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Expressing "it depends" with "kan"

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Although there are a number of ways to express "it depends" in Chinese, the most common ones in informal spoken Chinese involve the verb 看 (kàn). Some common expressions include 要看 (yào kàn) and 得看 (děi kàn). Both mean "(it) depends (on)." Literally, they would translate as "have to look at," so the logic is not hard to understand.

Basic Pattern

If you're answering a question with "it depends on..." then this is the pattern you want.

Structure

这 / 那 + 要看 / 得看 + [Unclear Situation]

Examples

Keep in mind that the "answers" below are meant to be an answer to some imaginary question that we don't include.

  • 得 看 你 的 时间 。Zhè děi kàn nǐ de shíjiān.This depends on when you are available.
  • 要 看 他 愿 不 愿意 。yào kàn tā yuàn bu yuànyì.That depends on whether he is willing or not.
  • 得 看 天气 怎么样 。Zhè děi kàn tiānqì zěnmeyàng.It depends on how the weather is.
  • 要 看 老板 怎么 想 。yào kàn lǎobǎn zěnme xiǎng.It depends on what the boss thinks.
  • 得 看 考试 结果 。děi kàn kǎoshì jiéguǒ.That depends on the result of the test.

Advanced Pattern

Structure

If you're going to write a full sentence explaining what "it" depends on, then you're going to need to lead off with some kind of explanation of the "unknown outcome" of what "it depends" on. So you'll start with the "unknown outcome" in the first part of the sentence (before 要看 / 得看) and then end up with what "it depends on" (after 要看 / 得看).

[Unknown Outcome] + 要看 / 得看 + [Unclear Situation]

The "unknown outcome" normally includes some kind of question word, meaning something like "whether or not x happens" or "what x does," etc.

Examples

  • 去不去 得 看 我 的 心情 。Qù bu qù děi kàn wǒ de xīnqíng.Whether or not I go depends on my mood.
  • 什么时候要 看 公司 的 安排 。Shénme shíhouyào kàn gōngsī de ānpái.When we go depends on the company's arrangements.
  • 学 音乐 还是 学 画画 要 看 孩子 的 兴趣 。Xué yīnyuè háishì xué huàhuà yào kàn háizi de xìngqù.Whether to study music or drawing depends on your child's interest.
  • 能不能 留在 中国 要 看 我 能 不 能 拿到 签证 。Néng bu néng liú zài Zhōngguó yào kàn wǒ néng bu néng nádào qiānzhèng.Whether or not I can stay in China depends on whether or not I can get a visa.
  • 当 总统 得 看 大选 的 结果 。Shéi dāng zǒngtǒng děi kàn dàxuǎn de jiéguǒ.Who the next president will be depends on the result of the election.

If you're looking for more formal language, consider 取决于 (qǔjué yú), "to be determined by."

Sources and further reading

Books