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Do You Understand?

By May 3, 2010

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There are several ways to say "understand" in Mandarin Chinese, as this recent forum post discussed.

What's the difference between these?

  • 明白 - mngbai
  • 了解 - liǎojiě
  • 理解 - lǐjiě
  • 懂 - dǒng
  • 掌握 - zhǎngw

They all translate as "understand," but they are a bit different in how they are used.

If you understand something clearly, you can use 明白 - mngbai, which translates as "bright white." It is similar to the English expression "as clear as day."

Whereas 明白 - mngbai is often used for facts, 了解 - liǎojiě and 理解 - lǐjiě are often used when discussing abstract concepts, such as understanding people and situations.

When you understand spoken words, you can use 聽懂 / 听懂 - tīngdǒng (hear understand). The understanding of written words is 看懂 - kndǒng (see understand).

A thorough understanding of a subject or situation can be expressed with 掌握 - zhǎngw.

There is a great deal of overlap with all of these terms, so listen carefully to see how they are used by native speakers.

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