わかる Japanese Grammar Lesson
Grammar Type: Potential Verb
Essential Meaning: To understand
Construction: Potential Verb
- The basic meaning of わかる (分かる in kanji) is “To understand“, but there are some noteworthy nuances to keep in mind. Firstly, 分かる is a potential form verb, meaning that 分かる technically indicates one’s potential or ability to understand something. It also means that there is no potential form conjugation of 分かる (i.e. 分かれる is ungrammatical).
- 分かる typically follows the ~は~が sentence structure, in which the experiencer is marked by は and the thing that is understood is marked by が. The understander can also optionally take the に (Existence) particle in addition to は.
- E.g. 私にはこの言葉が分かる。[As for me, I understand these words.]
- One exception to this ~は~が structure is that when the sentence involves conscious effort to comprehend something (as opposed to spontaneous comprehension). In such cases, the を particle is used to mark the object of comprehension.
- E.g. 親の死を小さい子供に分からせるのは難しい。[It’s hard to make a small child comprehend the death of a parent.]
- E.g. ジャックはリンダの気持ちを分かろうとしない。[Jack does not make an effort to understand Linda’s feelings.]
- There is a subtle difference between 分かるand 知る [To know]. Namely, 分かる indicates a process of understanding, whereas 知る indicates a state of knowing or an act of receiving raw information from an outside source. In other words, 分かる involves the process of finding out, understanding, or comprehending something, and 知る involves the transmission and receipt of raw, discrete information that does not need to be analyzed or unpacked.
- E.g. 友達に聞いて大野の結婚のことを知っていた。[I knew about Ono’s marriage by hearing it from a friend.] This sentence involves a mere transmission of information rather than a process of understanding or reasoning. Therefore, 知る is the appropriate verb choice.
- E.g. よく考えれば分かります。[If you think hard, you’ll understand.] This sentence involves a deliberate act of consideration and reasoning. Therefore, 分かる is the appropriate verb choice.
- E.g. A: いくら分かりますか？B: はい、調べれば分かります。[A: Do you know how much it is? B: Yes, if I look it up I can figure it out.]
- E.g. こんばん何をするつもりですか？まだ分かりません。[A: What are you planning to do this evening: B: I haven’t figured that out yet.]
私にはこの言葉が分からない。[As for me, I don’t understand these words.]
私はこの映画の意味が分からない。[I don’t understand this movie’s meaning.]
この問題は難しくて分かりません。[This problem is difficult, so I don’t understand it.]
明日までにこの仕事ができるかどうかわかりません。[I’m not sure whether I will be able to finish this job by tomorrow.]
A: 田中さんを知っていますか B: 知っていますが、あの人はどうもよく分かりません。[A: Do you know Tanaka-san? B: I know him, but he is somehow incomprehensible to me.]
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