One time I was formulating sentences on a website, to practice my Japanese and get natives to correct them. I had written 「何が言ってわかりませんけど」 which I now understand was wrong, but when they corrected my sentence with this 「何を言っているのかわからないかもしれませんけど」 I was shocked.

Most of the sentence I understand, like changing 「が」 to 「を」 but when I got to 「のか」 and 「かもしれません」 I was deeply confused and to be honest, never seen 「のか」 used in a sentence. If it’s not too much trouble, could someone explain the use of these two parts in the sentence and why they are needed to make this sentence?

Thank you.

Edit: Because I forgot to put the whole sentence to clarify who the speaker/ topic is, here it is:「私は何を言っているのかわからないかもしれませんけど、今は日本語を練習をしてます。」

  • 3
    While のか can be explained with what you've provided, the reason for adding かもしれません lies within the context. If you could provide the context, that would make things easier to explain. – Darius Jahandarie Oct 6 '14 at 22:26
  • 1
    sorry, I didn't realize the second part of my sentence would make a huge difference. Because it will help you to help me, I'll provide it right now. Full sentence: 「何を言っているのかわからないかもしれませんけど、今は日本語の練習をしてます。」If there are any issues with the rest of the sentence, feel free to correct it. It will help me :) – Rosepeddel101 Oct 7 '14 at 0:01

The other answers do a reasonable job of breaking things down, but I wanted to make a comment on why 「かもしれません」 was added by a native speaker even though the version without it is perfectly grammatical.

If you look at the final, full, sentence:


The subject of 言う is pretty clearly "I" and the subject of わかる is pretty clearly "you".

If you were to say


it would be like saying either "Even though I don't understand what I'm saying, right now I'm practicing my Japanese." which sounds silly, or "Even though you don't/won't understand what I'm saying, right now I'm practicing my Japanese.", which, although you are trying to be humble, just comes off a little odd even in the English.


on the other hand is like "Even though you may not understand what I'm saying, right now I'm practicing my Japanese.", which

  1. disambiguates the subject of わかる
  2. feels like a standard way to be humble about your abilities because you don't assume anything about the other person
  • Oh okay, that makes sentence. I think the problem with how the native corrected my sentence was that, I wasn't doing a good job in convening what I wanted to say. It's easy for me in English because I'm fluent, but Japanese, not at all. What I was trying to say was this "Even though I don't know what to say, right now I'm practising my Japanese" Could you, possibly, give me a translation of what this sentence would look like? Thanks for the help. – Rosepeddel101 Oct 7 '14 at 0:17
  • Hmm, the closest thing to that is 何を言うべきかよくわからないけど、日本語を練習しています。, which is like "Even though I don't know what I should say, right now I'm practicing my Japanese". However, I think I'd just change the sentence entirely to something like 言うことはあんまりないけど、日本語を練習しているので、よろしくおねがいします。 or something like that (which is "I don't have much to say, but I'm practicing my Japanese, so please put up with me for a bit!"). – Darius Jahandarie Oct 7 '14 at 0:25
  • ahh, I see. I'm just barely starting Japanese, so everything is hard at the moment DX I'm just going to need to take it slowly and learn things bit by bit :) Thanks for the translation, I'll keep a note of it ^^. – Rosepeddel101 Oct 7 '14 at 0:47

Let's break it down piece by piece:

何をいっているか → What are you saying?

However, depending on the context, this can sound a bit to harsh or direct (Japanese people tend to avoid this). As you may know, adding the makes this less direct and/or rhetorical.

何を言っているのか → What are you saying? (not expecting an answer; not so direct)

Now, add in the わからない.

何を言っているのかわからない → "What are you saying?" is what I don't understand → I don't understand what you're saying.

かもしれません is an ending for low probability, i.e., "may" or "might".

何を言っているのかわからないかもしれません → I may not understand what you're saying.

The final けど I think could mean one of two things in this case. Like the other answers said, it could be that it means "but" and there will be a follow-up sentence. However, what seems more likely to me is that it is another "softener" to bring more indirectness, and take focus off the listener.

Take these sentences for example:

  • 言いたいことがあるんだ → "There's something I want to say to you" → Sounds very direct, almost confrontational, putting the listener on the defensive


  • 言いたいことがあるんだけど → "There's something I want to say to you..." → Sounds less confrontational; "softens" the statement; no reason for the listener to become defensive

Now in that sense, let's look at your sentence with and without けど:

  • 何を言っているのかわからないかもしれません → Direct and curt; Sounds like they're implying "I might not understand what you're saying (you nonsense-babbling idiot!)"


  • 何を言っているのかわからないかもしれませんけど → Indirect; non-confrontational; almost like "(Excuse me but,) I may not understand what you're saying."

So adding those two structures makes the translation closer to something like "Hmm, I'm afraid I may not understand what you're saying..."

  • 2
    How do you know who is saying something and who is not understanding it from the way this question was asked? – l'électeur Oct 7 '14 at 0:02
  • Sorry, I honestly didn't really think about putting it in when I wrote it because I took it off the website I was using to practice Japanese. At that website, it was obvious who the speaker was so I forgot to add it here. For your sake, the full sentence should be this:「私は何を言っているのかわからないかもしれませんけど、今は日本語の練習をしてます。」I am sorry about that, I am new to this website and it completely slipped my mind DX I hope adding more to the sentence will help. I will remember for next time. If there are any problems with the sentence, please feel free to correct it. – Rosepeddel101 Oct 7 '14 at 0:10

It's certainly not surprising that the sentence confuses you, it consists of a few grammatical parts, so let's break it down a little bit.


何【なに】を言【い】っている - looks like you understand this, it roughly translates to "What are you saying". However, in Japanese when we refer to an action such as this one, we want to use the particle to conceptualize it. You can also use こと instead of - it will be the same.

Second, the particle after indicates that our "concept" is question-like. That's how the grammar requires the sentence to be structured. And it makes sense, because it follows with 分【わ】からない (do not know).

Third, かもしれません adds uncertainty to the sentence. It roughly translates to "may" and the sentence becomes: "I may not know what you are saying, but..." Without it, the sentence would have been: "I don't know what you are saying, but..."

Finally, けど at the end means "but" and is most likely followed by another clause or statement.

  • 1
    This answer seems mostly fine, but I'm not sure about the last paragraph. I don't think "poetic reasons" is the best explanation for けど without a following clause. – snailboat Oct 6 '14 at 23:29
  • Yeah, change "poetic reasons" to something like "fondness of ellipses" (and implicit phrasing in general), perhaps with a link to an ellipse question on this site, and this answer would be more or less what I was intending to write. (Hence, I deleted mine, as it would become somewhat redundant anyway). – Will Oct 6 '14 at 23:35
  • I left it with just "but", as it would be the best translation while not knowing what the following clause would be. I will definitely update it if the author provides more context. – chlenix Oct 6 '14 at 23:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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