I would like to ask, "How many kanji are you supposed to know?" My best guess was

(漢字を)何字知っているはずですか。 I omitted 漢字 since it was in context

This was reviewed by a native Japanese speaker and I had it corrected to 何字知っていますか with the explanation that the previous "is over complicated". However, I see no reason why the corrected sentence conveys the sense of "supposed" that I intended.

Could someone please verify that the previous question does indeed sound over complicated and perhaps provide a better way to ask that question (that conveys expectation rather than fact)?

  • I'd say "漢字は何字知ってることになっていますか?". – user4092 Oct 28 '16 at 10:01

I feel 何字知っているはずですか? is unnatural. I feel a question form of はずだ like はずですか? is unnatural, and the native Japanese speaker also would feel so. The reason why I feel it is unnatural is because はずだ indicates speaker's guess with conviction, so it would be unnatural to ask someone for it.

I think 何字知っているべきですか? and 何字知っていて当然ですか? are more natural.

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  • Why is the question form of はずですか? and why is べきですか more? What's the nuanced difference between the two? – Ataraxia Oct 26 '16 at 18:21
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    I think はずだ indicates speaker's guess, so it would be unnatural to ask someone for it. – Yuuichi Tam Oct 26 '16 at 18:49
  • In Japanese class, English speakers learn that 「はずだ」means "supposed to" (which I took to mean "required to"). Based on this answer, a better translation would be "supposedly" (meaning "presumably"). Is that correct? – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Oct 26 '16 at 22:36
  • @YuuichiTam Thank you. I believe I'm beginning to understand it better. After internalizing the "general expectation" explanation of はず, I can think I can understand why using it in a question might be unnatural. Correct me if I'm wrong but would using はずですか be like asserting that you are aware of an expectation that exists but at the same time, somehow, don't know what that expectation is? – G-Cam Oct 27 '16 at 3:11
  • @ BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft I don't know about "supposed to" in detail but when it means "required to", it is translated as "~するように義務付けられる(要求される). I don't know correctly what English words are appropriate for the translation of はずだ. I think はずだ means speaker's guess with conviction. – Yuuichi Tam Oct 27 '16 at 4:07

The correction does not have the same meaning as the question in English, so I think your friend misunderstood what you wanted to ask (which is another reason to avoid はず here).

Even though はず can be translated as "supposed", it does not work well in this case. It is used when you have a reasonable expectation of something. E.g.:

A Japanese is supposed to know around 2000 kanji.

I think something with -べき would work better here. Also, a more specific subject would make the question's purpose clearer, e.g.:

How many kanji one should learn to read newspapers?
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  • The question form of your first example (which uses「知っているはずです」) would be OP's exact sentence, right? Why does one work and the other doesn't? – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Oct 26 '16 at 22:38
  • @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft: I think it would work in a question if you state an expectation (here, the number of kanji) and just want to confirm it. However when you don't even know what the expectation should be, はず does not fit well IMO. – Igor Skochinsky Oct 27 '16 at 7:12

何字知っているはずですか? is good enough to make sense, but 何字知っているものですか? might work better.

もの often refers to what is generally expected or practiced.

 - 多くの日本人は漢字を2000字くらい知っているものです。
 - この時間帯はいつもこんなに混むものですか?
 - 東京での宿泊はいくらぐらいかかるものですか?
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"はず" and "べき" are difficult to translate into English, and especially tricky, because they carry definitions that essentially mean the same thing. You can even see that the definitions use the other word!1 2


1 当然の意を表す。…して当然だ。…のはずだ。[...]



(Emphasis mine)

One reason why "べき" sounds better, is because it also has the meaning of "obligation" or "ought to",

5 義務の意を表す。…しなければならない。[...]

as opposed to "はず" which more translates to an expectation of something being true or coming true.

Another way of phrasing what you want to say is to use "~なければいけない" or any equivalent, literally meaning "must". E.g.


1 - goo辞書 - べし

2 - goo辞書 - はず【×筈/×弭/×彇】

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I think there is no exact equivalent in Japanese for the expression "to be supposed to".
You can rephrase your sentence to "How many kanjis are necessary to know?"


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  • 2
    どれぐらいの漢字を知る必要はありますか? ← You should use が, not は. (「どれ~」から始まってるでしょ。「漢字を知っている必要ありますか?」--「はい。/ いいえ。」 /「 どのくらい漢字を知っている必要ありますか?」/「 どれくらい勉強する必要ありますか?」「 どのくらいの長さありますか?」「 誰がいますか」「 何がありますか」) – Chocolate Oct 27 '16 at 9:17

The construct「知っているはず」is somehow an expectation of the person speaking; i.e. it somehow conveys the feelings of the speaker (compare to 〜たい vs. 〜たがる for "want to". In Japanese, the point of view makes a big difference).

When you ask "How many Kanji is one supposed to know?", it is obviously not your expectation, but rather an expectation placed on you or someone you identify with. You are not the one supposing, but the one "supposed on"

That is why the "How many kanji would be good enough" approach works (e.g., 何字を知っていればいい?)

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