I hear both fairly often but i still can't tell the difference and when to use what.

I found this answer in yahoo answers but it seems like there is a difference in opinion (?) - not sure, didn't understand some of the answers.

I usually hear omoidashita (思い出した) when someone suddenly recalls something. And I am sure I heard oboetenaino? (覚えてないの) a few times and to me it seems like the person is saying: "you don't remember do you?".

So it seems to me that they both mean the same thing. Is this correct?

For example:

Person1: 覚えてないの?
Person2: 思い出せない

Is this valid?

So I guess my questions are:

  • Do they mean the same thing?
  • Are they interchangeable?

3 Answers 3


覚える remember or "keep remembering"; 思い出す recall. These two words are supposed to illustrate the difference in meaning, not politeness.

Interesting tidbit: 覚える comes from 思ふ via 思はゆ, with ゆ being an alternative to (ら)る, the 自発・受身・可能の助動詞. So 覚える would literally be "able to think" because you have remembered it. On the other hand, 思い出す would be "to come out with a thought."

Rather than one example where they are similar, let's consider two sentences that shows how they're different:

誕生日、覚えていてくれたんですか!? 嬉しい!
She is happy because he did not forget her birthday. ("kept remembering")

He had forgotten it and remembered (recalled) it just now.

Now try to exchange the two expressions:

Makes no sense.

What you could say is

It learned tackle in that instant.

Here it means 身に付ける, 体得する. What comes before を覚えた is some skill or feeling (酒の味を覚える[=知る]). The point is that you learn it and then "keep remembering" it.

記憶喪失とかなんとか言われてあたしは……あたしは… すごく心配……本当に、誕生日、思い出してくれたんですか?

Alright, this sounds a bit construed, but I hope it gets the point across. It came to back to his mind at that moment.

More examples:








  • I feel 'その瞬間、体当たりを覚えた。' is slightly strange. '体当たりを覚えた。' is good. But 'その瞬間' is too short to learn something to use body.
    – fliedonion
    Jul 13, 2013 at 11:22
  • 「すぐに体当たりを覚えた。」「あっという間に体当たりを覚えた。」「一瞬で全てのカードを覚えた。」「すぐに彼は覚えた。」「一瞬で彼は覚えた。」are natural Japanese.
    – fliedonion
    Jul 13, 2013 at 11:43
  • 「現れる」,「消える」 or something like that follow the 「忽然と」. 「忽然と現れる。」「忽然と登場する。」「忽然と消え去る。」. 「忽然楽しかった昔のことを思い出す。(without と)」 is not bad, however old-fashioned.
    – fliedonion
    Jul 13, 2013 at 12:04
  • 楽しかった昔のことを忽然と思い出す is from the 明鏡国語辞典. As for the rest, thanks for the corrections.
    – blutorange
    Jul 15, 2013 at 18:54

Being a Japanese who learned English, I was also confused with this same problem! I think the source of confusion is seen in the previous post:

Person2: 彼の名前なんだったっけ?
Person1: 覚えてないの?
Person2: 思い出せない。

Person2: What was his name?
Person1: Don't you remember?
Person2: I can't remember."

Yes, this is good translation from natural dialog to natural one. But "覚えてないの?" is translated to "Don't you remember?", which is the cause of confusion.

If you transliterate(*) the second J sentence to weird English: (*: Here I mean word by word translation.)

Person1: 覚えてないの?
Person1: Haven't you memorized it? or Don't you have it memorized?

If you transliterate the second E sentence to an unnatural response in J:

Person1: Don't you remember?
Person1: 思い出せないの?

According to dictionary.com, remember has multiple meanings.

"1. to recall to the mind by an act or effort of memory; think of again: I'll try to remember the exact date."
"2. to retain in the memory; keep in mind; remain aware of: Remember your appointment with the dentist."

Here , 1 is 思い出す; 2 is 覚える.

I think confusion is sometimes caused by the difference between the translation of natural dialogs and the word-to-word translation.

Person1: 覚えてないの?
Person2: 思い出せない

Yes, correct.

Person2: 彼の名前なんだったっけ?
Person1: 覚えてないの?
Person2: 思い出せない。

Person2: What was his name?
Person1: Don't you remember?
Person2: I can't remember.
  • Do they mean the same thing?

    • 覚える like a Memorize, 思う like a Think. to look alike but be different.
  • Are they interchangeable?

    • In my opinion, they are not.

Some cases

覚えていますか?=> Do you still remember?
思い出せますか?=> Can you remember that?

* cannot express with 覚える *
その歌を思い出します。=> I recall the song.

このカードを覚えておいてください。=> Please memorize this card.
* cannot express with 思い出す *    

I memorized it! So now I can recall it.
  • "So I can recall that." This is confusing English. "recall" is formal english but I have the impression 思い出せます is more colloquial in feeling in japanese. (One would use the word recall more for business or academic or legal settings, not as frequently with friends at a bar for instance.). thnx for answer, though.
    – yadokari
    Jul 11, 2013 at 13:05
  • 1
    @yadokari Thanks for checking my English grammar. I didn't know recall is formal English. But we can use '思い出せます' in formal case. We can use '記憶しています' or '覚えています' instead of '思い出せます', but It is not a very serious matter. However '記憶しています' is not colloquial in feeling in Japanese. And '記憶してる', '覚えている' and '思い出せる' are bad in formal case because of their '語尾'.
    – fliedonion
    Jul 13, 2013 at 11:34

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