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I've always used "я понимаю" to mean "I understand" but today came across "мне понятно" which, after checking, seems to mean the same. Is there a difference?

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Although in some situations these sentences may be used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference.

"Мне понятно" is a neutral impersonal sentence that basically means 'it is clear to me that...' ('A clear picture of the subject is present in my mind'):

  • Мне непонятно, как ему это удаётся. - 'I can't understand how he manages that.'
  • Всем ли понятно, что тут написано? - 'Does everyone understand what is written here?'
  • После твоего объяснения мне всё понятно. - 'Now that you've explained it, it's all clear to me.'

"Я понимаю" can often be used instead of "мне понятно", but the stress here is on my own mental activity:

  • Я не понимаю, как ему это удаётся. - 'I try to understand how he manages that, but I can't.'
  • Я тебя не понимаю. - I fail to understand you (though am eager to).
  • Правильно ли я понимаю, что...? - 'Do I understand correctly that...?'

Both "понимаю" and "понятно" can be used as replies in a conversation. Both are translated as 'I see', but "понятно" has a hint of finality: 'Now that you told all that to me, it's all clear to me; no further explanation is necessary.'

  • понятно —is something like "I got it". "Я понимаю" "I understand". "Also, "I see" is a bad translation that Russians sometimes use here. It's pretty rude in most cases, without additional words such as "I see what you mean" I see what you're saying" – VCH250 Apr 20 '16 at 11:37
  • @VCH250: That's a ludicrous assessment. There is absolutely nothing rude about "I see" on it's own. Quite the contrary. I actually consider it an excellent translation of понятно, and quite proper. – CocoPop May 7 '16 at 12:31
  • @ CocoPop in certain contexts it's pretty rude, or at least sharp sounding)) Like you explain in length what you did yesterday and the person answers "I see". It's basically like "and so what" . In certain cases you expect a better answer than that just "ok". – VCH250 May 8 '16 at 15:55
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No, Echilon, there is no significant difference, it's quite the same. At least, it's so in the case of "Я понимаю, что..." and "Мне понятно, что...".

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    Thanks. Sometimes it's hard to find answers to this type of question in books etc because they only tend to mention differences. – Echilon Apr 19 '16 at 14:34
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Я понимаю A = active voice, I understand A

Мне понятно A = passive voice, A is understandable for me

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