The 訳 (わけ) Masterpost
The word 訳 (わけ) variously translates to “meaning, reason, cause, conclusion derived from reasoning, judgment based on context.” (Some of these definitions could be considered the opposite of each other, which is what marks the complexity of this word and the grammar patterns that derive from it.)
Grammar Patterns that Employ 訳 (わけ):
1.) ~訳だ – “reason” or “for that reason~, as you’d expect~, that’s why~, etc.”
2.) ~という訳だ – “for that reason~, as you’d expect~, that’s why~, etc.”
3.) ~訳ではない – “it’s not like~”
4.) ~訳がない – “there’s no way that~, it can’t be that~”
5.) ~訳には行かない – “must~, must not~, cannot afford to~, impossible~”
#01. Two Meanings of 訳 (わけ) when used in simple, positive construction of ~訳だ (“reason” or “for that reason~, as you’d expect~, that’s why~, etc.”):
a.) Expressing a Reason
When used in its purest form, as a standalone word, 訳 (わけ) is often comparable to the most commonly used word for “reason,” 理由 (りゆう) and is even interchangeable with it in many cases.
(Riyuu/wake) mo naku
Wake o hanasu
“to state one’s reason, to tell one’s story”
Douiu wake ka
“For what reason?”
Toiu wake de
“for this reason, because of this (reason), with this (reason)”
*Not only is this a slight variation of one of the というわけだ grammar pattern covered, it is also a very common sentence-opening phrase, so much so that at times it is even used without any intent of its meaning/function of referring to the “reasoning” that was just established. For example an utterance of というわけで can translate to “anyway…, in any case…, so with that all said and done” in which the speaker is attempting to change the subject as opposed to refer to the last thing said as the reasoning for something. This can be commonly heard on television programs such as talk shows where the host has move things along into the next segment.
b.) Expressing a Conclusion/Result (which is quite the opposite to a reason)
However, when we interpret 訳 (わけ) for its other definitions of “result, conclusion derived from reasoning, judgment based on context” instead, it can be used as such to express not so much the reason behind something but rather the result/conclusion of something else that is acting as the reason/context. (This is its much more common usage and will also be the definition we will want to interpret for the numerous more advanced grammar patterns later on.)
Common intentions behind usage of this grammar pattern are making a logical conclusion based on some established information, expressing an understanding or acknowledgement of the established information by concluding something from it, and restating the information established but from a different angle (the word つまり will often by seen alongside this usage). For this reason, this version now variously translates to “for that reason~, so as you would expect~, no wonder~, that’s why~, this means~, as a result~, based on this~, essentially~, basically~. naturally~” In short, context is very important.
Plain-Form VERB + 訳だ
い-ADJECTIVE + 訳だ
な-ADJECTIVE + (な/だった) + 訳だ
NOUN + (な/だった) + 訳だ
*In line with 訳 (わけ) expressing a conclusion based upon contextual details, the following examples provided will each either include two sentences or a sentence with two clauses (in which the first will provide and context, or reason, for the conclusion made in the second).
Ame ga futte ita. Michi ga nurete iru wake da.
”It’s been raining. That’s why the road is wet.”
＊Making a logical conclusion based on some established information
Kare wa mada 14 sai na no ni, daigaku level no jyugyou o totte iru.
He’s taking university level courses even though he’s only 14 years old.
Tsumari tensai na wake ka.
So basically, he’s a genius.
＊Expressing an understanding or acknowledgement of the established information by concluding something from it
Kanojo wa 5 nenkan nihon ni sunde imashita.
She lived in Japan for five years before this.
”Oh, is that so? So naturally, she must be really good at speaking Japanese.”
＊Restating the information established but from a different angle
#02. ~という訳だ as “for that reason~, as you’d expect~, that’s why~, etc.”
Plain-Form VERB + という訳だ
い-ADJECTIVE + という訳だ
な-ADJECTIVE + という訳だ
NOUN + という訳だ
The grammar pattern ~という訳だ actually frequently interchangeable with ~訳だ and only really differs from it in that it does not have two different uses. ~という訳だ emphasizes the second usage of ~訳だ (“for that reason~, so as you would expect~, no wonder~, that’s why~, this means~, as a result~, based on this~, essentially~, basically~. naturally~”) and is thus useful is knowing when 訳 is intended to mean “reason” or “result/conclusion.”
Gakuentoshi wa nandemo chikai kara, untenmenkyo ga nakutemo seikatsu dekiru toiu wake da.
“In college towns everything is nearby, so (it means/it’s such) that you can manage daily life even if you don’t have a driver’s license.”
Example of Differentiation:
Sou ka. Daremo henji shinai wake da.
”I see. That’s the reason why no one will answer.”
＊This is literally stating that what was said in the sentence before is the reason no one will answer.
Sou ka Daremo henji shinai toiu wake da.
”I see. This means that no one is going to answer.”
＊On the other hand, this is making a statement about the current situation/result in which no one answer.
#03. ~訳ではない as “it’s not like~”
As might be predicted from the grammar (since it is simply the negative form of 訳だ), 訳ではない literally translates to “is not the reason for~.” However, the more natural meaning of the expression is something along the lines of “it’s not like~.” Here, we are again employing 訳’s variant definition of “conclusion based upon something said, something heard, or other such contextual clues,” or more simply, “result,” as opposed to “reason.” By doing so, our literal translation of the grammar pattern, which is now “it’s not the result~,” actually becomes more fitting to its actual meaning. Other phrasings that this grammar pattern could translate to include “it’s not as though~,” “it’s not the case that~,” “it doesn’t have much to do with~,” “it doesn’t mean that~,” “it’s not the case that~,” “not necessarily~,” “not altogether~,” “not particularly~,” etc.
In short, 訳ではない is used when we want to deny the “result” partially but not completely. The word choice in most of the translations above denote this nuance of partial denial.
Plain-Form VERB + (という) + 訳ではない
い-ADJECTIVE + (という) + 訳ではない
な-ADJECTIVE + (な/だという) + 訳ではない
*Parenthesis is not optional in this な-ADJECTIVE case, either method needs to be used.
NOUN + (という) + 訳ではない
Muzukashii wake jyanai
“it’s not that hard”
Kanpeki na wake dewanai
“it’s not like it’s perfect”
Fukanou da toiu wake dewanai
“it’s not necessarily impossible”
Tensai toiu wake jyanai
“it’s not like he’s a genius/he’s not necessarily a genius”
Nandemo shitte iru wake jyanai
“It’s not like I know everything”
Itsumo heya de game suru wake dewanai
“It’s not like I’m always in my room just playing games”
Daredemo pro ni nareru wake jyanaiyo
“Not everyone has what it takes to become a pro”
Donna shoubu mo minna kateru wake dewanai
“You can’t win them all”
Watashi wa itsumo genki toiu wake dewanai
“It’s not like I’m always full of spirit.”
Sore wa kimatta wake dewanai
“That’s not necessarily decided upon.”
Kanchigai shinaide yo ne. Betsu ni anta no koto ga suki na wake jyanai da kara
“Don’t get me wrong! It’s not like I like you or anything!”
*In this signature tsundere line frequent in anime and dramas, note how the speaker is only partially denying that they have feelings for the addressee in line with the tsundere personality but is not completely denying it.
Kanojo no tomodachi ni narenakatta ga tomodachi tsukuri ga dekinai wake dewanai
“Just because you weren’t able to become friends with that girl doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to make any friends at all.”
#04. ~訳がない as “there’s no way that~, it can’t be that~”
The grammar 訳がない is often confused with 訳ではない, and that’s understandably so; both grammar patterns use the word 訳, use the negative form of the word ある, and use subject/topic marking particles が and は (which themselves are even more often confused with each other).
Despite this similarity in the construction, these two grammar patterns have completely opposite meanings in a way, in that 訳ではない expresses a softened and partial negation of something while 訳がない (“it’s not like~”) expresses an emphasized and outright negation of something (“there’s no way~”). 訳がない’s meaning should come as more intuitive from the grammar of it’s construction. As the word 訳 means “reason” and がない (the Negative-Form of がある) means “to not be, to not exist, to not have,” this construction literally translates to “there is not reason that~,” which can then naturally transition into “there’s no way that~, it’s impossible that~, it can’t be that~.”
*This grammar pattern can actually be used as 訳はない as well, albeit it is less common than 訳がない. Much more often, in casual speech, the usage of particles が or は is dropped completely.
*The phrase わけない (sometimes even used as わけもない) is also used to express that something is very easy or simple. (Ex. わけもないことであった – “it was a simple act to pull off”) It is rather simple itself however to know when this version is being used because it grammatically acts in the same way as an adjective word.
Plain-Form VERB + (という) + 訳がない
*Most commonly exhibited in present tense
い-ADJECTIVE + 訳がない
な-ADJECTIVE + な + 訳がない
NOUN + (の/である) + 訳がない
Boku no imouto ga konnani kawaii wake ga nai
“There’s no way my little sister can be this cute/My little sister can’t be this cute”
Boku ga uso o tsuku wake nai darou?
“There’s no way that I would be lying, is there?!”
sonna wake ga nai
“There’s no way that’s true/That can’t be true!/That’s impossible!”
“There’s no way I would want that”
Kono taisetsu na kioku o wasureru wake ga nai
“There’s no way I’ll forget this precious memory.”
Kanojo ga watashi o ki ni iru wake ga nai
“There’s no way she’d be interested in me.”
Kono hiroi aparto wa yasui wake ga nai
“This spacious apartment can’t be cheap”
Kare wa itsumo chikoku suru, majime na gakusei de aru wake ga nai
“That guy is always showing up late, there’s no way he’s a serious student”
Sono houhou wa takusan no ketten ga aru. Koukateki na wake ga nai
“That approach is full of drawbacks. There’s no way it’ll be effective.”
#05. ~訳には行かない as “must (not)~, it is not okay to~, have no choice but to~, can’t afford to~, impossible to~ (although one may want to)”
The grammar ~訳にはいかない has the same meaning as the basic grammar pattern ～てはいけない, which most commonly translates to “must not do~.” It is, however, much less common due to it being more formal. It also expresses a stronger emphasis.
*Worth noting is that ~訳にはいかない exhibits a unique case of いかない as opposed to いけない.
While ～てはいけない requires the て-Form of a VERB word or the “て-Form” of a Negative- ない-Form VERB word, ~訳にはいかない instead either requires the Dictionary-Form of a VERB word or the Negative-ない-Form to mean “must not do VERB” and “must do VERB” respectively. (The positive usage of a verb results in a negative statement and vice versa due to the negative nature of the phrases いけない and いかない.)
Dictionary-Form VERB + 訳には行かない = “must not VERB”
Negative-ない-Form + 訳には行かない = “must VERB” (must not not VERB)
*The polite version is 訳にはいきません
Imouto wa hitori de uchi ni imasu kara massugu kitaku shinai wake niwa ikanai.
(My sister is at home alone right now so I must return straight home.)
Kono okurimono o uketoru wake ni wa ikimasen
It’s not possible for me to accept this gift.
Kare wa kono team no ace da. Yamesaseru wake niwa ikanai yo.
He is the ace of this team. We can’t afford to let him quit.
Boku wa shimeiuntensha da kara you wake ni wa ikanai
I’m the designated driver tonight so I can’t afford to get intoxicated.
Hitotsu no kijun de subete o rissuru wake ni wa ikanai
You mustn’t judge everything single thing by one standard.
Sou yasuyasu to hikisagaru wake ni wa ikimasenyo
I cannot afford to back down so easily.