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As a response to this:

老师说:“我们的学校下学期来开始用英语上课”
学生说:“我们听不懂”

What would be the difference in meaning/nuance if “我们听不懂的” were said instead?

3 Answers 3

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的 here is an intonation particle. It is tagged on to a sentence to soften the tone. The sentence without it sounds somewhat blunt to a native ear. So in addition to an appropriate intonation, we tend to also add a particle at the end. I cannot think of any situation where "我们听不懂" vs “我们听不懂的” will create any significant difference in meaning.

Think of it as saying "We don't understand" with a straight face vs saying "We don't understand" with a slightly sad smile. The meaning of the two sentences are the same; the objective fact is the same; but the speaker is conveying a slight different feeling about "not understanding".

If you are a learner, I hope you will just allow yourself to learn the intonation particles as you meet them, much like one learns intonation in English. With time and practice, you will become increasingly more natural in expressing yourself.

Learning a new language is a big challenge. I hope this helps a little.

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  • Interesting. I once watched a video where a guy punched somebody and said "去你妈的." Is the 的 here deemphasizing the insult or is it just bad grammar? The guy was from Shandong if that matters at all.
    – user31212
    Commented Mar 2, 2022 at 13:03
  • Not an expert on swear words here. But I doubt it has anything to do with toning down.
    – monalisa
    Commented Mar 5, 2022 at 17:41
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Firstly, it's odd for students to speak in one mouth with "我们", so we will consider that a student said "(我)听不懂" vs "(我)听不懂的".

听不懂 may mean 听不懂的, but it mainly mean I don't understand what you are saying. So the student is cheating with the teacher. (Imagine other students laughing/The student argues that "I just mean 听不懂的")

听不懂的 just have one meaning - I will not understand it if that's realized.

I'm answering as a native speaker — I can't explain this for now. And the conversation between a student and a teacher is still unnatural, I don't know how as well.

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“我们听不懂的” - We won't be able to understand what we are going to hear.

"我们听不懂" - We don't understand what we are hearing.

In this case, “我们听不懂的” is more likely the exact response expected from the students, as who were worried about their capability to handle, or unconvinced that they are capable of handling, such a challenge, so the response will be filled with emotions. On the other hand, “我们听不懂" is rather an emotionless statement or an outright rejection of the announced plan.

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  • Is there any explanation for why the 的 version has that meaning?
    – minseong
    Commented Mar 1, 2022 at 18:51
  • In this case, it is just the ending of a sentence to make it sounds more "natural" than a "rigid/hard/cold" statement without it. Also, it can alter the tense (see edit).
    – r13
    Commented Mar 1, 2022 at 19:20

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