What's the difference between 分かる and 分かっている?

Based on my experience and this answer on HiNative, I assume 分かっている means something more like "I already know that (so you don't have to tell me)" and 分かる means that you understand it in a general sense.

But I wonder if there are any times when those two are interchangeable. After all, to me it seems that not only 分かっている suggests that you already understood something, but 分かる as well.

For example, both 「もう分かる」 and 「もう分かっている」 can be said, right?

  • 3
    I was told that you say 分かる for simple things or things that you understand very well. If the subject is complex you would say 分かっている or even 分かっているつもりです to show more humility. For example 日本語が分っているつもりです. Writing this in a comment, because I'm not certain whether this is correct and most probably not a comprehensive answer. Oct 27 '19 at 13:21

分かる refers to the transformation from わかっていない to わかっている. So, even if you say もう分かる, it's still not yet わかっている. It rather means the transformation from わかっていない to わかっている will already (succeed).

As an example:


The second sentence is strange because it implies you know the content of tomorrows' news! The first sentence is fine because it merely means "when the news comes out, the person will be able to understand it".

Answer to follow up question:

I don't understand then, why one can ask 「この言葉の意味はわかりますか?」. It doesn't mean "will you be able to understand the meaning of this word?", right? It means something more like "can you understand the meaning of this word?"

Whether you ask 「この言葉の意味はわかりますか?」 or 「この言葉の意味はわかっていますか?」 The answer to the question will be the same (the former asks "Are you able to perform the act of understanding this word? (transformation)" and the latter "Are you in the state of understanding what this word means?(state)" . Even though the rough meaning is the same, it can convey subtly different nuances.

For example, "この作業のやり方は分かりますか?" is the most neutral way to ask "Do you know how to do this task? (can I help?)". If you ask "この作業のやり方は分かっていますか?", then it may not have additional meanings, but it can also imply the speaker either thinks you should already know this, and is accusing you, or that you have already done the task and the speaker is unhappy with the result.

Here is another related example. When parents scold children, they will often say 分かってるの? but never 分かるの for that purpose:


This sentence doesn't work if you say 分かるの?! instead. The reason being that:
In the speaker's opinion, the transformation from わかっていない to わかっている here is obviously possible (because they are saying something completely reasonable, from their perspective). The question is whether the listener has bothered to perform this transformation so that they get in the state of having understood the consequence.

Contrast this with the following example:


Here, the speaker thinks the transformation from わかっていない to わかっている is not obvious. If they said これが餅職人の生き様だ!分かっているか? it implies the listener already knows something about 餅職人の生き様 and it's odd why the speaker bothered to explain it immediately before. A more natural sentence in the second situation would be 餅職人の生き様ってもんが分かってんのか!? (probably scolding a beginner 餅職人).

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    I don't understand then, why one can ask 「この言葉の意味はわかりますか?」. It doesn't mean "will you be able to understand the meaning of this word?", right? It means something more like "can you understand the meaning of this word?" and I feel like that's virtually the same as "do you understand the meaning of this word?", which I assume would be the translation of 「この言葉の意味はわかっていますか?」. Oct 29 '19 at 16:59
  • @E.Matsunaga : added answers, HTH! Oct 30 '19 at 7:19
  • This is beyond the scope of my question, but I now find myself wondering about 聞こえる and 見える, for example, that seem to belong to the same "class" as 分かる. When would one use 見えている or 聞こえている? It doesn't seem like your explanation, however reasonable, would apply to them, especially if 見えている was a plain statement, not an answer to a question. So are they a different case after all? Maybe I should make a different question? Nov 1 '19 at 21:37
  • I think the same principle applies - 見えている refers to the state of seeing, whereas 見える refers to the transformation from 見えていない to 見えている。Same for 聞えている. E.g. one can scold saying 聞えてるの? or 見えてるの? but not 聞こえるの? 見えるの? etc. IMO everything stated in the answer also applies to these verbs. @E.Matsunaga Nov 2 '19 at 9:28

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