How to Say "Do You Know" in Japanese — わかる and 知っている
(NM Podcast Recap! S2E6)
One of the most commonly used phrases in any language is “do you know…?” This phrase is without a doubt an essential one for not only daily conversations but also at work. Remember asking your friend if they knew of a specific person, or your colleague if they knew how to use the copy machine?
The question is: do you know how to ask “do you know” in Japanese?
If you don’t, then you should tune in to our podcast’s language series, Study Saturday. In our Season 2 Episode 6, we looked at two ways on how to say this phrase in Japanese!
In the podcast episode, we broke down the grammar points and looked at the proper usage with a few role playing scenarios and useful vocabulary words. This article is a recap of the grammar and vocabulary we used — while you get the gist and general idea of the grammar in this article, we highly recommend tuning in to the episode for exemplary usage!
Compared to English grammar, where “do you know” is at the start of the sentence, the Japanese grammar for that attaches itself to the end, just like most other
grammar points. In Japanese, the sentence structure is basically the opposite of English.
So for this one, we have “shitteiru” (知っている) or “shitteimasu” (知っています) to mean “to know”. The phrase comes from the word “shiru” (知る), which means “to find out” or “to get to know”. I won’t confuse you with the details, but long story short the difference is that “shiru” is an action, while “shitteiru” is a state, and the former is rarely used.
So in question form, we have it as “shitteiru” (知っている) or “shitteimasuka” (知っていますか). For example, “do you know John?” Can be translated in Japanese as “Jon wo shitteiru?” (ジョンを知っている？) or “Jon wo shitteimasuka?” (ジョンを知っていますか？) We use the particle “wo” (を) for this grammar most of the time.
A を 知っていますか？
A wo shitteimasuka?
If you know, you reply as: shitteiru (知っている) or shitteimasu (知っています)
If you don’t, you reply as: shiranai (知らない) or shirimasen (知りません)
Another way to use this phrase is like this question: “do you know where he lives?”. For this type of sentence, it’s said a different way — that’s because we’re connecting two parts into a sentence:
1. ”Where he lives” = “kare ga doko ni sundeiru” (彼がどこに住んでいる)
We replace the wo (を) particle which we would usually use, with ga (が)
To attach the two sentences together, we have to use the question particle which is ka (か). Then the second part:
2. ”Do you know” = “shitteiru” (知っている)
Put it all together, and you get: “kare ga doko ni sundeiru ka shitteiru” (彼がどこに住んでいるか知っている？) “kare ga doko ni sundeiru ka shitteimasuka?” (彼がどこに住んでいるか知っていますか？)
Here’s another example: “do you know if he’s going to the party tonight?”
In Japanese, it’s: “konban no pātī ni iku dou ka shitteiru?” (今晩のパーティーに行くどうか知っている？)
Sometimes, you can use shitta (知った) in specific situations. For example, “dou yatte shitta?” (どうやって知った？) This means “how did you know?”.
There’s also a common saying, that is: “hajimete shitta” (初めて知った) to mean “that’s the first I’ve heard”.
It’s quite common to confuse shitteiru with wakaru (分かる) or wakarimasu (分かります) for the polite form. The clearest way of explaining the difference is that, “shitteiru” as a question implies that you don’t expect the person to know, and as an answer implies that you already knew. “Wakaru” as a question has a nuance of
“do you remember/understand”, implying that the person should already know because it was brought up before, and as an answer implies that you remember/understand.
If you want to ask someone if they know Japanese, you usually would say “nihongo wakaru?” (日本語分かる？) or “nihongo wakarimasuka?” (日本語分かりますか？). This means “do you understand Japanese?”
If you ask it as “nihongo shitteiru?” (日本語知っている？) or “nihongo shitteimasuka?” (日本語知っていますか？), it’s kind of like saying “have you heard of the Japanese
If you do know Japanese — and understand it — reply with a “wakaru” or “wakarimasu”. If you don’t know, a simple “wakaranai” (分からない) or “wakarimasen” (分かりません) does the trick.
At the end of our Study Saturday episodes, we have a quick vocab recap of the words we used in the episode. Here’s a list for reference:
Doko (どこ) — where
Sundeiru (住んでいる) — to be living, it comes from the root form “sumu” — to live
Konban (今晩) — tonight
Dou ka (どうか) — ...or not
Saigo (最後) — last
Atta (会った) — met. The root word is “au”, to mean “to meet”
Otetsudai wo suru (お手伝いをする) — the polite version of “tetsudau” to mean “to help”
Honjitsu (本日つ) — a polite version of saying “today”
Hatarakasete (働かせて) — the root form is “hataraku” to mean “to work”
Tsukai kata (使い方) — how to use.
Tsukau (使う) —to use
Kata (方) — way of
Fūni (風に) — this way
Yaru (やる) — to do
Tonari (隣) — next to
Aiteiru (空いている) — to be open, coming from the word “aku” which means “to open”
Now you have the general gist of how to say “do you know” and “i know” in Japanese! You’ll be surprised at how often you’ll be using it day to day. As mentioned before, this is just a recap and summary of what we discussed about in our language series episode. Check out the full episode over at Nihongo Master Podcast!
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