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I'm someone who always tries to get behind the logic of every grammar point, and for Japanese, my endeavor has been fruitful most of the time. But not always, for example when わかる is used as an imperative, as in わかってくれ, for example. What is understood is marked by が in the case of わかる, so わかる doesn't have the meaning of actively "understanding" something, but instead of something "trickling down" and being "dissolved" and thus unterstood. At least that's how I've always understood it.

Here's my question: If it's not about actively understanding, how does it make sense to say「わかってくれ」to another person? After all, they are not the agent of わかる. Instead, the thing understood is the agent.

My guess: わかる is one of those words (like 好き) which theoretically demand が, but where the semantics of the words themselves have made them quite susceptible to grammatical change in that regard, making it far easier for them to tolerate を. わかる originally just meant "to be divided" as far as I know, so of course it would take が. But its current meaning might be disconnected far enough from that original meaning for it to now mostly be perceived as just "to understand", where the usage of が that comes along with it would only be an old grammatical relict that is starting to vanish in casual speech. I presume English might have had some influence here, too. All of that is just an educated guess, but it seems plausible judging from my experience.

Thanks for reading! This could have been a two-liner, but I always end up writing half an essay...

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    The agent of 分かる and other non-volitionals/Intransitives are typically marked with は. The "thing" being understood is marked with が. In this sentence 私はそれがわかる, the agent is marked with は, not が. The object is instead marked with が. The agent of わかる is still a person, not the object that is being understood.
    – Shurim
    Sep 20, 2020 at 21:39
  • Japanese uses compounded verb all the time, connected by て or with the verb stems connected like 死にかける. When two verbs are connected, often it is 慣用的 that they can be used together. Sometimes one of the verbs is passive, the other not. Sometimes it's a combination of transitive/intransitive. It's not an easy question what the rules/logic are for what two verbs can be combined. わかってくれる is just one question from this whole morass. This is an area where I would "get used to" frequently used verb combinations and not try to apply logic. Sep 21, 2020 at 5:25
  • @Shurim But doesn't は just mark topic here, not agent? Going by your example, the sentence literally means: "As for me, that breaks down". So in a strict grammatical sense, isn't それ the agent?
    – Kaskade
    Sep 21, 2020 at 17:50

1 Answer 1

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When we say 分かってくれ and such, we have to use .

  • そのこと分かってください。
  • ちゃんと相手の気持ち分かれよ!
  • 子供にもっと数学分かって欲しい。
  • 彼女に事情分かってもらいました。

These を can not be replaced with が, so I can at least say 分かる is transitive in these examples, just like English "to understand".

But when can we use 分かる as a transitive verb? It's complicated and I can't explain it well, but you can read Darius Jahandarie's explanation. The answer is about 好き, but 分かる is listed as an example of weird verbs where が and を are sometimes interchangeable.

  • 彼はスペイン語分かる: OK
  • 彼はスペイン語分かる: NG
  • 彼にスペイン語分かってもらう: OK
  • 彼にスペイン語分かってもらう: NG

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