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了解, 明白, and 知道 seem to be fairly synonymous in Mandarin, but there does seem to be some subtle differences between them.

What exactly is the difference? When should I use each one? Could you give me an example sentence to show when each of these terms would be the most appropriate?

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    懂 is another one.
    – PdotWang
    Commented Mar 3 at 3:37

4 Answers 4

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知道 means you just know something, you don't need to understand it. 了解, you understand it. 明白, you understand something, and have a clear idea of what it is about.

I think the order of them is: 知道<了解<=明白

for 了解, it can also means 'to investigate'. e.g 小白, 你去了解一下这事情怎么发生的.

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  • Just an intermediate student, so I may well be wrong. But I have a feeling 明白 is not used so much in modern writing; maybe 了解 or some other alternative is used instead. Commented Jul 24, 2020 at 10:13
  • Quote:- " 了解, it can also means 'to investigate' My personal translation would be "to gain a better understanding" Commented Mar 3 at 2:37
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了解 also means to learn about, for example, 他去那个地方是想了解当地的风俗习惯。

-1

知道 = to Know, verb

了解 = to understand, verb

明白 = to be clear, adjective

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    That doesn't seem exactly accurate, given things like the well-known song lyrics, "明明白白我的心“ and sentences like "他对这个题目的了解..." in which 了解 does not behave like a noun. Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 20:01
  • I read "明明白白我的心“ as 我的心 is 明明白白, but you are right, 了解 can be used as a noun. good call.
    – Laguna
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 20:28
  • Actually now I'm contemplating over this, I think 明白 can be used as verb too, as in 明白事理。
    – Laguna
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 20:30
  • I've heard people asking, "你明白嗎?" to mean "do you understand?" in Taiwan. Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 3:46
  • lol and +1 at 明明白白我的心 in this context, @Terry Waltz =)
    – magnetar
    Commented Jan 29, 2012 at 19:51
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知道 = Know

了解 = Know clearly

明白 = Know completely

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