When is it appropriate to use 一言难尽? Please supply a scenario where this would be a good reply. I have found this in my dictionary but I want to make sure I use in in the correct context.

3 Answers 3


If you use Facebook, you may know the relationship status It's complicated; the Chinese version is 一言難盡. That said, the phrase is intended be used whenever the situation is complicated, in a good way or in a bad way. On the other hand, despite its intended usage, people often use it for certain feelings or thoughts in disguise, such as when they simply do not feel like sharing.

I'll give some sample scenarios, in addition to that in @Shiji.Jiang's answer:

  • Situation is literally complicated


"Why are you here? I thought you went to the States."


"I was going! It's complicated."

  • "I'm not in the mood"


"What's wrong? Ain't looking good. Was it him(her)?"


"Forget it, it's complicated."

*Note that the context can be family relations, friendships, marriage, etc.

  • "I can't tell you that!"


"How do you make this thing you're selling? Teach me!"


"It's complicated; I can't explain it well."


Example 1:




Use 一言难尽 when the situation is worse than before.

From 生意做地很好 to 混得这么惨

Example 2:




have you found the change of situation in this example? It's pretty difficult.

From 赔了一大笔钱 to 东山再起 is getting better

Why I'm still using that? Because:

The point is from 原来不需要那么格外辛苦的赚钱(上下文分析,赔钱之前) to 起早贪黑工作(赔钱之后)

(I'm a native speaker, which means the grammar I use is more descriptive)


In English, you would start with "It's a long story, ..." when somebody asks you about a complicated event.

In Chinese, you start with "一言难尽" in this situation.

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