Today I’d like to talk about the expression “you know”!
The expression “you know” is an interjection [感嘆詞], similar to “like” or “uh”. It is sometimes used in English and it’s a pretty difficult one to understand, not to mention use! It can come at the beginning of a sentence, at the end or sometimes even in the middle. Let’s look at some examples:
- “You know, sometimes English makes me really frustrated.”
- “It really bothers me when you say that, you know.”
- “A pacemaker is, you know, a device for, you know, a person with a bad heart.”
So what does it mean? Does it mean “have knowledge about”, like “You know a lot about this topic.”? It doesn’t seem to mean that. Does it mean the same thing, no matter where it is located in the sentence? Actually, it doesn’t! Depending on where it is located, the meaning changes slightly.
“You know” at the beginning of a sentence
When “you know” is used at the beginning of the sentence, it is to get the listener’s attention or to make sure the listener is paying attention. Here are some more examples:
- “You know, I know a place where you can buy a new bike for less than 5,000 yen.” [The speaker has some information he thinks the listener will be interested in.]
- “You know, if you had been a little nicer then this fight wouldn’t have started.” [The speaker wants to make sure the listener is paying attention to his scolding]
“You know” in the middle of a sentence
When “you know” is used in the middle of the sentence it is meant to express hesitation. It is a pause which allows the speaker to consider what he wants to say next. It is often used when the speaker is nervous or tense or when he’s trying to talk about or explain something difficult. By saying “you know” in the middle of a sentence, the speaker is hoping that the listener will accept his hesitation or imperfect explanation. Here are some more examples:
- “So I, well, you know, really like you, so I was wondering if you wanted to, you know, be my girlfriend.” [The speaker is nervous]
- “What I’m trying to do is help people, you know, understand themselves better so they can, you know, make better decisions in life.” [The speaker is trying to express something very difficult]
- “Sometimes my boss can be so… you know… argh!” [The speaker is stressed and probably just looking for sympathy]
“You know” at the end of a sentence
When “you know” is used at the end of a sentence, it is an expression of confirmation: the speaker wants to know that the listener or listeners agree with or accept what he is saying, and maybe also understand what he is saying. This is usually in the form of a question, but can be in the form of a statement as well. Here are some more examples:
- “I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but I have to tell her the truth, you know?”
- “If you don’t try it, you won’t know if you like it, you know?”
- “I can’t understand you if you talk too fast, you know.”
*Careful! Very often Japanese people use “you know” at the end of a sentence just to see if the listener comprehended what was said. This is not the correct way to use it! It is used to see if the listener agrees with or accepts what the speaker is saying and also understands it. So:
“I am from Fukuoka, you know?” X
This is a statement of fact, I can’t agree or disagree with it.
“People in Osaka are so friendly, you know?” O
This is an opinion, so I can agree or disagree or accept that the speaker feels this way.
*Remember, “you know” is an informal, spoken expression, so try to use it less often in formal situations or when you write in English!
For more clear examples, check out wikitionary.
Hope that helps, and if you have any questions leave them in the comments section, or ask me on twitter!