Particle Question in Genki I

Hey everybody! This is my first post on here, so I hope this is the correct place to ask this.

I’ve recently started working on Japanese grammar with the workbook Genki I. Over there, I’ve come across a sentence with which I have some problems though.

The task is to fill in the correct particle into this sentence:

私わ中国語…わかりません。

The official answer key tells me that が is the correct particle to use here but I really don’t know why that would be the case. Personally, I would have gone with を. Can anybody help me out here and explain why I’m wrong? :smiley:

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Welcome to the site!

Firstly, a spelling note, the particle “wa” is written as は for historical reasons, so the first part should be

私は

On to the particle in question. The verb わかる is intransitive. If you are unfamiliar with transitivity in verbs, then this might require some background reading before it makes sense.

Basically an intransitive verb is a verb that the subject performs without acting on other objects directly. A transitive verb takes an object that the action is done to.

が marks a subject and を marks a direct object.

This is a bit confusing when translating between English, because “to understand” (the verb usually used to translate わかる) is transitive. We would say I (subject) don’t understand (transitive verb) Chinese (direct object).

The Japanese sentence is quite different. It goes

私は (topic) 中国語が (subject) わかりません (intransitive verb)

So clearly わかる behaves quite differently from “understand” at some fundamental level.

What わかる really means is something more like “to be clear” or “to be understood.” This is why 中国語 is performing the role of subject here and not direct object.

So it’s more like this in literal form.

As for me (topic) the Chinese language (subject) is not clear (intransitive verb).

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I think I get it now!

I’ve never really thought about the whole issue of transitive vs. intransitive verbs before, so this is really helpful. I guess it has never been an issue with other languages before.

Thank you very much for the fast reply!

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I’ve been taught this and I’ve consistently been using がわかる all this time, feeling like I got this down.

And then in my immersion there are natives that say something something をわかる, and then I get confused and lose all my confidence.

Do you have an example of をわかる?

The only thing that comes to mind is something like 私の気持ちをわかって, where you’re using the light command sense of the て form. My guess is since you are commanding someone to do something, it feels right to use を. Whether this is considered “proper” Japanese or not is something I’m not sure of.

I’ve honestly never heard a native use をわかる, so if you’ve heard it multiple times that seems like maybe you’ve encountered someone who has a particular eccentricity to their speech. Unless you’re talking about fiction, in which all bets are off.

You shouldn’t let exceptions make you lose “all” of your confidence. わかる didn’t stop being an intransitive verb that gets paired with が 99.99% of the time just because exceptions exist.

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Makes sense, thank you.

I’ll post here next time I encounter をわかる