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I am trying to explain the phrase "make sense" to my cousin, who is learning English. The dictionary suggests "有意义", but I believe that "有意义" is "meaningful" and that "make sense" should be "讲得通", "说得通", or "符合逻辑".

Consider the following situation:


One of my friends from Beijing is taking Chinese 101! [It doesn't make any sense!]

How do I translate the part in brackets? “这根本说不通?” Or maybe "居然" alone suffices?

Here is another example on Is "你说的没有意义" "what you said is insignificant"? Since "有意义" is used pretty often in Chinese, I am wondering whether there is an English equivalent.

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4 Answers 4

The most appropriate translation to make sense would probably be 有道理, which literally means has sense or reason. For example:

What you said is reasonable / What you said makes sense.

The phrase 说不通 would probably work, but it is not used frequently in Mainland China Mandrian(普通话) as 有道理 for the same context, if at all.

As for 符合逻辑, the phrase means the same thing as 有道理, but it is more verbose and academic. It is like saying:

That is well reasoned. 
---as opposed to---
That makes sense.

As you can see the latter is what people use in daily conversations, while the former make you sound like some College Professor. ;-)

[It doesn't make any sense] would translate to 这没有道理。 Though in the context of your example, I think it sounds more natural in the Chinese context to say It is ridiculous(这太荒唐了) in response to the situation. Cultural differences in the way we think I suppose.

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有道理 = "make sense" is a perfect translation (and it happens to be literal!). But when it comes to "doesn't make sense"- for example, does “我的一个北京朋友居然在大学上中文入门!【这根本没道理!】” sound right to you? Also, are you from northern China? I'm a native speaker from the south and "说不通" isn't archaic or rare here at all. – gonnastop Mar 19 '12 at 17:53
@gonnastop I updated my answer to your question. Yes the translation sounds natural enough as to not be weird. Though I think it is more natural to react to a ridiculous situation in the Chinese context with an affirmative, even though in English either way works fine. And yes I am a native speaker from the North, so "说不通" is not a commonly used phrase for me. – Bojin Li Mar 19 '12 at 18:11
quite common phrases 「不是吧」「不可能吧」「搞笑吧你」 – Mike Manilone Mar 9 '13 at 9:28

In Taiwan, I frequently hear all three of

Personally, I usually use 沒有意思. I think this is one of those situations where the literally meaning doesn't quite capture the sentiment (which is, indeed, "doesn't make sense") while the literal meaning misses the point.

Edit: If I were reacting to an absurd statement ("That doesn't make sense") I would probably say 怎麼意思? However, if I were describing a situation, then I would probably lean towards 說不痛. I think it's true that it probably differs by region though.

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英译汉时,一个很重要的问题,就是英汉词汇适用的范围常常是不同的。make sense 和 doesn't make sense这两个英文词(组)在英文中的适用范围是很宽泛的,但翻译成中文时,就得根据上下文及语境仔细斟酌了。

One of my friends from Beijing is taking Chinese 101! [It doesn't make any sense!]


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Welcome to CL&U! – jsj Mar 7 '13 at 14:13

One of my friends from Beijing is taking Chinese 101! [It doesn't make any sense!]

[It doesn't make any sense!]


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可能 is more like possible. Your answer provided translates more to: 'This can't be possible. / This (thing) is not possible.' – xiaohouzi79 Apr 10 '12 at 1:48

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