Can it be said as follows:

He just didn't understand or pretended not to.

in the meaning the he either didn't understand or pretended he didn't?

  • 2
    Why exactly are you asking? What meaning do you want to convey? Your exact phrasing is fairly unlikely, because just in He just didn't understand is an intensifier (as with alternatives such as simply or really). And it's a little bit "odd" to follow such an emphatic assertion with or [something different]. A more natural phrasing (which may or may not be what you're trying to say) might be, for example, Either he simply didn't understand, or he was pretending that he didn't [understand]. Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 15:19
  • 1
    Your sentence is perfectly natural as is, in AmE. Yes, the omission of "understand" is idiomatic (... pretended not to understand). In AmE, the just there would be understood to mean, "it's as simple as that".
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 16:34
  • @FumbleFingers it was supposed to sound a bit ironic, that's why I used just.
    – olegst
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 6:42
  • @TRomano, olegst: The way I first read it, just was intended to only apply to he didn't understand - the implication being that he had absolutely no understanding (i.e. - not some "fuzzy" partial grasp, or whatever). So it seemed reasonable to clarify that sense with the minor rearrangement I suggested. If it was intended to apply to the entire either/or assertion, that could be unambiguously conveyed with, say, It's just that he either didn't understand, or he pretended not to. But I've no idea which of those two possible meanings might be seen as more "ironic" than the other. Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 12:42

2 Answers 2


Your sentence is valid and natural. However, notice that just here may mean two things:

  1. It may be an intensifier. "I tried to explain it to him but he just didn't understand"
  2. It may mean "It is as simple as that" and it may act as an excuse.

Whatever ironic sense you might have wished to imbue the sentence with isn't really there. You might want to look into omitting "just" for clarity, or rephrasing the first part to "It's just that he didn't understand or pretended not to" as Mr.TRomano suggested.


Yes, there is nothing wrong with that sentence.

  • This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review
    – Varun Nair
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 5:22
  • @VarunKN I think it answers the question exactly, or is there some other question that I do not see? Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 11:20

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