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!) Jun 6, 2020 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, 2020 at 9:15

2 Answers 2


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".

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    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, 2020 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, 2020 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, 2020 at 3:40
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    @SwimmerF (a) は can replace を pretty much anywhere it comes (though the emphasis will shift). (b) わかる does not take an を for the thing that's "known"; it's an intransitive verb. Jun 6, 2020 at 6:52
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    "I knew her, or so I thought." this interpretation might be grammatically possible but I would bet almost all the Japanese interpret this as the way of @SwimmerF. Simply because 彼女はわかる sounds very natural to become "She knows". On the other hand, it's very difficult to get "I know her" from "彼女はわかる". We carefully avoid such obvious confusions by making as "彼女をわかっていた" or "彼女のことはわかっていた". Jun 7, 2020 at 10:38

Caution 1: Actually, more senetnces like "Someone understood her, or someone thought that someone understood her" can be meant, but I don't refer to it because nothing would never end.
Caution 2: Probably, "understood" there doesn't mean what "understood" mean in usual English. I just translated "分かっていた" into "understood".

彼女は分かっていた。あるいは、分かっていると思っていた。 can mean these things.
She understood something, or she thought that she understood something.
She understood something, or I thought that she understood something.
I understood her, or I thought I understood her.

The first pattern of sentence structure is used like タカシは浮気をしていないかもしれない。でも、ミワはタカシが浮気をしたことを分かっていた、あるいは分かっていると(ミワは)思っていた。だからミワはタカシに別れ話をしたんだ。
The second is like ミワはタカシに浮気を指摘しなかった。でも、ミワはタカシが浮気をしたことを分かっていた、あるいは分かっていると(僕は)思っていた。だから僕はタカシに彼女を大切にしろと叱ったんだ。
The third is like タカシの3人の浮気相手マコ、ユリ、カナのうちユリとカナが今どこにいるかをミワは知らなかった。でも、マコは分かっていた。あるいは分かっていると思っていた。だからミワはマコの職場に向かったんだ。

Depending on the situation, the three can be meant. But you know the first one is most impressive and beautiful when you read it in a novel or movie's catchphrase even in English, right?
So others have little advantage of using the sentence regardless of its difficulty to tell people the right meaning, and different easy sentences may take place of it.

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