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I had thought that "вслед за чем" was used in the capacity of куда (e.g. "Я шел — и вслед за мною шли / Какие-то неистовые люди" --A. Blok, "Он отправился вслед за нею; но толпа разделила их" --Gogol, Nevskij Prospekt), whereas "вслед чему" was used for где ("Спаси тебя Бог, — говорит она вслед тому, кто ее не слышит" --Olga Sedakova).

So [I thought] I learned from a very proper Russian teacher. However, a search online reveals that "вслед чему" is seemingly quite often used for куда--particularly following "смотреть," but in other contexts too (the dictionary gives the example "Вершинин погнал лошадь вдоль линии железной дороги, вслед убегающему бронепоезду (Вс. Иванов).") The same dictionary says, rather confusingly:

вслед — кому чему и за кем чем.

  1. кому чему (по направлению, в сторону кого , чего л. удаляющегося). Смотреть вслед ушедшим.

...and elsewhere:

ВСЛЕД 2. кому (чему), предл. с дат. По направлению за кем-чем-н. Смотреть в. ушедшему.

What gives? Is what I learned wrong? What rule(s) actually govern the use of these expressions?

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  • to be honest you question is a bit confusing, can you try make it a bit clearer - so what are you asking exactly - why there are two forms "вслед за поездом" and "вслед ушедшему"? – shabunc Jul 3 '16 at 19:20
  • @shabunc What is the difference in when to use them – SAH Jul 3 '16 at 20:11
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It's not about "куда" и "где". More like "after something" or "in the direction of something (going away)". "Вслед за ..." means "after". "Я побежал вслед за поездом" - I ran after the train (trying to catch up with it probably). "Вслед за первой группой, отправилась вторая" - the second group departed after the first one (not even necessarily in the same direction in this context, though, most of the time it is implied). "Темная машина медленно тронулась вслед за нами" (someone is after us!).

"Вслед кому-то" is closer to "in the direction of (something leaving)". "Она грустно посмотрела ему вслед". Etc.

In the first case, there is usually something actually moving after the other thing, while in the other case, it's just a sense of direction - somebody is looking it that direction, or yelling in it, etc.

This is not a very clear boundary at all, and also sometimes people just use it differently, either because they don't know better, or because they want to sound original. Your example with "вслед убегающему бронепоезду" is one of those cases. It would have been more fitting to say "вслед за ..." here, but when you are a prominent writer, you get to be a bit more playful with the rules sometimes than the rest of us can afford.

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There are cases when those two expressions can be used interchangeable.

E.g: Я бежал вслед за поездом. - Я бежал вслед поезду.

However, I wouldn't say "Вслед меня шли два человека" instead of "вслед за мною".

*Maybe it has something to do with animate/inanimate feature of the object. Because "Спаси тебя Бог, — говорит она вслед машине, которая проносится мимо неё" sounds perfectly fine to me.*

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  • Thanks for this answer! One note, in your third example ("I wouldn't say...") it should be "Вслед мне" (not Вслед меня) in order to recapitulate "Вслед чему." So the question is, rather, would you say "Вслед мне шли два человека"? – SAH Jul 3 '16 at 20:47
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    I see where you're coming from. But saying "вслед мне" is also incorrect. It seems like "вслед за мной/мною" is the only option here. – dgr379 Jul 3 '16 at 20:51
  • "вслед мне смотрели три человека" It's totally correct. – Abakan Jul 4 '16 at 5:33
  • You are right! My fault. I don't know what, but something was telling me it was wrong. But make sure you stress ВСЛЕД мне when you say it, because when you say вслед МНЕ it sounds incorrect to me. @Alex.S – dgr379 Jul 4 '16 at 8:49
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    However, can you say "Вслед мне шли два человека"?. @Alex.S – dgr379 Jul 4 '16 at 13:12
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I can see here following difference (in your examples and in all examples, which I can imagine). Вслед за чем is used, when one person repeats action of another person:

Я пошел вслед за ним. - He went, and I followed him - I repeat his action (to go) and direction. Я назвал свое имя вслед за ним. - He said his name, and I repeated his action - I said my name.

Compare second phrase with following:

Я сказал свое имя ему вслед.

Here the second type of phrase (вслед кому) is used, and now it means "He began to go away from me, and I said my name to him." Here is two different actions: one person goes, another - speaks. The same with your examples:

Вершинин погнал лошадь вдоль линии железной дороги, вслед убегающему бронепоезду.

Вершинин is riding a horse, train - runs. (Well, both are moving, that's why you can use here погнал лошадь вслед за убегающим бронепоездом. But it is a bit different ways to move, so author used вслед убегающему бронепоезду.)

Спаси тебя Бог, — говорит она вслед тому, кто ее не слышит.

Here also different actions: she says, another person seems to go away.

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