The dictionary definition of わかる is usually "to understand" or "to know." But in everyday life it's sometimes used by service staff in some of the same situations as the more formal かしこまる, e.g. "to obey respectfully." This isn't too hard to understand.

But recently I encountered a JLPT N4 listening practice question that went something like this:

Two people, a man and a woman, are in a car, arguing using informal language. There seems to be some implication that the man is driving. The woman first asks if they can stop at a restaurant, but the man says that they can't because they need to get to the airport. She then reiterates that she's really hungry and asks if she can get something at a conbini, and the man says that she can, but they need to stop at a gas station first. It then ends like this:

Woman: Refueling people is more important than refueling the car! (This line may have ended with an imperative to go to the combini first).

Man: (in a very irritated voice) わかっている!

The audio then ends; the question is, where will they go first?

My feeling was that it was impossible to know, but given how annoyed the man was, he probably wouldn't go to the combini first. To me, he was saying something like "I heard you the first time!" and in the absence of further explanation, I had no reason to believe that his plans had changed at all. I guessed that he would go to the gas station first.

This is apparently the wrong answer. According to the test, they go to the combini first.

As an American speaker of English, I would never end a conversation with this kind of ambiguity. I would feel obligated to either say "I understand [that you're hungry], but we have to get gas first" or "I understand, we'll go there first." I think this is normal for English, although I can't be sure.

Does わかる always carry with it an implication of assent or obedience? If so, is there another term that would mean "I understand," but doesn't carry that extra implication? Thank you.

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    I must say this question is hard to answer despite its length, because the real key to answer this practice question may be in somewhere before these two lines. わかっている itself is nothing more than "I know!" and you should not overthink about this part. Do you have the original text in Japanese? – naruto Oct 29 '19 at 13:15
  • Thanks for replying. Unfortunately, I don't have the transcript or the recording. It's possible that the woman's last line ended with an imperative て, if that would make a difference. – auspicacious Oct 30 '19 at 7:33
  • ~ている can be understood as present perfect, so you can understand the phrase like: I have known (it all the time that the argument will end like this (= me giving in to my wife)). – mic Oct 30 '19 at 14:59
  • @naruto I disagree, I'm convinced that「分かる」gets translated to "understand" more often than to "know" (e.g. when explaining the difference between 知る and 分かる). So I'm pretty sure that the irritated「分かっている」corresponds better with the English "I get/got it already!" to express an understanding of the other's feelings. – JansthcirlU Nov 24 '20 at 15:54

In this context, 分かったよ is similar to "fine!", so indeed it can be used to agree to something. 分かってるよ would mean "I know", so it would mean something like "I know refueling people is more important than refueling the car" and implies they will stop at the combini.

  • The question was long so I did not read everything carefully, but I also thought of "わかった(よ)" if he meant that he would take the woman's request. Just saying "わかっている" is not guaranteed to mean that he would as her request, because it could often progress in a way like "わかっている。わかっているけど、(the reason why that cannot be granted comes)" like English "Yeah, I know; I know but...". – Damn Vegetables Jun 24 '20 at 14:42

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