Common Mistakes: Be careful! when you use “ki o tsukete”

December 31st, 2012By Category: Uncategorized


Ki o tsukete!

“Be careful”

Today I would like to introduce a common misunderstanding in Japanese.

A few days ago, an American friend of mine came to see me at my house.
When she was leaving, she said to me:

「気をつけて」(Ki o tsukete; be careful)
This is a common mistaken usage of these words in Japanese.

In Japanese, people leaving on a trip are often told “ki o tsukete,”
as in “O-ki o tsukete, itterasshai”(お気をつけて、いってらっしゃい).

In short, it is a phrase which signifies that one is praying for the safe trip of another.
As such, it is a phrase that only the person watching someone else go is able to use.
The person leaving cannot say it to the person staying behind.

Originally, “ki o tsukeru” (気をつける) means “to be careful.”

For example, mothers say “ki o tsukete ne” to their children when they are using
scissors, and when one is walking on a steep mountain path, someone else might

“you could slip easily, ki o tsukete ne.”

When you use “ki o tsukete,” please remember to “ki o tsukete,” OK?


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Author of this article

Iidabashi Japanese Language School

The Iidabashi Japanese Language School motto is "Be Unique, Have fun Globally!" We teach classes focused on conversation skills to foreigners living in Japan.

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  • Patty Tami says:

    So what could you say to the person staying when you are leaving? What would be similar to “good bye, take care”?

  • Takoyaki Ogura says:

    Really good discussion on the changes in language over time. I thought I might help to put this in an English perspective: the word incredible has now come to mean amazing/spectacular but its original meaning was: not credible, meaning you are not able to believe the subject/object of that adjective. Individuals kept misusing the word till the meaning changed, such that in a court of law, we no longer say: incredible evidence but not credible evidence. (I realise that this word is still evolving and as such, there maybe overlap)

    Consequently, I find when I speak Japanese to my mum, given her age and time since she lived in Japan, she is more conservative than contemporary Japanese. Hence for her, the guidelines outlined by the author are correct. She would look at me oddly if I used this expression, when leaving, even if I was not going to see her for some months.

    P.S. My name is from a gaming profile on FB, so partially made-up as a joke (pun on the surname, if for those know)

  • Diil Avery says:

    It’s also acceptable if you’re leaving someone else in what could be considered a dangerous position, so yeah you can say it to someone as you’re leaving but it depends on the context.

  • Diil Avery says:

    Language changes over time, therefore there is nothing wrong with my incorrect usage of “ki o tsukete”, nevermind that it doesn’t make sense to the people I’m saying it to 😀

  • Independencer says:

    It changes over time, you are right, but not in this case!
    Something cannot be changed. You are saying as if the sentence “Be careful.” can one day be evolved to be “Goodbye.”.
    Perhaps the word “meaningless” you say might one day means “important”, if you say so. Funny.

  • Rui says:

    The person leaving can say it to the one staying. For example the person staying is having a cold or feel sick, I’d say “ki wo tsukete” when leaving the house. Same if we have just watch a horror movie and want to have my friend to feel a little insecure for the fun when leaving I’d say her “ki wo tsukete,… shiran de!”.

  • Juan Garcia says:

    Actually, I have heard “ki wo tsukete” used by a leaving party before. I even heard it in a video game the other day. One character was leaving and before he left he turned to his friend (which wasn’t going anywhere) and said “ki wo tsukete”. I’m pretty sure it was a Final Fantasy game, but I can’t remember which one.

  • NiseiShonagon says:

    This article is so obnoxious and condescending I cannot believe it. Language is something fluid that changes over time. This pointless insistence on what is “right”, “wrong” or “mistaken” is meaningless.

    Perhaps the one who should be careful is the writer of this article.

  • Umaku says:


  • This is so interesting! I would love to be able to speak more Japanese.

  • leslie nguyen says:

    Great! I will remember it especially when I am leaving as a guest 🙂