Do you know where Kinkakuji Temple is?
Many beginners answer it as いいえ、知っていません, which is very understandable but the correct “no” answer is いいえ、知りません。
I think many people have learned the word “know” as 知っています but 知っています is not a simple, stand alone verb. It is 知って（てform of 知ります）+ います. As this post explains, [てform] + います is used to describe an on-going state or condition for a period of time and [てform] + いません is its opposite, describing that a certain action/condition is NOT taking place at this particular moment. So 知っていません sounds like “I knew it before, I will know it later but at this moment, I don’t know it,” which is not possible because as far as “knowing something” is concerned, there are only 2 on-going states, “not knowing” and “knowing” and these 2 can never be reversed.
As the above diagram shows, the verb 知ります/知る describes the moment when you get to know something for the first time and this “getting to know” cannot be reversed. We may forget something but we cannot “un-know” something. So the state of “not knowing” before getting to know it is 知りません. The state of “knowing” after getting to know it is 知っています.
Other stative verbs in English
Just like “to know”, English has a few more stative verbs, which describe an on-going state or condition, rather than a dynamic action. These include to live/reside, to resemble, to wear, etc. They are usually translated into Japanese using [てform] + いる/います, so the above verbs are すんでいる, にている and きている respectively (Please note that “to wear” can be translated differently depending on what item of clothing you are talking about, but I will leave that explanation to this page).
the difference between きていません and きません
For the question:
Tシャツをきていますか。(Do you have a T-shirt on?)
If you don’t have a T-shirt on, you can say both:
However, the meanings are quite different.
The first answer is “I don’t have a T-shirt on at this moment.”
The second answer is “No, I never wear a T-shirt” not just “at this moment.” And in that case, I would change the particle を to は (i.e. いいえ、Tシャツは きません) to emphasis that I am talking about T-shirts.
The use of the affirmative 知ります/知る is very limited
As shown above, because the verb 知ります describes a very limited moment, the occasions you can use the affirmative verb 知ります/知る are also very limited. Other than telling a synopsis of a story or something like that, there won’t be a time when 知ります/知る (non-past) alone is used as the sentence ending verb.
It is usually used in the past tense such as:
I got to know for the first time that there was such a delicious food.
I got to know on TV that snow piled up in Tokyo.
or with an auxiliary phrase that adds some other meaning to the verb.
My son will get to know the secret one day.
I never thought our son would get to know the secret this way.
For more explanations about JLPT N5 level grammar items and vocabulary, please visit this page.
2 thoughts on “しりません vs しっていません”
[verbてform] + います | EasyJapaneseE27 March 2021 at 6:05 pm
[…] ジョンさんの でんわばんごうを しります。I will get to know John’s phone number. – very unlikely sentence to see or hear in ordinary situations. For more explanation read: 知りません […]
わかりません | EasyJapaneseE26 June 2020 at 5:41 pm
[…] know” yet, the recommended answer is: わかりません, not しりません. Last Monday, I talked about しりません for “I don’t know” and I’m saying now that しりません doesn’t […]