I have the following sentence in my JLPT practise book:


My faltering translation is something like, "How did my mother feel at the time, she couldn't have known it was me."

I'm unclear on the implications. It seems to be that the mother's feelings are unclear because of not knowing who the speaker is, but who the speaker is and how the mother would express it don't seem logically related to me. For example, if she shouted because she was angry, it wouldn't matter who she thought she was shouting at for an outside observer to determine she was angry.

How does knowing who the speaker is and her feelings at the time connect? I feel because I don't have a logical interpretation of the implications, my translations doesn't feel correct.

What would be a more accurate translation than mine?


4 Answers 4


It seems you're not interpreting the sentence quite correctly.

It should be "As a child I had no way of knowing how my mother felt at that time."


Would be "how my mother felt at the time."


I think this is where you might be getting thrown off. 子供の私には is what you need to focus on. 子供の私 is the "child version" of the speaker, from that point in time. には is saying that the preceding is not comprehensible to him/her. I assume べくもない is the target grammar point so you should know that it's saying, basically, "had no way of knowing."

  • 4
    And now you get 3 answers basically saying the same thing so hooray!
    – ssb
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 7:18
  • Price for getting told not to write answers as comments...
    – virmaior
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 7:24
  • I'll allow it. The more the merrier!
    – ssb
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 7:26
  • @virmaior, I agree with ssb, the more the merrier. I'm glad to have different approaches to the same conclusion. The only difficulty is deciding which one to mark correct. It's a good problem to have.
    – Questioner
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 7:41

I think you're parsing the sentence wrong. I read it as something like:

There was no way that I, as a child, could have known what my mother was feeling back then.

I think the one who couldn't have known was 子どもの私, and the thing they couldn't have known was 当時母がどんな気持ちだったのか.


I think you're misunderstanding the use of 代名詞 in this.

The whole is:

The feeling my mother had at that time was not something I could understand as a child.

I think what's confusing use is the second half based on your translation

子{こ}どもの私{わたし} = me as a child

子{こ}どもの私{わたし} = to me as a child

子{こ}どもの私{わたし}に = to me as a child

--> I had originally supposed は functions here as a subject marker (where the comment double upvoted states "は is not a subject marker" which I take to mean this は is not a subject marker. (Should we understand it as simply functioning as a topic marker or contrastive?)

and thus our subject is "to me as a child".

知るべく = something I could know [but in this case understand]

  • 2
    は is not a subject marker.
    – Szymon
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 7:28
  • @Szymon is the amendment to your liking? (also what function would you describe は as having here?
    – virmaior
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 13:29
  • こと is the subject in this sentence, I believe. I think は is more contrastive/topic, meaning for me as a child in particular, not some other people. There's also に next to 私 which makes it an indirect object.
    – Szymon
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 13:44
  • I agree with you about the topic. I think you're using "sentence" in a slightly unhelpful way here though. Certain types of clauses also have subjects -- as in the one that precedes ことだった in this case. 子供の私には知るべくもない can stand as a sentence by itself. In which case what would call the subject of that sentence?
    – virmaior
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 14:00
  • 1
    @virmaior:I am not a native speaker either but although it might not be "good Japanese", I think it works. I will give my thoughts under your new question.
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 21, 2014 at 14:42

The interpretations are correct but there is still a bit more to get from this passage:

The expression:


is correctly translated as:

"As to how my mother felt at the time"

but the "、" can be seen as functioning like "は":This phrase is the topic of the rest of the sentence. It links directly to "ことだった。", as in AはBことだった (ie A、Bことだった。)

As virmaior says:

知るべく=something I could know [but in this case understand]

It is worth mentioning that べく is usually associated with "must" but in this case it is closer to "should", which is in turn closer to "could". There best way I can think of to make this point clearer is to compare "There is no way I could have known..." vs "There is no way I should have known". They are not exactly the same but often you can say either without changing the overall meaning.

The next grammatical point is the expression 〜べくもない. I think there is another JLPT N1 point here but the best I could find quickly in my old textbooks was several expressions that include ~もない such as ~出来そうにもない, where the "もない” makes the negative sense more absolute (-> "There is no way I could know" rather than the slightly weaker "I could not know").

And finally the sentence ends in past tense, "だった". The writer could have used "だ" and the meaning would not have changed but when relating past events the plain form is to describe "the stage" or circumstantial matters. This is not a circumstantial matter. It would not surprise me if the complete text you are looking at describes other more circumstantial matters in the plain form.

We end up with a more literal translation such as:

"As for how my mother felt (then), it was not something that the child I was at the time could have known."

Which equates to the more natural:

There was no way that I, as a child, could have known what my mother was feeling back then.

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