社長に従って視察に出かける. What does it mean?

OK, so this is the evil sentence that i don’t have a single clue of what the heck does it mean:


“従って” does it mean that “I follow the company’s president”?
Then we have that 視察 means “inspection or observation”. k with that. 出かける basically means “to go out”. kn’t with that. People usually tend to tell me to not cut japanese sentences into pieces and then mix all the different meanings, trying to build a whole comprehensive sentence. So, what am i supposed to do with this phrase?


i would translate it like- *In accordance with a company President I went out for an inspection.
the word shitaga-te I didn’t know, so I’m just relying on yomichan.

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Thank you bro. It was that easy…:tired_face::triumph:

This might be useful: https://jlptsensei.com/learn-japanese-grammar/にしたがって-ni-shitagatte-meaning/

に従い or に従って emphasizes either “accordance” with some rule or two events coinciding as a general phenomenon.

Here the に従って sounds more like just the て form of 従う (to obey):
I obeyed the company president and went out for an inspection.


The issue is that the ‘obey’ meaning usually comes with something that is followed or obeyed, like instructions or wishes, rather than someone. It’s not likely that that’s what it means here.

I think the meaning here is ‘to follow’:
I followed the company president out on an inspection.

It’s the first meaning I have in both my Japanese dictionaries:


Ah, okay, that makes even more sense, thanks! :smiley:

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Well, the whole sentence looks like it lacks of context… but that’s thanks to being in an “already made example sentence” Japanese book, that it sounds weird and, as you suggest, having a possible second meaning.

Some hours ago, I posted this same question somewhere else, and a Japanese dude preferred the first option. Something like “following the president’ (or CEO’s) recommendation” “as requested by him”, etc. And i think he’s correct (not only for being Japanese), but if we read again the sentence we clearly identify two parts of speech. “社長に従って” and “視察に出かけた”. Using the -て form in a verb gives the sense of concatenate actions or ideas.

So, the first thing is following the president request/idea/volition and then going out to do the inspection thing.

Both ‘following the CEO’ and ‘obeying the CEO’ are separate from ‘going out for an inspection’. There are ‘two parts of speech’ in both cases, and by the way, the て form actually tends to link actions quite closely and sequentially, whereas the masu-stem, which is another possibility in this context, would actually separate the two actions more clearly. As such, I don’t really see why the て form makes one interpretation more likely than the other.

Secondly, it makes clear sense for a CEO to do an inspection. The subject of the sentence, on the other hand, has no clear status and no clear right to inspect anything, so it makes more sense for the speaker to be following someone with that right than to be simply following someone’s instructions. Let me illustrate this with an example: imagine that I’m someone in a company who’s a newbie and I’ve been told to inspect all the other newbies, and maybe even some other people. Even if the instruction came from the CEO, would you be able to take me seriously? I have no capacity to inspect other people because I’m new. The idea of obeying doesn’t work as simply as the idea of following here.

Finally, like I said, when 従う means ‘to obey’, it usually comes after something that expresses someone else’s will or some kind of standard that can be followed. Here are all the examples from the two dictionaries I have:

Monolingual (大辞林):
「係員の指示に―・って下さい」‘Please follow the instructions of the person in charge’
「日本の習慣に―・って屋内では靴を脱ぐ」‘To follow the Japanese custom and remove [one’s] shoes indoors’
「矢印に―・って角を曲がる」‘To follow the arrow and turn the corner’

Bilingual (Wisdom):
2 【服従する】
【人・命令などに】obey ; 【指示・忠告などに】follow ; 〖屈服する〗【人・要求・意見などに】give* in, ⦅書⦆ yield ⦅to⦆; 【意志などに】bow, bend* ⦅to⦆.
▸ 彼の命令に従う[従わない]
obey [disobey] his orders.
▸ 彼の忠告に従う
follow [(従って行動する) act on, (受け入れる) take] his advice.
▸ 党の方針に従う
follow [⦅話⦆ toe] the party line.
▸ 彼の意見に従う
give in to his opinion.
▸ 父親の意志に従う
bow to the will of one’s father.

Notice how none of these examples simply use ‘person に従う’, even though it would obviously make the sentences much shorter. Why is that? I think the reason is quite clear. And by the way, the relevant Japanese definition I have says

My translation: to listen to and accept what others say; to stick to orders, teachings, rules and so on

It’s clearly meant to be used with things, not people. Or at least, using it with things is much more common.

Those are my main points. Some side notes regarding translation for consideration:

  1. Notice how often 従う can be translated as ‘to follow’ in all these examples, even for the ‘obey’ meaning? Shouldn’t that tell us that 従う is actually very close to ‘to follow’, and that a translation that’s close to ‘to follow’ is more likely to be correct?
  2. We’ve just seen above (with Yomi-chan’s translation for に従って, which is actually based on に従って as a set phrase, not as a normal verb, which is how it’s been used here) that machine translation and dictionaries without examples tend to give poor translations. I am not looking down on the Japanese person who responded to you, but how do you know that he didn’t just check an EN-JP dictionary without examples for a translation of 従う?

I’m definitely not better at Japanese than the guy who responded to you, but I am providing you with clear evidence from dictionaries, with examples (and not just translations) showing us that 従う is used in a particular way, and with particular types of words, when it means ‘to obey’. More context would be helpful, but all the things I’ve listed above add up to suggest that the ‘follow’ meaning is more likely.

You are free to think that I’m wrong, and I won’t defend my interpretation beyond this post, but my searching tells me that both 大辞林 and 大辞泉, which are two of the major free/widely available Japanese dictionaries online, agree with me, because there are no [person]+に従う examples in either dictionary except for the ‘follow/accompany’ meaning. I think even 精選版 日本国語大辞典 (another major dictionary available for free on Weblio.jp) supports my interpretation because all the definitions that look like they can be applied to people, aside from ‘to follow’, are much more extreme, and involve ‘submitting/surrendering/listening without resistance’ to someone. That’s a level beyond ‘obeying’. (You’ll also notice that most of the translated examples sentences from this dictionary page (「従う」に関連した英語例文の一覧と使い方 - Weblio英語例文検索) in which 従う means ‘to obey’ don’t relate to people, even if there are a few exceptions, and even then, some of those exceptions involve huge gaps in status like emperor-minister relationships and parent-child relationships, in which strict obedience very close to submission was traditionally expected.)

We can agree to disagree – and you can definitely decide the Japanese person is more credible than me – but I’m not changing my stance unless you or someone else provides arguments and reasoning to justify the ‘obey’ interpretation, or to undermine the ‘follow’ interpretation.

PS: After some extra searching, I realised that I own the book that this sentence is taken from. It’s from the kanji book of the Shin Kanzen Master N1 series, right? Yeah, so I went and looked for a pattern in how examples are given, and I noticed that when SKM gives multiple examples for one kanji/verb, it selects examples that show the multiple meanings of the verb. This example is next to another one:「命令に従う。」In that example, it definitely means ‘to obey’. What’s the point of providing another example in which the word just means ‘to obey instructions’, when a prep book is meant to help you learn as much about a word as possible for the test? If you don’t believe me and you own the book like me, go look at the examples for 狂う on the same page, a little higher up. The word 狂う means slightly different things in each example: 気が狂う ‘(for someone) to go crazy’, 時計が狂う’(for a machine or a situation) to become abnormal’ and 予定が狂う ‘(for plans/predictions) to be misaligned with reality’. These meanings are three different definitions in my monolingual dictionary. That is how SKM books work. Even if we can’t deduce the meaning from the sentence alone, we can figure it out based on SKM teaching methodology. I rest my case.

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Dude, calm down. What I said in my previous post was that it could be

a) Following-According to the company president/CEO/whatever volition, I went out to do the inspection.



Faced with this situation, I chose the first one based on what either Yomichan said as a set-phrase and what this Japanese man told me. At no time, and i repeat, at no time, i said you were wrong. And i don’t really know why your whole answer is based on this mistaken idea.

But you know what, you’re correct. Indeed, i’m 100% agree in all you said. Yes, the て issue was already stated by me; the CEO-rookie example was a very well-prepared example and so it was the “why obey cannot be used here” statement.

It was all a huge misunderstanding of a given example out of context of a silly textbook. Yeah, i know how SKM gives you different examples for each meaning, but this one caught me off guard. It’s an example sentence that, as it happened here, may lead to confusion. But, hey, thank you again for your aid @Jonapedia You saved the day, and you saved this lost student that clearly knows less than you of Japanese.

For all your hard work, i’m gonna give you the solution mark. Thanks!


I find @Jonapedia 's logic compelling and it sounds like careful writers should do something like add の指示 or something to make it as clear as possible if they mean “to obey”, but natives I asked said that while both meanings seem possible, they had an easier time imagining someone actually using the “to obey” meaning in that sentence. Just another anecdotal piece of info.


I think it was just my interpretation of the word ‘correct’ and the order in which you presented the information you had: there were two possible meanings, and then you said one was ‘correct’. I assumed that meant the other one was wrong. But OK, I understand now. Thank you.

Honestly, after some more reading, I’m seeing that perhaps the ‘obey’ sense is not that strange… but I still get the sense that when someone says〈人〉に従う, it’s something like ‘to fall in line behind (someone)’ or ‘to follow (someone’s) leadership’, and therefore ‘to obey’. What I mean is that my impression is that ‘obedience’ is just a consequence that’s included in what’s done, not something explicit. This article says as much with the 夫に従う example.

Ultimately, it seems like there are two interpretations, and it all depends on whether the ‘following’ is physical or relational. You’re right as well.

That’s interesting. Is the ‘obedience’ meaning more common then? Or would other phrases like 社長と一緒に or 社長に随行して be more common for the sense of ‘following’ or ‘accompanying’?

Alternatively, could it be that it’s not that common for CEOs to do inspections personally? (I don’t know what Japanese business and management customs are like.)

For what it’s worth though, it seems that such inspections do happen. I found this on a Goo辞書 page discussing synonyms of 従う:

Either way, it’s good to know, and honestly, I think we all use words in ways that don’t stick strictly to dictionary usage in our native languages, so I’ll take note. Thanks!