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I'm translating an English song in an exercise to learn Chinese

One of the lyrics is

You can tell he means it by the look on his face

This is English expression. A less expressive lyricist might say:

You know he means it because (of) the look on his face

So I tried these translations:

  • 你能确定。。。 因为。。。
  • You can determine... because...
  • 。。。 就你能确定。。。
  • ... so you know that...

For "can tell" I tried 你能确定 。。。 or 你确定

For "by" I tried either 就。。。 or 因为。But 因为 seems like it's causal. Like "the look on his face is why he is serious". It's the opposite. The look on his face is effect, not cause of his seriousness. The look on his face may be the cause of your knowing he is serious.

For the full sentence I tried:

你看他脸色, 就确定 他是认真的

How would you translate that line? Emphasis on the Chinese translation for "You can tell ... by ... "

Other English ways it's used :

  • "You can tell the spaghetti is cooked when it sticks to a wall."
  • "You can tell he's rich by the clothes he's wearing"
  • "How do you know?" "I can just tell!"

3 Answers 3

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The corresponding Chinese expression for

You can tell ...by ...

is

一看...就知道...

so

You can tell he means it by the look on his face

一看他的脸色就知道他是认真的

Although for a lyric you probably want something like

他的神情告诉我他是认真的

"You can tell the spaghetti is cooked when it sticks to a wall."

能粘在墙上的spaghetti才是煮过的spaghetti

where "You can tell" or "you know" is basically ignored because it won't add anything to the sentence.

"You can tell he's rich by the clothes he's wearing"

"一看他穿的衣服就知道他很富"

"How do you know? (How can you tell)" "I can just tell!"

"你怎么知道的?" "我就是知道"

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  • Thank you! My summary: 知道 instead of 确定。 就 is correct here. 一看 implies "in a look, you'll know..." The expression and use of does imply visual observation, not process. So you don't use "一看" with my Spaghetti example. And if you "just know!" then, the Chinese is what I expect, don't use "一看", only use "就是我知道" ! Notice "是" in there. It adds emphasis, as described here. Thanks, @night! Aug 7, 2014 at 20:16
  • Also, thank you for your lyric suggestion: "他的神情告诉我他是认真的" . I notice it uses "告诉". It means "His face tells me he was serious", to use another word "His face suggests he was serious". I avoided "告诉" in the overly-literal translation of "you can tell", because I (subject) am not 告诉 his face (object) anything. But you show me indeed his face (subject) 告诉 me (object)! Aug 7, 2014 at 20:20
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The corresponding Chinese expression for You can tell ...by ... is 一看...就知道...

No, "一看...就知道..." in English is " take one look at.... you can tell..."

the correct corresponding Chinese phrasing structure for " You can tell ...by ..." is "...就知道..."

(他的脸色), 就知道(他是认真的)

(他一句話), 就知道(他是认真的)

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  • 1
    I think there are multiple ways of saying the same English sentence, it depends on where in China you are.
    – Rodrigo
    Jul 31, 2016 at 2:30
  • Thank you @TangHo , you taught a useful word "憑". I think this is a closer translation of the original lyric... ( "一看"... might have the same general meaning but it's a bit looser) May 3, 2023 at 17:02
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你看他脸色, 就确定 他是认真的。(Good)

你看他脸色, 就知道 他是认真的。(Better)

从他的脸色可以看出, 他是认真的。(the Best)

Because it is from a romantic song, "You can tell he means it by the look on his face", it is better to keep the romantic mode when translate into Chinese.

他的眼睛透露出真诚,我相信他的诺言。

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