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I've had two vocabulary lists where wakarimasu is written as 分かります. However most of the time in news articles and manga I find it back as just わかります. So I wondered what is commonly used among Japanese people.

Is it like writing ohayou as お早う or is it just a matter of preference?

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Here are the hit counts from BCCWJ.

All entries (1971-2008):

  • わかった: 6492 分かった: 1739 解った: 130
  • わかります: 2834 分かります: 1065 解ります: 109
  • おはよう: 1300 お早う: 84
  • ありがとう: 7090 有難う: 420 有り難う: 102

Recent entries (2000-):

  • わかった: 4162 分かった: 1327 解った: 92
  • わかります: 2164 分かります: 989 解ります: 100
  • おはよう: 1140 お早う: 47
  • ありがとう: 5573 有難う: 332 有り難う: 95

(Note: these should contain a few false-positives such as こわかった and 随分かったるい)

So わかる is roughly 3 times more common than 分かる, but 分かる is not uncommon at all. While お早う is becoming less and less popular, the usage of 分かる is not declining.

I personally think both わかる and 分かる are totally fine unless you are a professional writer who has to follow some opinionated guideline. I recommend you write おはよう and ありがとう in hiragana.

  • 2
    A parsed version of BCCWJ is available at nlb.ninjal.ac.jp/search. In an entry click on the tab 基本 and then expand 書字形. This way you can avoid (most) false positives. – Earthliŋ Jan 22 '18 at 10:42
  • @Earthliŋ Thank you, this site seems really useful. – naruto Jan 22 '18 at 14:44
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Indeed, わかる is mostly written in kana.

Corpus data gives the following proportions:

わかる    58280    71%
分かる    17700    22%
解る       2964     4%
判る       2580     3%

A priori there seems to be no reason not to use the kanji as わ・かる is a jōyō reading of 分 (taught already in the second year of primary school).

Indeed, this publisher explains that for their primary school books, they use 分かる applying the principle "use kanji you have learned wherever you can". However, their secondary school books use わかる whenever the intended meaning is "to understand/realize", since in this sense 解る or 判る might be more suited, but these readings are not official jōyō readings. They explain that many dictionaries associate 分かる to 「はっきりしていなかったことに区別がつく」 — an English equivalent might be "to differentiate" — which is close in meaning to other readings of 分 such as 分ける "to divide".

(Of course, the meaning of "understand" derives from "differentiate" and you are free to choose to write both in kanji as 分かる without raising too many eyebrows. The above just gives some numbers/reasons showing that and explaining why わかる might be chosen over 分かる.)

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