Merry Christmas everybody!
Thank you very much for reading my blog this year. I wanted to write this post, but was very busy for the last one month. I'm glad that I made it right before my winter break. I'm leaving for Shanghai tomorrow! What are you doing during this Christmas break?
Many readers of this blog may be thinking, “She’s finally writing about this!”
Soon after you began studying Japanese, you learned that “wakarimasen” means “I don’t understand.” However, it’s also used as “I don’t know,” right? So which one is correct…?
I’m sure you’ve wondered about this. My apologies for this late explanation.
Let’s begin from an easy point. I think you can interpret “understand” like this:
I understand. ＝ wakaru (rikai shiteiru)
I don't understand. ＝ wakaranai (rikai shiteinai)You can use either “wakaru” or “shitteiru” for “I know” and also use either “wakaranai” or “shiranai” for “I don’t know.” It’s this complication that’s confusing.
First of all, “shiru” means “to get information” and “shitteiru” indicates the state of having information. When you say, “I know him” or “I know this restaurant”, it refers to having information about him or the restaurant.
(watashi wa) kare o shitteiru.
(watashi wa) kono restaurant o shitteiru.I think it’s okay to use “shitteiru” when you’ve seen, heard, or read about a certain topic. It indicates that you have at least superficial information about it.
On the other hand, when you say “I know what you mean” or “I know how you feel,” it has the nuance of relating to the speaker because you’ve experienced the same thing. It expresses a deeper understanding and not just superficial information, and “wakaru” is best used in this case.
(watashi wa anata no) iitai koto ga wakaru. (I know what you mean.)
(watashi wa anata no) kimochi ga wakaru. (I know how you feel.)Let’s compare these examples.
① Do you know where he lives? → No, I don't know.
② Do you know what you are doing? → Yes, I do.
① kare ga doko ni sundeiru ka, shitteiru? → uun, shiranai.
② jibun ga nani o shiteiru ka, wakatteiru no? → un, wakatteiru.① is about whether you possess superficial information, and ② has more depth to it. Wouldn’t you agree?
Consider this next example from the viewpoint of having or not having information.
③kono news o shittieru? → un, shitteiru. (having information) / uun, shiranai. (having no information)Simple, isn’t it? How about this sentence:
④kono hen ni eki ga arimasu ka? → hai, arimasu. (knowing that there is a station nearby) /iie, arimasen. (knowing that there is not any station nearby)Whether the answer is yes or no, both indicate that you have information about the station. Furthermore, you could say “wakarimasen” here too. This wouldn’t mean “I don’t understand your question,” but instead means "I don't know if there is a station nearby." However, if this is so, the question of why you can't say "shirimasen" arises.
④kono he ni eki ga arimasu ka? → sa, shirimasen ne.This answer isn't necessarily wrong, but I think Japanese people usually answer “sa, wakarimasen ne.” Why is that? Well, if you use “shirimasen,” this would give a cold impression, kind of like curtly saying, “I don’t have that information” or even "How should I know?" Contrary to this, “wakarimasen” carries the nuance of a softer “no,” as if to say, “There might indeed be a station around here, but I haven’t checked into it (or, I’m not familiar with this neighborhood), so I’m afraid I can’t answer…” This expression may be similar to gentle negation, such as “sakana wa suki desu ka?” (Do you like fish?) and “sakana wa chotto…” (Fish is kind of...), or “ashita nomi ni ikanai?” (Why don’t we have a drink tomorrow?) and “ashita wa chotto muzukashii na” (Tomorrow is a bit difficult for me).
Next, let’s think about the different impressions these sentences convey.
⑤(anata wa) konshumatsu nani o suru no? (What are you doing this weekend?) → shiranai. (This gives the impression of indifference.)
⑥(anata wa) konshumatsu nani o suru no? → wakaranai. (This person can’t answer because they don’t have plans yet.)Lastly, I’d like to share a simple tip for choosing correctly between “wakaranai” and “shiranai.” When you’re unsure how to express “I don’t know” in Japanese, pay attention to the form of the question.
1. When the question ends in “shitteiru?” (①), answer “shiranai.”
2. When the question ends in “wakaru/wakatteiru?” (②), answer “wakaranai.”
3. When the question doesn’t include “Do you know…” (③, ④, and ⑤), answer “wakaranai.”It’s always important to listen to the question and answer it appropriately.
OK, this is it! minasan, yoi otoshi o!! ("Happy new year" used by the end of December 31.)