My English skills are poor. Which of these is correct to say?

"I can't understand what does it mean"
"I can't understand what it means".

  • 2
    "What does it mean?" is a question. "I can't understand what it means" is a statement (though it implies that you are asking for an explanation).
    – Kate Bunting
    Jul 4, 2019 at 12:38
  • @KateBunting Thanks for your interest. Which one is more popular than the other?
    – Antonio
    Jul 4, 2019 at 14:05
  • That depends whether you are asking a question or telling someone that you don't understand them!
    – Kate Bunting
    Jul 4, 2019 at 15:36

2 Answers 2


"I can't understand what it means" is an indirect question. You need to use a direct word order, like in a statement, after what/when/where/if/etc.

"Can you tell me where the bank is?"

"I was wondering how you did that. "

If you really want to use your first example, you need to separate it into two distinct sentences: "I can't understand. What does it mean?"


The second one (I can't understand what it means) is correct.

The first one is not correct and would not normally be used by a native speaker. However, a native speaker might say or write something that sounds very similar:

  • I can't understand...what does it mean?
  • I can't understand--what does it mean?

The phrase what it means can be used as part of another sentence, to indicate what the thing is that you don't understand.

The question What does it mean? is a complete sentence by itself, and can't be used as part of another sentence (except of course as a quote - She looked up and asked me, "What does it mean?")

  • For those who are interested in the more technical answer, even though both what it means and what does it mean start with the word what, it is in a different role. The first one is a dependent clause that can be the direct object of I can't understand, using the conjunction what. In the second one, what is the direct object of the question (it means what).
    – BobH
    Dec 4, 2022 at 8:30

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