Using Wakarimasen (わかりません) vs Shirimasen (しりません)


Learning the Nuances
Practice & Examples
Going Further…

Did you know that both “wakarimasen” or “shirimasen” can be used to say “I don’t know” depending on the situation? Take a look at the examples below to find out when to use each phrase!

Learning the Nuances

“Shirimasen” can be used to simply convey that you don’t have the knowledge the other person is looking for. However, if you are talking about something or someone familiar, you will sound you sound cold and mechanical. The nuance, in this case, would be “I don’t care” or “who knows”.


“Wakarimasen” is appropriate when you don’t understand something, that something is beyond the scope of your imagination or current plans. You do not 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.

Practice & Examples

Tomorrow’s Sunday. What are your plans?

NG: りません Shirimasen
Good: まだわかりません。 I’m not sure yet.
or とく予定よていがありません。I don’t really have any plans.

Since you’re talking about your plans and not about something that requires knowledge or information, using りません would not be appropriate in this case.

Tanaka-san’s late today. I wonder if something happened.

NG: りません
Good: わかりません

Since the other person is worried about Tanaka-san, answering with 知りません would sound cold and almost like you’re brushing the person off.

Do you have Sato-san’s contact information?


Acceptable – Good: りません
Acceptable – Good: わかりません

Going Further…

In the aforementioned case, someone is asking for contact information. 知りません can be used in this case. But if the other person needs the information urgently, you can answer with わかりません. Indeed, you imply that you don’t have the information and you thought about it but have no idea, thus showing that you have empathy.

Do you know the izakaya called “Hokkaido”?

Good: りません

Did you know that a new restaurant opened up near the office? The food is really good!

Acceptable: りません
Very good: りませんでした

Because the other person is sharing new information, it sounds more natural to use りませんでした. You imply that you didn’t know until now. Finally, keep in mind the casual form, らない and わからない. They both can be used in a wider range of situations.

We hope you can now better distinguish the nuance of wakarimasen and shirimasen!

Click to tweet this article and share it with more Japanese learners!

Coto Japanese Academy is a unique Japanese Language School in Iidabashi Tokyo, we offer relaxed and fun conversational lessons for all levels of Japanese learner. Coto Japanese Academy prides itself on its community atmosphere and fun lessons that focus on creation of opportunities to speak and learn Japanese. If you are interested in studying Japanese in Tokyo find out more about our courses and please visit our contact page here.

If you are interested in studying Japanese in Tokyo, find out more about our school by filling out the form below. Courses can be found here.

Test your Japanese level!

Do a self-test to see which course fits you.

Check your level