Take the 2-minute tour ×
Japanese Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

"I don't know how to use honorific language."


"Do you know how to make a flight reservation?"


The above two sentences were taken from my homework -- which were graded by my sensei, so these should be the correct translations. My question, however, is why is it that in the first example, を is used, and in the second example, が is used? Is it due to the fact that "わかりません" in this case is being used in the form of an ability? (Potential forms use the が particle.)

share|improve this question

1 Answer 1

Though it's convenient to translate both わかる and 知る as "to know", they're a bit different.

わかる is an intransitive verb, and it acts only indirectly on the thing being known. Intransitive verbs tend to be paired with particle が.

知る, on the other hand, is a transitive verb, and it acts directly on the thing being known. Transitive verbs mark direct objects with particle を.

So a more literal translation of your first sentence would be "(As for me), the way to use honorific language is not understood." The translation of your second sentence would basically remain unchanged.

share|improve this answer
It's odd how they don't make that distinction in some Japanese textbooks. Generally in class, our sensei uses わかる and 知る seemingly interchangeably. But thank you, your answer makes a lot of sense ^ - ^ –  MorningCoffee Mar 14 at 4:26
@MorningCoffee It will probably take a long time to get a solid understanding of the difference, so for now just try to remember that 分かる uses が and 知る uses を! –  ssb Mar 14 at 4:28
Quite literally, the homework assignment says: Translate these sentences into Japanese. The first sentence (as shown above) uses the word "know" which would make sense then, to answer it with 知る (which is what I did), but the homework corrections used わかる. (Perhaps a flaw in the corrections?) –  MorningCoffee Mar 14 at 4:34
That's where the nuance between わかる and 知る comes into play. For things that are learned or acquired over time, like Keigo, わかる is used. 知る is used much more often for objects, people, discrete points of data, etc. It's a bit more complicated than that, really, but that's a good starting point. –  alexhatesmil Mar 14 at 4:44
I guess the subject title wasn't very clear, but alexhatesmill answered my question ^ - ^ Aha –  MorningCoffee Mar 14 at 5:11

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.