I read a sentence


It was translated as "She knew, or she thought she knew/knows."

Prior to seeing this translation, in my head, I interpreted it as "I knew her, or so I thought."

Is my interpretation valid or not? And if not, why?

  • 2
    Seems valid to me, though I dislike the word "knew" for the translation (even though it fits here). But the context could change a lot of what's possible, for interpretation. Where did you see this sentence? Did it stand on its own, as an "example sentence"? If not, what were the few sentences leading up to it? (My curiosity is piqued!) – Micah Cowan Jun 6 '20 at 6:58
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    It's a sample sentence for あるいは taken from a premade Anki deck. :) – rebuuilt Jun 6 '20 at 9:15

Your interpretation is incorrect.

The in 彼女は clearly indicates that she is the one doing the knowing. Your interpretation would be written as 彼女**を**わかっていた。あるいは、わかっていると思っていた

However, I would translate it a bit differently. I would translate わかる as "understanding" as opposed to "knowing" which would be 知る(しる). So my translation would be She had understood. Or she thought she had understood. The difference might be negligeable depending on the context, but it feels worth pointing out in this case since there would be a big difference between "I knew her" and "I understood her".

  • 1
    答えはわかっていた。あるいはわかっていると思っていた。 or 理由はわかっていた。あるいはわかっていると思っていた。 would be interpreted "I knew the reason/answer, or so I thought", right? Why can't 彼女はわかっていた。あるいはわかっていると思っていた。 be interpreted "I knew her, or so I thought" ? – Chocolate Jun 6 '20 at 3:04
  • @Chocolate It's a nuance thing, and probably subjective, but while understanding leads to knowledge, knowledge doesn't necessarily lead to understanding. You can translate it as "I knew her", but "understanding someone" indicates a much deeper relationship than "knowing someone", a nuance that would be lost if you translated it that way. I would also argue that "knowing the answer" is different than "understanding the answer". Reasons might be a bit of a special case because you can't really claim to know a reason without understanding it. – Swimmer F Jun 6 '20 at 3:27
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    So 彼女わかっていた。あるいはわかっていると思っていた。 can be interpreted as "I understood her, or so I thought" ? I mean, in 答え/理由わかっていた, the 答え/理由 is marked with は, and it's the object of "know/understand". Just like the は in 朝ごはんもう食べました。 In 彼女はわかっていた, why cannot 彼女 be the object of "understand"? – Chocolate Jun 6 '20 at 3:40
  • Swimmer's answer, which is actually the most "conventional" way of interpreting the sentence (at least from a Japanese learner's point of view), was the reason why I thought my interpretation was incorrect. @Chocolate confirmed that indeed は can be interpreted as "I understood ~". – rebuuilt Jun 6 '20 at 4:43
  • Recently, I have been trying to understand the more nuanced usage of particles, and this discussion has been very helpful. Anyway, I'll be waiting for more answers in the meantime. – rebuuilt Jun 6 '20 at 4:45

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