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 Tatoeba.org. 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.

  • +1 有意义 is a common understanding。But 有意义 doesn't mean meaningful only, it depends on context. Aug 24, 2017 at 2:31

6 Answers 6


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 Mandarin (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.

  • 2
    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, 2012 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, 2012 at 18:11
  • quite common phrases 「不是吧」「不可能吧」「搞笑吧你」 Mar 9, 2013 at 9:28
  • "make sense" in English has two meanings. One is something that is not silly/illogical; the other is meaningful/having meaning, e.g., "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" "Huh? That makes no sense."
    – 伟思礼
    Dec 7, 2017 at 20:57

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。

When translating from English to Chinese, a very important problem is that the usage range of English and Chinese vocabulary is often not the same. The usage range of the two English phrases make sense and doesn't make sense in English is very wide-ranging, but when translating into Chinese, one has to carefully consider what's written above and below, and the context.

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

可以译成 (can be translated as):我一个北京来的朋友居然在上中文入门课![真是胡闹!][真荒唐!][真有病!]

Note: If anyone has a better suggestion on how to differentiate 上下文 and 语境, please suggest. I'll be happy to hear from you.


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 說不通. I think it's true that it probably differs by region though.

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

If It doesn't make any sense! means that you think he's crazy, then you could say 有病!.

If It doesn't make any sense! means that you are puzzled by his intentions, then you could say 真耐人尋味.

If It doesn't make any sense! literally means that you cannot understand why he's doing it, then you could say 真的叫我無法了解.


The best translation depends on the specific language context because 'make sense' has broader meaning than its Chinese counterparts: 有道理,说得通,靠谱……

For this particular example in your question:

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



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

[It doesn't make any sense!]


  • 1
    可能 is more like possible. Your answer provided translates more to: 'This can't be possible. / This (thing) is not possible.'
    – going
    Apr 10, 2012 at 1:48

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