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Tell Them I Don’t Understand in Portuguese in a Way They Do Understand

I don't understand in Portuguese

We’ve all been in this situation.

You’re going to have a conversation in Brazilian Portuguese. Perhaps it’s your first. Your interlocutor speaks very fast. Overwhelmed, you want to say “I don’t understand” in Portuguese…

But even that expression is hard and slow to come to your mind.

What happened?

First, your mind is like a good cook.

When you’re first learning Portuguese, you’re giving it the ingredients. The more ingredients you give the cook, the more interesting the dishes it will make.

And second, you’re lacking practice.

And luckily, I can help you with both (real practice real free? Check it out here).

They Will Understand When You Say I Don’t Know in Portuguese

I’m not going to lie to you — Brazilian Portuguese is a hard language.

We have far too many expressions for very simple concepts.

And all of them are informal!

(Okay, not all of them, but…)

In this short article, I’m going from the simplest and most useful expressions to the most native and colloquial ones.

As you work your way down the list, take notes, and try to use those expressions on the same day — or the following day.

It will help you greatly.

Use with Your Friends

You find yourself in that dreadful situation — a group of Brazilians who don’t speak English is talking at lightning speed while you try to catch up with the previous sentence someone said a few seconds ago.

Suddenly, one of them turns around to face you and asks something.

Because you want to keep the quick pace of the conversation, you just ask:

  • Oi? Huh?

And that’s the quickest way you can show you didn’t understand something.

And it’s actually something to use with everybody.

It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to a nineteen-year-old granny who lives next door or to a child.

Pro Tip

Make sure you raise your intonation in this sentence. Otherwise, you’ll just say “hi.”

And, don’t use the English huh? It sounds likes Rã, the female frog.

You Didn’t Hear It Well…

In addition to the previous expression, Brazilians will also resort to como when they want you to repeat something because they couldn’t hear it well.

  • Como? Come again?
  • Como é? Como é que é? What?!

As to the second example, you have to be careful.

Both “Como é?” and “Como é que é?” are used most commonly when you would rather not have heard what someone just said.

And just to make myself clear, you use it when you’re angry.

When You Simply Don’t Understand It

Only one very important thing: you can also use the present tense with this expression.

Example. Não entendo português. Desculpe. I don’t understand Portuguese, I’m sorry.

But in the present tense, it’s a general statement, something that is true at all times.

But if you want to convey that you don’t understand something that your friend Carlos has just said, use the past tense.

It sounds way more natural.

  • Não entendi I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand it.
  • Não entendi nadinha, desculpa. I didn’t really understand anything, I’m sorry.
  • Não entendi patavinas do que você disse. I didn’t understand doodly squat of what you said.
  • Eu não sei de nadica de nada nessa prova de matemática. Me dá uma ajudinha, pelo amor de Deus. I know simply nothing of this mathematics test. Can you help me pretty please.
  • Não entendo bulhufas de computador. É melhor você pedir ajuda a outra pessoa. I don’t understand doodly squat of computer. You had better ask another person for help.

Any extra element you add to “I don’t understand” intensifies it.

Check the translations for an approximate meaning.

The further down the list you go, the more intense your sentence gets.

And mind the prepositions when linking that to other sentences 😊

It’s Really Beyond Me, Above My Head

Your well-meaning coworker might try it 100 times, but his explanation just doesn’t make sense.

In that situation, you might want to employ the following expressions:

  • Olha, eu estou boiando. Listen, it’s way above my head. I don’t get it. (boiar: to float)
  • Não faço ideia do que ela está dizendo. Você pode me explicar? I have no idea about what she’s saying. Can explain it to me?
  • Eu também não faço a mínima ideia. I don’t have the slightest idea either.

The More Formal Ways

Here are your textbook formulas for saying that you don’t understand.

And by using them you make it very clear that you want the other person to repeat whatever you didn’t get.

  1. Pode repetir, por favor? Can you repeat that please?
  2. Outra vez, por favor. Again, please.
  3. O que você disse? What did you say?
  4. Não tenho certeza se entendi direito. I’m not sure if I got this right.

Be careful with the third example. Use the wrong intonation and you’ll sound challenging.

Being Aggressive

Don’t we all have that snobbish friend who makes it known that he or she knows everything there is to know?

I think we don’t, but at least I do.

And whenever these know-it-all friends ask me, “do you know it?” I say:

  • E eu lá sei! And am I to know? I don’t know it.
  • Não sei, não quero saber e tenho raiva de quem sabe. I don’t know it, I don’t want to know it, and I am angry at whoever knows it.

And a Bonus — I Don’t Know About That…

When watching this funny sketch by the guys from the SNL, I saw how useful this expression is.

And whenever those elderly people said, “I don’t know about that” in Portuguese, we would say:

  • Não sei dessa. I don’t know about that.

And it’s oh so natural.

Your Turn

And now that you know everything there is to know about I don’t understand in Portuguese, how about a quick look at the difference between saber and conhecer in Portuguese?

And tell me in the comments below:

Is there anything you don’t understand anything about but would like to understand much more?