"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,「が」is used, and in the second example, 「を」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.)


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.

  • 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 ^ - ^ Mar 14 '14 at 4:26
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    @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 '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?) Mar 14 '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. Mar 14 '14 at 4:44

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