't go away)". That is the connection with 跡, when you start eating those crackers, it gives you the feeling that you want more (i.e. leaves a "mark" on you) and then you cannot stop.
    – Jesse Good
    Aug 5, 2012 at 7:43
  • I see what you mean: 次々に欲しくなる came from the Apple dictionary but 広辞苑 gives the single definition: いつまでも続いて決まりがない、which I take to mean as "going on forever, unchaged" and most usefully the example: 「ピーナッツは後を引く」. Thank you.
    – Tim
    Aug 5, 2012 at 11:05

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