In my Japanese phrase book it says:

Tadoru - To follow.

But then later on it says

Watashitachi mo soko ni ikimasu desu node, tsuite kite kudasai - We are going there, so you can follow us.

It seems tsuite kite is being used to convey the meaning of follow. But tsuite kite is defined as to arrive/reach. So why isn't Tadoru being used?

What is the difference between Tsuite kuru (ついて くる) and Tadoru (たどる)? When would you use one over the other?

  • 1
    Your definition of ついてくる is based on 着く, only a portion of the term being used and with a different kanji. In other words, you were researching for the wrong word. ついてくる would have been the correct entry.
    – BJCUAI
    Mar 24 '19 at 18:35

The difference is in what you are following.

たどる is "follow" in the sense of tracing a path. That can be a literal path or a metaphorical one, such as the thread of a memory or a line of text. You generally use it with the object marker, を. For example, 道{みち}をたどる: follow a road. If you’re talking about following a person, you refer to the path they took or made, such as in ボブの足跡{あしあと}をたどる: trace Bob’s footsteps. (If you たどる Bob and not his footsteps it sounds a bit kinky.)

ついてくる is "follow" in the sense of "come with" or "tag along with" someone or something. ついて is from 付く (not 着く, as JBCUAI noted), and means "stick to". くる is "come." So, literally, ついてくる means "stick to (someone/something) and come." You usually mark what or whom is being followed with に. For example, わたしについてきて: Follow me. You can also use it to associate related objects, such as 納豆{なっとう}についてくる辛子{からし}: the mustard that comes with natto.

Overall, 〜をたどる is a much more literary term with limited uses, so you should use 〜についてくる for when you’re talking about following people.

Edit to add: Also, you might need to use 〜についていく instead, depending on who is getting followed and where they are in relation to the one doing the following.


Weblio has this definition for たどる:

Proceed by making certain of each step on an unknown or difficult to walk path/road. (sorry my translation is dreadful).

So this would be used in a phrase like "I tried to follow the path you told me about but I got lost".

They give a second definition which might be closer to what you expected:

Proceed while looking for the tracks of people or animals that have passed by.

Sure, you're following a person in this case, but in a creepy way.

ついてくる (helps if you lose the space between ついて and くる) means 'to follow' in the sense of 'accompany', 'come along with'. This is probably the phrase you want to memorise.

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