posted by lakers4sho on February 25, 2014 | 11 comments
我知都可以有“明白”的意思,不过有没有意思还是用法的不同?
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uhuhuisadi on February 25, 2014 | reply
理解 is bit more formal and its definiont equates to understood and 了解 is a bit less formal but still use in formal writing, it equates to got it?
murrayjames on February 26, 2014 | reply
lakers4sho,

The differences may be more complicated than uhuhuisadi lets on.

As my friend explained to me one time, they both roughly mean "to know." The use cases for 理解 and 了解 overlap, but sometimes only one or the other is appropriate.

I get them confused a lot :) Maybe Grace, Brendan or David have a better explanation...
华金 on February 26, 2014 | reply
Here's a few examples to illustrate the difference in meaning and usage of 了解 and 理解.

1) 我不了解他。I don't know him very well.

2) 我不理解他。I don't understand him.

The first example relates to how familiar or well acquainted you are with someone. e.g.

A) 那你觉得他喜欢我吗?So, do you think he likes me?

B) 我不知道,我不是很了解他。I'm not sure, I don't know him very well.

The second one relates to the motives as to why someone would be the way they are, or why they did whatever they did. e.g.

他说他喜欢我,但是我不能理解他为什么还要和别的女人约会。He said he likes me, but I don't understand why he still dates other women.

Additionally, the word 理解 can be used in reference to a topic such as books, movies, situations, etc, to denote understanding (or lack of understanding) of the said topic. If you read a novel but didn't really understand its message or themes, you could use 理解 to express that.

1) 我不是很理解鲁迅的小说。I don't really understand Lu Xun's novels.

2) 我不是很了解鲁迅的小说。I don't really know much about Lu Xun's novels.

3) 我不太了解他的情况。I don't know much about his situation.

4) 我不太了解政治。I don't know much about politics.

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Another example to differentiate 了解 and 理解 would be this:

1) 我不是很理解马克思的经济理论。I don't really understand Marx's economic theory.

2) 我不了解马克思的经济理论。I don't know much about Marx's economic theory.

In 1), the person has probably studied, or at least been exposed to Marx, but has failed to get a good grasp of his theories.

In 2), the person probably has seldom - if at all - been exposed to Marx, and therefore doesn't know much about his theories.

Grace Qi on February 26, 2014 | reply
Great examples, 华金。I only have one more to add:

了解also has the meaning 打听(to inquire)and 调查(to investigate) which doesn't apply to 理解.

i.e.这究竟是怎么回事?你去了解一下. (What the hell is going on? You go find out)

Best,

Grace
murrayjames on February 26, 2014 | reply
Those are great examples. Thanks 华金!
华金 on February 26, 2014 | reply
@Grace,

That's also a great example. I totally forgot about that, although every time I go to 家乐福 I run into a couple of youghurt ladies by the dairy section with trays and obscenely loud microphones shouting to us to go and "了解一下" the product!

Sometimes there's even five or six ladies all with their own microphones advertising different products at about 100 decibels within a space of 10 square metres crowded with tons of customers. And they speak at bullet speed too. It's like a war zone!

@murrayjames,

no problem! :)
Grace Qi on February 27, 2014 | reply
@华金,

Exactly! I've had the same experience. It was AWFUL! The first couple times I was in the supermarket, I would politely say:知道了,我去了解下. 麻烦您小点声. But you know them, they would never 小声. So now whenever I'm there I say"不好意思,我不太感兴趣". It's a bit rude, but I really can't handle that - my ears actually hurt.
Echo on March 2, 2014 | reply
@lakers4sho,

In short, 理解 is to understand feelings or deep meaning behind words or images. It emphasizes the agreement or sympathy emotionally. 了解 is to know knowledge or facts. It emphasizes the objective facts of knowing things.

lakers4sho on March 3, 2014 | reply
Thanks everyone for the wealth of examples!
tangshanmingzi on October 31, 2016 | reply
People who know you don't necessarily understand you. People who understand you usually know you.