All you need you know about Wakarimasen & Shirimasen

All you need you know about Wakarimasen & Shirimasen

How To Use

 In Japanese, there are two ways to say “I don’t know”:

  • a) wakarimasen
  • b) shirimasen

 Did you know that either of them can be used to say “I don’t know” in Japanese depending on the situation?
For the the following questions, which one should you use? (Both can be used in some cases.)
英語の I don’t knowは日本語で「わかりません」と「知りません」に使い分けられているのをご存知ですか?


“Shirimasen” can be used to simply convey that you don’t have the knowledge, information or data the other person is looking for.
Using this phrase when talking about something or someone familiar or about future plans will make you sound cold and mechanical.
(Similar to saying “I don’t care” or “who knows”)

“Wakarimasen” can be used to convey that you don’t understand something, that something is beyond the scope of your imagination or current plans, or you don’t have the means to answer the question. In other words, this phrase suggests that you thought about the question but couldn’t find the answer.

Kono hito o shitte imasuka?
Raishuu no kaigi, nanji kara ka shitte imasuka?
Kyou, tanaka ga kuru ka douka shitteimasuka?
Shuumatsu nani o shimasuka?
Itsu hikkosu’n desuka?
Ashita no party ikimasuka?

1) Do you know this person?
2) Do you know what time next week’s meeting starts?
3) Do you know whether or not Tanaka is coming today?
4) What are you doing this weekend?
5) When are you moving?
6) Are you going to the class tomorrow?

 For Questions 1-3 both expressions can be used but for Questions 4 – 6 only a)wakarimasen is used. In other words, you cannot use b)shirimasen for expectations and plans under your own discretionary power.
If you mistakenly use b)shirimasen for those cases, it sounds extremely rude, with the sense of “Who cares!” So please pay attention to its use.
もしこの場合に間違って b)知りませんを使うと、Who cares!みたいにすごくぞんざいに聞こえてしまうので注意が必要です。

Let’s practice!

 Now it’s your turn. Which phrase is suitable for answering the following questions?

Q: Do you know Kobayashi-san’s phone number? I really need to call him…
Q: Are you going to be in Japan for Christmas this year?
Q: Do you know the Japanese movie is called “Shall we dance”?
Q: Did you know that John from our class got married last month?

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