The meaning of wakarimasen (分かりません) and how to use it

This article will give you all of the knowledge you need on the Japanese word wakarimasen, including its Japanese definition and translation, example sentences, related expressions and more!

What does wakarimasen mean?

Depending on the context, wakarimasen (分かりません、わかりません) means I don’t know or I don’t understand. It is the polite negative form of the verb wakaru (分かる、わかる), which means to understand.

The term wakarimasen has a special place in my heart because it was one of the first Japanese terms I learned in my very first lesson way back in 2005 (I used the audio course Pimsleur Japanese, which I talk about here).

You will certainly encounter wakarimasen quite often in everyday Japanese so let’s look at some examples of how to use it.

Wakarimasen means I don't know or I don't understand in Japanese.

Wakarimasen = I don’t know OR I don’t understand

To make it easier for you, I have written each sentence in full Japanese kanji in the first line, followed by roman letters (romaji), and hiragana, with the English meaning coming last.

Sumimasen. Eigo ga wakarimasen.
I’m sorry. I don’t understand English.

Kare ga doko ni iru ka wakarimasen.
I don’t know where he is.

Watashi wa imi ga wakarimasen.
I don’t understand what it means.

Nande kowakatta ka yoku wakarimasen.
I don’t really know why I was scared.

Wakarimasen or wakaranai?

You may have also heard the term wakaranai (分からない、わからない) used by Japanese speakers. So what’s the difference between wakarimasen and wakaranai? Simply put, the meaning is the same but wakarimasen is more polite.

Below, we will use the same examples as before but with wakaranai instead. As you can see, the meaning stays the same.

Sumimasen. Eigo ga wakaranai.
I’m sorry. I don’t understand English.

Kare ga doko ni iru ka wakaranai.
I don’t know where he is.

Watashi wa imi ga wakaranai.
I don’t understand what it means.

Nande kowakatta ka yoku wakaranai.
I don’t really know why I was scared.

Wakarimasen, or I understand, is the -masu form of wakaru, which denotes some respect or politeness to the other person (note while it’s polite it’s not as formal as keigo, Japanese’s honorific language!). Wakarimasen is therefore simply the negative form of wakarimasen .

Wakaranai is the casual form of wakaru. You would normally use this with friends or family, but Japanese bosses, for example, also use it with subordinates (unlike more egalitarian languages like English, Japanese does not necessitate polite language towards people with lower status).