The one thing about Japanese that’s been giving me the most trouble when it comes to reading are all the little kana that attach themselves to words and follow them along like the tail of a kite. A long, meandering, hard to understand tail of a kite.

Fellow learners, don’t be discouraged: this gets better over the months and years of listening to and reading real-world Japanese. After a while, the brain adapts and is ready to accept many common patterns of そうだったんだs and なければなりませんよs.

Yet there are always new things to discover for beginners like me. While playing 逆転裁判3(Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trials and Tribulations), I came across the following scene. Don’t worry, there will be no spoilers whatsoever 😉

During a trial, time and place of a murder are being discussed in court. One of the attorneys points out that the photographic evidence may contradict the witness’ testimony. The judge (as usual) can’t make sense of the information, and asks the attorney if they understood what was really going on. To which the attorney replies:

答えは、わかりきっている。

At the time, I didn’t really understand this statement. I guessed it meant something about “knowing the answer”, left it at that and moved on with the game because I’m too lazy to look up complicated stuff while playing. But not before I made note of the text so I could have another look at it and write about it here. So let’s dissect it!

  • 答えは、- this part should be straightforward: “the answer”, “the solution”, “as for the solution”
  • わかりきっている – this is the part that gave me trouble. My first guess is to split it up:
    • わかり – the continuative form (連用形) of わかる, “to understand”, “to know”. This would fit in with the theme of an answer or solution to a problem (know the solution), and since わかる is frequently written in kana, there is no Objection! for now.
    • きっている – this looks like the progressive form of a verb. Maybe it’s 切る, “to cut”?  But what could it mean? “I’ve cut understanding the solution.” Hm.

My next thought was, in this case きる may be acting as an auxiliary verb, and they don’t always mean the same as the independent verb. I tried to follow that lead by searching the web for “きる auxiliary verb”, and found the Wikipedia article on Japanese grammar.

Aha! According to the article, きる is a “helper auxiliary” (補助動詞), meaning that it indeed loses its independent meaning when used as an auxiliary. So what does it mean when used in that way? The article tells us:

Vきる: “to do V completely”

食べる taberu ‘to eat’ → 食べきる tabe-kiru ‘to eat it all’

So what does this mean for the original line, 答えは、わかりきっている? I now suspect the speaker uses the 〜ている-form of the auxiliary きる to indicate state modification rather than the progressive aspect.

If the assumptions are correct, わかりきっている means here, “to have come to understand completely”.

答えは、わかりきっている then would mean, “I have come to understand the solution completely.”, or, maybe a bit more natural, “I now know the answer.” The attorney, whose name and gender I have so valiantly avoided mentioning, lets the clueless judge know that they have finally solved the mystery and understood the solution as to what happened with the body at the crime scene.

I think I understand this piece of grammar and auxiliary verbs in general a bit better now, and in the process I have discovered how useful the Wikipedia article on Japanese grammar is as a quick reference. I’m going to visit it more often in the future, I think! 😀

Maybe this was interesting for you as well? Maybe you knew it all already, yawn? Maybe I’ve made a nice juicy mistake? Let me know what you think!

逆転裁判, Phoenix Wright, and Ace Attorney are trademarks of Capcom Co., Ltd.
I claim no copyright on any of this, yo!


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