Potential complement "-bu dong" for not understanding

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Chinese learners often have to express that they don't understand something, especially in the beginning when they start learning. One of the ways to express that is to use the 不懂 (bù dǒng) verb complement.


Yes, 不懂 (bù dǒng) by itself simply means "not understand," and you can use it this way. But you'll find that more often, it follows a verb. When used this way, it is a complement.

The potential complement 不懂 (bù dǒng) is used to talk about things that can't be understood. Note that this is about potential: the subject doesn't have the ability to understand.

Subj. + Verb + 不懂

The 不懂 (bù dǒng) may also be swapped out with 不明白 (bù míngbai).


  • 不 懂 这 本 书。Literally, "read-not-understand"kàn bu dǒng zhè běn shū.I don't understand the book.
  • 孩子们 不 懂 你 写 的 汉字。Literally, "read-not-understand"Háizi men kàn bu dǒng nǐ xiě de Hànzì.Kids don't understand the characters that you wrote.
  • 不 懂 我 的 邮件 吗?Literally, "read-not-understand"kàn bu dǒng wǒ de yóujiàn ma?Do you not understand my emails?
  • 老板 的 中文 说 得 很好,可是 他 不 懂 中文 报纸。 Literally, "read-not-understand"Lǎobǎn de Zhōngwén shuō de hěn hǎo, kěshì tā kàn bu dǒng Zhōngwén bàozhǐ.The boss speaks very good Chinese, but he doesn't understand Chinese newspapers.
  • 不 懂 上海话 。 Literally, "hear-not-understand"tīng bu dǒng Shànghǎi-huà.I don't understand Shanghai dialect.
  • 你们 不 懂 我 的 话 吗?Literally, "hear-not-understand"Nǐmen tīng bu dǒng wǒ de huà ma?Do you not understand what I say?
  • 不 懂 你 说 的 英语。 Literally, "hear-not-understand"tīng bu dǒng nǐ shuō de Yīngyǔ.I don't understand your English.
  • 我们 都 不 懂 你 的 意思。 Literally, "hear-not-understand"Wǒmen dōu tīng bu dǒng nǐ de yìsi.None of us understand what you mean.
  • 很 多 人 不懂 这 本 书 。 Literally, "read-not-understand"Hěn duō rén bu dǒng zhè běn shū.Many people don't understand this book.
  • 这 个 句子 很 难, 学生们 都 不 懂Literally, "read-not-understand"Zhège jùzi hěn nán, xuéshengmen dōu bu dǒng.This sentence is very difficult. None of the students understand.

See also

Sources and further reading