Grammar · Japanese

Differences and Usages: 知る vs. わかる

Today I’m going to explain the differences between 知る and わかる.

Their differences mainly lie in the depth of understanding and how you get the information.

知る means “to have some information about something” and can be used for any kind of information.
It’s the most general word when compared to words such as わかる and 学ぶ, and the level of understanding could be the lowest of them.

わかる is also used for any information, but the level of understanding is higher than 知る.
It implies that you not just “have some information” of something but also you “understand” it.
It’s possible to say 私は彼を知っているけど、よくわからない(= I have heard of him, but I don’t know about his personality).

The origin of わかる is the same as わける(分ける=to divide), and the original meaning is “to break down / sort out / classify something into groups”.
Suppose there is a chaotic jumble of things. In order to sort them out, you have to know them well. (e.g. their characteristics, similarities, differences, etc.)
Therefore, the basic image of わかる is to make things clear.

From this origin, わかる is also used to say “to finally discover a certain fact”.
e.g. その話は本当ではないとわかった。(That story turned out not to be true.)
You can say その話は本当ではないと知った as well, but this sounds like you heard it from someone else while わかった implies that you found it out by yourself.

This is because 知る sounds rather passive compared to わかる, and it could sound like you happened to come across the information from somewhere (e.g. the news, a newspaper, from someone else, etc.).
わかる, on the other hand, sounds more active and it could imply that it’s you  who has the information or actively sought it. (You can’t be passive when you clear up a mess, right? :-))

I heard “学ぶ” could be confused with these words.
I’ll write about it in another post to avoid this one getting too long!

If you like this kind of entry, you may also want to read this one:
”Differences and Usages: 勉強する vs. 習う vs. 学ぶ”

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