第103課: 知る VS 分かる
The verbs 知る and 分かる are both translated as “to know/understand,” and although it may seem easy just to assign one translation for one verb and call it a day, there is a lot more to differentiating these two verbs apart.
Differentiating the Two
First, consider the following sentence that serves as a diagnostic as to whether you intrinsically understand how 知る and 分かる differ.
A: Can you explain the difference between a “bee” and a “wasp”?
B: I feel like I sort of get the difference, but then I also feel like I don’t know.
- 知る shows the acquisition of information, knowledge, experience, and in the progressive form (～てる), it indicates that the speaker has already learned of or become aware of the matter at hand.
- 分かる indicates true comprehension. It can either be what oneself has grasped or what has become clear to everyone. When it is used with the progressive form (), it indicates that has been dealing with some realization for a while.
It would seem that translating 知る as to “comprehend” is inadequate in light of other phrases such as “to realize,” “to know/learn (of),” or even “to sense.” It would also seem safe to view 分かる as meaning “to grasp/understand/comprehend.” Just from the translation options alone, there appears to be a clear distinction in understanding implied by these two verbs.
Now, let’s turn our attention to how these verbs are defined in Japanese dictionaries. You’ll find that doing so may put a lot of these key words into scrutiny, or at least force you to consider the overall context you are trying to picture in both languages.
FROM A DICTIONARY STANDPOINT
①To recognize the existence and/or occurrence of something.
Most of the residents [realized/found out] an accident had occurred via the news.
I didn’t sense/realize/know there was an earthquake last night.
③To ascertain/grasp/be conscious of the value, substance, or situation of X.
[Do you know/are you aware of] how much the world’s population is?
④To remember/be versed in a matter.
You know Kanji very well, don’t you?
⑤To experience/go through.
You know not the hardships of the world.
⑥To remember from study.
If it’s Catalan we’re talking about, I know some.
⑦To get acquainted with.
I happened to meet someone [I know/I’m acquainted with].
⑧Usually with negative constructions, to be concerned/have to do with.
It has nothing to do with me.
Orthography Note: ③～⑥ can be represented with 識る.
参照: Sourced from google辞書
【分かる】［動ラ五］(Ergative Intransitive Verb)
①To clearly discern/comprehend the meaning of something and/or how it differs from something else.
I’m at a lost of understanding.
②To determine the truth.
The criminal’s identity has been [determined/found out].
③To really get things/emotions; to have common sense.
Occasionally, you get a person in the Japanese government that gets things, too.
④Equivalent to “I know, right!”
I know that feeling!
⑤To accept a request from someone. Always used with ～た with the subject – oneself – never overtly stated.
Orthography Note: ①③ may be spelled as 解る, and ② may be spelled as 判る. It is also very common to see it spelled simply in Hiragana.
参照: Sourced from google辞書
To simplify, 知る concerns what goes into someone’s mind and 分かる concerns how knowledge is actually processed in the mind. How this fundamental difference manifests may require some thought at first, but with plenty of examples, you will go from having 知った！ them to having 分かった！them.
I was then acquainted with the taste of ramen.
Ah, I get it now.
Like this, see?
I don’t know whether I will attend or not.
You’ll understand once you look it up.
Lyrics are crafted so that you don’t understand what they mean.
Although my husband didn’t actually understand them, he just gave simple answers and came home since he “had everything recorded.”
Despite looking up words that I didn’t know, I laughed at how I didn’t get the Japanese or the English.
If you think about it, you’ll understand.
I’ve never played golf, so I don’t know what it is.
I learned the difference between a fairway and a green by googling.
Since we have this phrase “aoshingo,” I have no idea what we should call it when it’s not blue.
Though she should have [known/realized] that the person was Japanese.
Octopus is also rare in America? I had no idea!
Some conjugations are not possible with 分かる due to semantic conflicts. For instance, it cannot be used with the passive/potential auxiliary verb ～れる. Consequently, its 敬語 forms are お分かりだ and お分かりになる respectively. 分かれる is avoided because this word form exists with the meaning “to be be separated.”
I would happy if anyone who understands (this) could teach me.
However, its 敬語 forms are avoided in second-person questions as it is not deemed proper to confront someone’s knowledge in a formal setting. One must instead use a rephrasing.
This concludes (my talk); is there anything unclear?
Traditionally, 分かる is not paired with grammar points pertaining volitional control of situations as it pertains to inherent understanding. As such, it does not possess command forms – affirmative or negative – and cannot be used with the auxiliary verbs ～う・ましょう for “let’s.” However, in recent years, it has gained the ability to be used with ～たい and ～うとする to indicate a sincere desire to understand something. In such scenarios, the use of ～を is becoming more and more imperative as acceptance rises.
I want to understand the Japanese soul at all cost.
I’m trying to understand how my boyfriend feels.
I (really) wanna know you!
If you really want to understand, look into it well.
Without the intervention of these auxiliaries, showing a willful desire to understand something is still outside the semantic realm of 分かる, and even with their help, it is not proper . One must instead use other verbs such as 理解する (to understand) or 把握する (to comprehend/grasp), which do not share this restriction. As for how these verbs differ from 分かる and 知る, they are more technical and thus restricted to those definitions, appearing most often in the written language.
I am studying Japanese to understand the Japanese mindset.
I am trying to ascertain the situation.
Although 分かる cannot be used with the potential ～れる or ～ことができる, for that matter, based on the grounds of not indicating volition, it can occasionally be seen with the potential auxiliary ～得る, but this potential auxiliary is particularly unique in that it is objective in its portrayal of attaining ability. This offsets the ungrammaticality that potential grammar poses. There are those, however, that find 理解できる the far more natural and common means.
I gained an understanding for the frightening aspects of a nuclear accident.
As far as particles are concerned, the subject of 分かる may be marked by が, は, に, or には. The use of に（は） is particularly prevalent when the subject and object are both present to avoid double が – although that is not inherently problematic – and to really dig at the true comprehension of the subject. On the other hand, に（は） is not preferred when the content of understanding is deemed invariable.
So, what exactly do you know?
Those who understand understand; that’s all.
Have your students tell you in their own words whether they’re really understanding.
As a person by the name of Alexander Grothendieck was lecturing, he accidentally mistakenly gave 57 as a concrete example of a prime number when his students weren’t understanding the material.
As for marking the object, the use of が is imperative most of the time as it an intransitive verb, but because of the growing acceptance of を when used with ～たい, ～てくれる, ～てほしい, etc., it is becoming more prevalent in casual speech beyond these grammar points.
How much of an owner’s words does their beloved cat understanding?
Because 知る is a normal transitive verb, it does not share the same restrictions on its conjugations that 分かる has. Meaning, 知りたい, 知られる (passive), and 知ることができる pose no problems.
I want to know more about what is happening in Ukraine.
How can you know God?
This phenomenon is well known.
There is someone among the inheritors that (they) don’t how how to contact whose whereabouts are unknown.
※As for 知れる, although it can be synonymous with 知ることができる, it is one example of a handful of so-called spontaneous intransitive verbs that aided in the creation of the （ら）れる potential conjugation, and it deserves a separate complication due to its complexity.
Also unlike 分かる, has a tense restriction that prevents it from being used in the non-past tense in a question. Meaning, asking 知りますか would mean that you are asking whether someone is responsive to information, which indicates that the verb defaults to Meanings ①②. As for 知るか, this is grammatical as か is being rhetorically, making the phrase mean “as if I’d know.”
On the other hand, 分かりますか can be used to ask about comprehension. Although 知っていますか is perfectly fine for asking whether someone knows something, there is still that fundamental difference in understanding that separates them. So, if you were to ask 「大統領を知っていますか」, the person is asking whether you know the president personally or know about the president; 分かりますか would be wrong as it would imply a severity that simply does not manifest without further explanation.
Whereas 分かっていない is very common, 知っていない is almost always ungrammatical. To tackle this problem, understanding how the progressive form is used with them is important.
- 知っている: Shows that you are in the state of keeping hold of some knowledge about something.
- 分かっている: Shows that you are in the state of knowing the true essence of something.
I recognize (X situation), but I don’t really grasp it at the moment.
(He/someone) doesn’t even understand the difference between “discrimination” and “differentiating.”
知らない VS 知っていない
The standard negative form of 知っている is 知らない rather than 知っていない, making it the only ～ている form to exhibit this almost completely imperative switch to ～ない instead of ～ていない.
“Do you know about ##?” “No, I don’t.”
To understand how 知っていない functions, reflecting on how 知る functions in relation to tense and aspect markers in general is a good start.
Shohei found out Mariko’s address.
Shohei doesn’t know Mariko’s address.
Shohei knows Mariko’s address.
Shohei didn’t known/hadn’t known Mariko’s address.
Even for “hadn’t known,” we find that ～ていなかった is not used, although it otherwise would with any other verb. Whereas 知る in the non-past acts as an instantaneous verb, capturing that moment of finding out, it often functions as a condition verb in the negative, in which it describes the state of not knowing. If you wanted to state that someone won’t ever find out, that is the negative rendition of its instantaneous use, and that too is expressed by 知らない.
Shohei will probably not know/find out Mariko’s address even tomorrow.
知っていない does function in rare instances. 久野’s (1983) is the most authoritative analysis of its use that has been posited. In his analysis, there are two factors that govern the grammaticality of 知っていない: a syntactic component and a semantic component.
The syntactic factor is that when 知っていない is juxtaposed with 知っている, or said juxtaposition is inferred, 知っていない may be used, and this likelihood increases with derivatives. However, 知らない remains dominant in all such instances.
54a. 知っていようが知っていなかろうが 〇
54b. 知っていようが知らなかろうが ◎
Whether you know or not
55a. 知っていても知っていなくても 〇
55b. 知っていても知らなくても ◎
Even if you do or do not know
56. ケイトさんはたとえ韓国語を｛知らなくても ◎・知っていなくても 〇｝あのKPOP運営会社に採用されていただろう。
Kate would have definitely been hired by the KPOP management company even if she didn’t know Korean.
As for the semantic factor, he posits that 知っていない focuses on 完了性, which correlates to the idea of perfect tenses. As the core meaning of ～ている is the progressive aspect and/or the aspect of an effect being maintained. In addition to this, it also has a perfect tense aspect to it: the situation has been a thing since before a set time and maintains its effect beyond that set time. For instance, in “I have eaten it,” the act of eating happened before the present, the time of eating was before the present, but the act of the object being eaten remains true into the present and will continue to be true. This subtle difference between something like “I have eaten it” and “I was eating” is, albeit meticulously, still distinguishable in context with ～ている, so the big question is how do these two interrelated aspects affect the grammaticality of 知ってていない.
久野 (1983) posits that when the perfect aspect is at work, 知っていない ought to be the only form possible, but for the perfect aspect to only work, other factors are at play.
57. 新聞を読むまでに太郎は事件の真相を｛知っていない 〇・知らない X｝。(+Perfect)
Until Taro reads the newspaper, he will not have known the truth of the case.
58. 太郎は今まで一度も自分の限界を｛知っていない 〇・知らない X｝。(+Perfect)
Taro has as of yet never once known his limit.
The main factor that prevents this ideal condition is the situation aspect (状態性) that usually defines 知っている in the negative. What’s more, many instances of 知っていない that follow the syntactic factor that rely on parallelism are not in the perfect aspect (Exs. 54~56). To combat this, 久野 (1983) states that 知っていない can only be used in abnormal scenarios, but that since they are ‘scenarios,’ it can incidentally show up when the perfect aspect is not present.
Expanding on this notion, 前田(2010) posits that the difference between individual-level and stage-level predicates is at play. Individual-level predicates are statements that are true of individuals as a whole. For instance, in “Taro is Japanese,” the predicate is always true unless an outstanding circumstance is at play. A stage-level predicate is only true of an individual for a certain duration. For instance, “Taro is sick” does not inherently imply how long he has been sick or will be sick, but it is assumed that that state hasn’t been so forever and that it won’t last forever.
When ～ている is used with instantaneous verbs to represent continued effect, the resultant predicate is a stage-level predicate because it may be ongoing but it may not be forever. In the negative, if the speaker focuses on how the event still hasn’t happened, it still functions as a stage-level predicate, but if the speaker doesn’t focus on the existence of the event and only mentions how it is not so, then it is an individual-level predicate.
59a. 太郎が事件の真相を何も知らない。(Individual-Level Predicate)
59b. 太郎が事件の真相を何も知っていない。(Stage-Level Predicate)
59a. Taro knows nothing about the truth of the case.
59b. Taro has yet to know anything about the truth of the case.
Thus, when the perfect aspect is not in play, the difference in predicate type will exemplify how 知らない and 知っていない are interpreted – (reflect on Ex. 56). What Ex. 59 shows us, also, is that if “has yet to know” sounds unnecessarily wordy to get the point across, the same holds true in Japanese, which is why 59b is normally not heard. As for Exs. 57-58, although 知らない is most certainly ungrammatical, 理解していない would be the most natural word choice.
Another factor 久野(1983) posits is how subjectivity comes into play. He points out that 知らない is from the perspective of the subject about the lack of knowledge being discussed, whereas 知っていない is an objective outward perspective regarding the lack of knowledge. Because of this, 知っていない is never used in first-person because everyone will always be biased towards themselves.
Although Japanese does carve out stage-level predicates combined with the perfect aspect as the best scenario to use 知っていない, it provides so many more efficient means of avoiding that scenario. Aside from the examples shown here which are continuously recycled when discussing its grammaticality, 知っていない remains quite elusive, with examples not exceeding its confines.