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Lesson Transcript

Hi everybody! Hiroko here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Japanese questions.
The question for this lesson is...What’s the difference between 知りません(shirimasen) and 分かりません(wakarimasen) when both mean “I don’t know” in English?
You may already know that 知る means “to know” as in, “to obtain knowledge and information” and 分かる(wakaru) means “to understand” as in, “to fully comprehend something.” In their negative forms, 分かりません(wakarimasen) and 知りません(shirimasen) carry the same nuance.
Therefore, 知りません(shirimasen) means you have no knowledge of something and 分かりません(wakarimasen) means you don’t understand something.
But, 分かりません(wakarimasen) also means “you can’t find the answer” or “you can’t give an answer” and it doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have knowledge.
Let’s do some examples so you understand how to use 知りません(shirimasen) and 分かりません(wakarimasen) correctly.
First, let’s do an example with 知りません(shirimasen)--
A: この人を知っていますか。(Kono hito o shitte imasu ka.)
B: 知りません。(Shirimasen.)
A: “Do you know this person?”
B: “No, I don’t. (know.)”
In this phrase, Person A is asking about the knowledge Person B has of that person. Since Person B has no knowledge of that person, 知りません(shirimasen) is used.
Now, let’s do an example with 分かりません(wakarimasen)--
今年のクリスマスは雪が降るかどうか分かりません。(Kotoshi no kurisumasu wa yuki ga furu ka dō ka wakarimasen.)
This means “I don’t know if we’ll have snow on Christmas day this year.” Whether it will snow or not has nothing to do with your knowledge of snow. No one can fully predict the weather. Therefore, in this case, you use 分かりません (wakarimasen) to literally mean that you can’t give an answer whether it’ll snow or not.
There are some cases where you can use either 知りません(shirimasen) or 分かりません(wakarimasen). For example--
A: あれ、先生はどこですか?(Are, sensei wa doko desu ka.)
B: 知りません。/分かりません。(Shirimasen./ Wakarimasen.)
A:“Oh, where’s the teacher?”
B: “I don’t know.”
In this situation, Person B has no knowledge of the teacher’s whereabouts and can’t find the answer, therefore you can use either 知りません(shirimasen) or 分かりません(wakarimasen)。However, it may seem a little cold to use 知りません(shirimasen) when you can use either one. Therefore, if you know both are okay, it’s better to use 分かりません(wakarimasen)。
How was this lesson? Pretty interesting, right?
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them!
またね![mata ne!] See you!