The English phrase figure it out means
to solve, to understand, to reason out
This is consistent with the definitions of the word figure, which have to do with both to form or shape and mathematical calculations. This basic concept is still present in the Chinese vocabulary that represents this idea.
The basic phrase used in Chinese is (verb) + 出來
When 出來 comes after a verb, it means coming out, completion of an action, or the ability to discern or detect. (KTdict C-E dictionary app).
For knowing how to say figure it out in Chinese, we use the definition the ability to discern or detect after a sense or thinking verb. Here are some of the common combinations:
看出來 ㄎㄢˋ ㄔㄨ ㄌㄞˊ kàn chū lái (to figure out by seeing)
聽出來 ㄊㄧㄥ ㄔㄨ ㄌㄞˊ tīng chū lái (to figure out by hearing)
吃出來 ㄔ ㄔㄨ ㄌㄞˊ chī chū lái (to figure out by tasting)
聞出來 ㄨㄣˊ ㄔㄨ ㄌㄞˊ wén chū lái (to figure out by smell)
想出來 ㄒㄧㄤˇ ㄔㄨ ㄌㄞˊ xiǎng chū lái (to figure out by thinking about it)
感覺出來 ㄍㄢˇ ㄐㄩㄝˊ ㄔㄨ ㄌㄞˊ gǎn jué chū lái (to figure out by sensing or intuition)
摸出來 ㄇㄛ ㄔㄨ ㄌㄞˊ mō chū lái (to figure out by touching)
In Chinese, which bodily faculty is used to detect or discern or to “figure out” is a necessary part of the communication.
When something isn’t or can’t be figured out, the negative 不 ㄅㄨˋ (bù) is added between the verb and the 出來. That looks like this:
Now for some fun with practice sentences:
(ㄨㄛˇ ㄇㄣ˙ ㄉㄜ˙)(ㄒㄧㄠˇ ㄍㄡˇ)(ㄗㄨㄥˇ ㄕˋ)(ㄨㄣˊ ㄔㄨ ㄌㄞˊ)(ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄗㄞˋ)(ㄗㄨㄛˋ)(ㄈㄢˋ)
(wǒ men. de.)(xiǎo gǒu)(zǒng shì)(wén chū lái)(wǒ)(zài)(zuò)(fàn)
(our)(puppy)(always)(figures out)(I)(indicating action in progress, -ing)(to make)(meal)
Our puppy always figures out when I’m cooking.
(ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄌㄠˇㄍㄨ)(ㄥㄨㄣˋ)(ㄨㄛˇ), (ㄋㄧˇ)(ㄔ ㄔㄨ ㄌㄞˊ)(ㄓㄜˋ)(ㄌㄧˇㄇㄧㄢˋ)(ㄉㄜ˙)(ㄇㄧˋㄇㄧˋ)(ㄆㄧㄝˋㄌㄞㄠˋ)(ㄇㄚ˙)
(wǒ)(lǎo gōng)(wèn)(wǒ), (nǐ)(chī chū lái)(zhè)(lǐ miàn)(de.)(mì mì)(pèi liào)(ma.)
(my)(husband)(to ask)(me), (you)(figure out)(this)(in)(adjective marker)(secret)(ingredient)(question particle)
My husband asks me, “Did you figure out the secret ingredient (in what you are eating)?”
(ㄡ), (ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄊㄧㄥ ㄔㄨ ㄌㄞˊ)(ㄋㄧˇ ㄉㄜ˙)(ㄉㄨˋ ㄗ˙)(ㄜˋ)(ㄌㄜ˙)
(ō), (wǒ)(tīng chū lái)(nǐ de.)(dù zi.)(è)(le.)
(oh), (I)(figured out)(your)(stomach)(hungry)(emphasis)
Oh, I figured out you are hungry!
(ㄊㄚ)(ㄎㄢˋ ㄔㄨ ㄌㄞˊ)(ㄊㄚ)(ㄕˋ)(ㄕㄟˊ)
(tā)(kàn chū lái)(tā)(shì)(shéi)
(she)(figured out)(he)(to be/is)(who)
She figured out who he was.
(ㄒㄧㄠˇ ㄏㄞˊ ㄗ˙)(ㄒㄧㄤˇ ㄅㄨˋ ㄔㄨ ㄌㄞˊ)(ㄨㄟˋ ㄕㄣˊ ㄇㄜ˙)(ㄇㄚ ㄇㄚ˙) (ㄧㄠˋ)(ㄊㄚ)(ㄒㄧㄠˇ ㄕㄨㄟˋ)
(xiǎo hái zi.)(xiǎng bù chū lái)(wèi shén me.)(mā ma.)(yào)(tā)(xiǎo shuì)
(child)(not figure out)(why)(mom/mother/mommy)(to want)(him)(to nap)
The child couldn’t figure out why his mommy wanted him to take a nap!
(ㄊㄚ ㄇㄣ˙)(ㄒㄧㄤˇ ㄔㄨ ㄌㄞˊ)(ㄗㄣˇ ㄇㄜ˙)(ㄕˇ ㄧㄨㄥˋ)(ㄉㄧㄢˋ ㄋㄠˇ)
(tā men.)(xiǎng chū lái)(zěn me.)(shǐ yòng)(diàn nǎo)
(they)(figure out)(how)(to use/to employ)(electric brain)
They figured out how to make use of the computer.
(ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄏㄞˊ)(ㄒㄧㄤˇ ㄅㄨˋ ㄔㄨ ㄌㄞˊ)(ㄗㄣˇ ㄇㄜ˙)(ㄒㄧㄝˇ) (ㄓㄜˋ)(ㄅㄣˇ)(ㄕ)(ㄨ)
(wǒ)(hái)(xiǎng bù chū lái)(zěn me.)(xiě)(zhè)(běn)(shū)(wō)
(I)(still)(not figure out)(how)(to write)(this)(measure word for book)(book)(conversational sound)
I still haven’t figured how to write this book!
(ㄒㄧㄠˇ ㄇㄠ)(ㄎㄢˋ ㄅㄨˋ ㄔㄨ ㄌㄞˊ)(ㄌㄠˇ ㄕㄨˇ)(ㄘㄤˊ)(ㄗㄞˋ)(ㄋㄚˇ ㄌㄧˇ)
(xiǎo māo)(kàn bù chū lái)(lǎo shǔ)(cáng)(zài)(nǎ lǐ)
(kitten)(not figure out)(mouse)(to hide away, to conceal, to harbor)(at)(where)
The kitten couldn’t figure out where the mouse was hiding.
(ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄒㄧㄤˇ ㄅㄨˋ ㄔㄨ ㄌㄞˊ)(ㄧㄠˋ)(ㄔㄨㄢ)(ㄋㄚˇ)(ㄐㄧㄢˋ)(ㄎㄨˋ ㄗ˙)
(wǒ)(xiǎng bù chū lái)(yào)(chuān)(nǎ)(jiàn)(kù zi.)
(I)(not figure out)(to want)(to wear)(which)(measure word for clothing)(pants, trousers)
I can’t figure out which pants I want to wear.
You can see that for such sentences you will also use a lot of question words such as 怎麼，哪裡，為什麼， and 誰. Other qualifiers can also be added like was done with 還 and 總是. (all of these characters are used in the above sentences, so check there for translations and pronunciations if you need to review)
I haven’t used 算 in any sentences with 出來 yet. This verb quite literally has to do with figuring out or computing math problems, like in this important sentence:
(ㄐㄧㄚ ㄧㄡˊ) (ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄙㄨㄢˋ ㄔㄨ ㄌㄞˊ)(ㄧㄣˊ ㄏㄤˊ) (ㄐㄧㄝˊㄘㄨㄣˊ)(ㄌㄜ˙)
(jiā yóu) (wǒ)(suàn chū lái)(yín háng)(jié cún)(le.)
(cheers for the extra effort!) (I)(figure out)(bank)(knot/join/connect + exist/remain/survive = balance)(emphasis of completion)
Hooray! I figured out my bank balance!
And let’s not forget –
(ㄓㄜˋ ㄌㄧˇ)(ㄧˋ ㄉㄧㄢˇ)(ㄋㄚˋ ㄌㄧˇ)(ㄧˋ ㄒㄧㄝ)(ㄐㄧㄢˋ ㄐㄧㄢˋ)(ㄉㄜ˙) (ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄊㄧㄥ ㄔㄨ ㄌㄞˊ)(ㄍㄥˋ ㄉㄨㄛ)(ㄓㄨㄥ ㄨㄣˊ)(ㄌㄜ˙)
(zhè lǐ)(yì diǎn)(nà lǐ)(yì xiē)(jiàn jiàn)(de.)(wǒ)(tīng chū lái)(gèng duō)(zhōng wén)(le.)
(here)(a little)(there)(some)(gradual)(-ly)(I)(figure out)(more)(Chinese language)(emphasis)
Little by little, I will figure out more Chinese.
In the blog about finishing things, we talked about how 好 can be added to verbs to indicate something has been completed. When it is added to 想 one of the translations could be figured out, because the thinking has been completed, but when it is added to the sense verbs the meaning is not the same as figured out. Here are a couple of sentences using that option:
(ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄓㄨㄥ ㄩˊ)(ㄒㄧㄤˇ ㄏㄠˇ)(ㄗㄣˇ ㄇㄜ˙)(ㄈㄥˊ ㄖㄣˋ)(ㄓㄜˋ)(ㄉㄧㄥˇ)(ㄇㄠˋ ㄗ˙)
(wǒ)(zhōng yú)(xiǎng hǎo)(zěn me.)(féng rèn)(zhè)(dǐng)(māo zi.)
(I)(finally)(to figure out)(how)(to sew)(this)(measure word for hat)(hat)
I finally figured out how to sew this hat.
(ㄋㄧˇ)(ㄒㄧㄤˇ ㄏㄠˇ)(ㄋㄧˇ)(ㄨㄢˇ ㄘㄢ)(ㄧㄠˋ)(ㄔ)(ㄕㄣˊ ㄇㄜ˙)(ㄋㄜ˙)
(nǐ)(xiǎng hǎo)(nǐ)(wǎn cān)(yào)(chī)(shén me.)(ne.)
(you)(to figure out)(you)(dinner)(to want)(to eat)(what)(question particle)
Did you figure out what you want to eat for dinner?
The difference between 想出來 and 想起來
To the English ear, it might be difficult at first to distinguish between
想出來 ㄒㄧㄤˇ ㄔㄨ ㄌㄞˊ xiǎng chū lái
想起來 ㄒㄧㄤˇ ㄑㄧˇ ㄌㄞˊ xiǎng qǐ lái
The phrase 想起來 means to remember, while 想出來 is about a newly problem solving something that was not known.
On the podcast audio, my tutor reads just the verbs to help hear them.
看 ㄎㄢˋ kàn to see
吃 ㄔ chī to eat
聞 ㄨㄣˊ wén to smell
想 ㄒㄧㄤˇ xiǎng to think
聽 ㄊㄧㄥ tīng to hear
算 ㄙㄨㄢˋ suàn to calculate
摸 ㄇㄛ mō to touch, to feel
感覺 ㄍㄢˇ ㄐㄩㄝˊ gǎn jué to feel, to become aware
Here are a few more sentences to practice with. Since most of the vocabulary is translated in the sentences above, I will only add translations for the Chinese words that aren’t.
(east + west = thing, stuff)
(to speak, to say)
(ㄉㄠˋ)(ㄕㄨˋ ㄒㄩㄝˊ ㄊㄧˊ)
(dào)(shù xué tí)
(measure word for math problem)(number/count + learning + problem/question = math problem)
(ㄕㄣˋ ㄓˋ)(ㄐㄧㄠˋ ㄕㄡˋ)
(shèn zhì)(jiào shòu)
(ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄒㄧㄤˇ ㄅㄨˋ ㄑㄧˇ ㄌㄞˊ)(ㄋㄧˇ)(ㄕㄨㄛ)(ㄍㄨㄛˋ)(ㄓㄜˋㄍㄜ˙)(ㄕˋ ㄑㄧㄥˊ)
(wǒ)(xiǎng bù qǐ lái)(nǐ)(shuō)(guò)(zhè ge.)(shì qíng)
(I)(not remember)(you)(to say)(marks experienced action/past)(this)(matter, affair, thing)
I don’t remember you saying this.
(ㄏㄨㄟˋ)… (ㄐㄧㄣ ㄊㄧㄢ)
(huì)… (jīn tiān)
I will figure out what I want to do today.
Did you figure it out?
Did you figure out where you want me to go?
(ㄏㄞˊ)(ㄇㄟˊ)…(ㄙㄨㄥˋ)…(ㄍㄟˇ)…(ㄕㄥ ㄖˋ ㄌㄧˇ ㄨˋ)
(hái)(méi)…(sòng)…(gěi)…(shēng rì lǐ wù)
(still)(not)…(to deliver, to present)…(to give)…(birthday present)
I still haven’t figured out what I want to give my husband for his birthday.
(to pluck, to play)(guitar)
I have figured out how to learn to play the guitar.
(to record, to copy)(blog)
happy, glad, in a cheerful mood
Just like when small children are learning to talk, when we study a new language it helps to sometimes listen beyond our current abilities, so here is a youtube video about Taiwanese coastlines that my tutor showed me. I found that I understood more as I kept listening. Glancing at the characters can sometimes help, but it can be distracting, too.