Is it

  1. Ты хорошо понимаешь по-английски?


  1. Ты хорошо понимаешь английский?

I have seen (1) in some Russian books I came across through an online search, but literally it does not make sense (although it might be a phrase).

I have seen Russians use (2) a lot.

Which one is correct?

Both? If so, what is the difference in the meaning?

  • Form #2 is indeed much more widely used. "По-английски" usually used with "speak", not "understand". "Ты хорошо говоришь по-английски?" is the typical form.
    – Alexander
    Sep 19, 2017 at 17:31

2 Answers 2


Both are correct and there is no difference.

The first means literally

Do you understand (something written or spoken) in English well?

And the second means

Do you understand English (language) well?

  • What is the grammatical difference between английски and the adjective английский?
    – rapt
    Sep 19, 2017 at 8:34
  • @rapt adjectives characterize some object, typically a noun or a pronoun, here above the adjective "английский" characterizes the omitted (because obvious to infer) noun "language". Now "по-английски" (it is ONE word) is an adverb and as you can infer from the term itself, adVERBs are characterzing VERBs, they affect not objects but the very processes, actions, deeds. Here above the adverb "по-английски" characterizes the omitted (because obvious to infer) verb "written" or "spoken"
    – Arioch
    Sep 19, 2017 at 9:25
  • 1
    On a second glance, I would remove "something written or spoken" from the answer altogether. I feel that the adverb "по-английски" directly effects the "understand" verb without requiring some supposedly omitted additions. So to convey the idea by the incorrect yet idiomatic English, the first version of the question means something like "Do you understand-in-English well?" or, rephrasing away from Russian syntax to English one, "Is your understanding-of-English good". Dunno if I should extract this into my own answer version...
    – Arioch
    Sep 19, 2017 at 9:37
  • I'd only add to this that the phrase "понимать по-английски", I mean specifically with the verb "понимать", has a very-very tiny old-fashioned tone. For me it'd even go towards the phrase "понимать по часам", which means "one is able to use clock with arrows" and sounds quite "many years ago" like. Sep 20, 2017 at 13:29

По-английски means "the English way", по-спортивному means "the sport way/style" по-дружески means "the friendly way/style", по-военному means "the military way/style", по-братски means "the brotherly way" etc.

So "Ты хорошо понимаешь по-английски?" literally means "Do you understand [something said/wrttten] the English way well?" while "Ты хорошо понимаешь английский?" means "Do you understand English [language] well?"

По-английски can mean other things done in English way as well "он ушёл по-английски" literally means "he went away in English style" but ideomatically it means "he went away without saying goodbye". Мясо по-французски means "meat prepared in French style" etc.

  • I believe that's not what this question is about Sep 20, 2017 at 13:22

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