How to Politely Ask for Clarification in English

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In our personal & professional lives, while talking to someone, we all have situations when we don’t clearly understand what the other person is saying. Thus, we need to ask them for further clarification without feeling awkward. So, how do you politely ask for clarification in English?

“Would you say that again, please?” & “I am afraid I didn’t quite catch that. Could you please repeat it?” are the common formal ways of asking someone for clarification in English. Informally “You can simply say “Sorry?” or “Come again?” with a curious tone to ask someone for clarification.

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Table of Contents

Why Is Asking for Clarification Necessary?

Every day, we get engaged in conversations for different purposes. While we communicate with others, we exchange information and opinions. However, miscommunication can occur if information or opinion is not clearly expressed or understood. So, if you are confused about understanding what the other person said in a conversation, you should ask for clarification.

Suppose you just received a prescription from the doctor after the diagnosis. If your doctor gives you any instructions, you must follow them. However, if the instruction is unclear, you may need to ask for clarification to take medicine properly.

Now, let’s see a short conversation between a doctor and a patient that involves asking for clarification.

Doctor: You should take this medicine once a day.

Patient: Thanks, doctor. But would you please tell me what would be the best time to take it?

Doctor: Oh, sure. It would be best if you took it in the morning before the meal.

Patient: Alright! Thank you, doctor.

Doctor: You’re welcome. I wish you good health.

You see! How important it may become at times to ask for clarification. Now we’ll learn some very useful expressions that you can use to ask for clarification in English politely.

General Polite English Expressions for Clarification

There are different ways you can ask for clarification in English. Whether you are in a formal or informal situation, politeness is the key to a good conversation. Therefore, when you request someone to clarify something, you may use modal verbs to sound polite.

The modal verb “Would” is the most formal word with which you can form the politest expressions. However, “Could” is less polite, and “Can” is the least polite word among these three. Now, let’s learn some expressions that native speakers of English commonly use to ask for clarification.

  • Would/Could you please say that again for me/us?
  • Could/Would you repeat this/it, please?
  • Would/Could you please clarify it for me/us?
  • Could/Would you explain it again, please?
  • Could/Would you please put it differently so that it becomes easy for me to understand?
  • Can/Would/Could you be a bit/little more specific, please?
  • Could/Would/Can you be a bit clearer about it?
  • Could/Would/Can you explain what you mean by this?
  • Can/Could/Would you give me an example, please?
  • Could/Would/Can you please walk me through that again?
  • Would/Could you please elaborate on it for me?
  • Can you please break it down for me?
  • May I ask you to clarify the matter for me/all of us?
  • I want to request you to repeat it, may I?
  • I wonder if you can say it in a different way for me/us.
  • I beg your pardon. I don’t quite catch what you said.
  • I am sorry, but I couldn’t follow what you said.
  • I’m not sure about what you said.
  • It’s my bad that I don’t quite understand you.
  • Is it possible to elaborate on what you said right now?
  • Is that/this ok if I ask/request you to clarify it?
  • What do you really mean by this/that?
  • Please repeat it for me to understand it clearly.

Guide to Asking for Clarification on Someone’s Opinion or Position

When someone expresses their opinion, you may not clearly understand what they mean or what their position about the matter is. In this situation, you may need to ask them to repeat, explain, or clarify their position.

Well! When you ask someone to clarify their position, it’s better to ask them open-ended questions (WH questions and Choice/Alternative questions) rather than closed questions (Yes-No and Tag questions). However, on many occasions, you may also need to use closed questions as well.

Here are some useful expressions to ask someone to clarify their position or opinion.

  • Would/Could you please repeat what you said about the issue?
  • Did you mean it’s worth buying the flat?
  • So, you are supporting this, am I right?
  • Can/Could/Would you please repeat your take on that?
  • Please clarify your opinion.
  • May I ask you to clarify your position on this?
  • Is it possible to rephrase your opinion?
  • Would it be possible for me to hear from you about this again?
  • I couldn’t follow what you said about it. It’s my bad.
  • I beg pardon, but can you please repeat what you said about the new product launch?

How to Ask for Clarification on Someone’s Request

When someone makes any requests to you to do something, you need to understand what precisely the person is asking from you. You may not respond or help them accordingly if you don’t understand. So, to understand the request, you may need to ask for clarification on many occasions.

So, how do you politely ask for clarification on someone’s request in English? Here are some expressions to ask for clarification on their requests.

  • Have you requested to send me the MS Word file or the PDF?
  • Did you ask me to close the main door or this door?
  • Would you like me to switch off all the lights?
  • Do you want me to do it for you?
  • Can you please tell me again what document you requested?
  • Excuse me! Did you want some forks?
  • John, you asked for the stapler, right?
  • Will you please mention again the name of the items you requested from the store?
  • May I ask you to say the things again that you requested earlier?
  • Did you want me to clean the house?

Guide to Asking for Clarification When Someone Seeks Permission

When someone asks for permission for something from you, you may not always listen to them appropriately. However, if you don’t understand them, you should ask them to clarify.

Here are some expressions to ask for clarification when someone asks for your permission.

  • Did you say that you want to go there alone?
  • Have you asked for permission to use my laptop?
  • So, you want to take it, right?
  • Would you please repeat what you wanted permission for?
  • Do you want to attend the party?
  • May I know what you just wanted permission for.?
  • You mean you need some books from the library, isn’t it?
  • Would you mind saying what type of permission, written or verbal, you need?
  • Sorry to interrupt, but would you be more specific about what you seek permission for?

How to Ask for Clarification on Someone’s Order or Instructions

If someone orders you or gives instructions to do something, it’s essential to understand what they say fully. Otherwise, you may not do it properly what you are instructed for. So, if there is any confusion about instructions, make sure you ask for clarification.

Now, we’ll learn useful expressions to ask someone to clarify instructions.

  • Have you wanted me to send the emails first, then attend the meeting?
  • So, you want me not to go there?
  • Can you rephrase the instructions, please?
  • Would you please repeat the instructions for the team again?
  • Please share the instructions again.
  • I am sorry, but I couldn’t follow your words.?
  • Could you please explain the whole process of doing this?
  • Will you please repeat the standard operating procedure of this machine?
  • Would you mind telling me the whole formula in detail?
  • May I request further clarification of instruction number 5?
  • I didn’t quite catch it. Can you repeat the ways I have to do it?
  • May I know what I have to do next?

Guide to Asking for Clarification on Someone’s Suggestions

There are times when we ask for suggestions from the people surrounding us. Those suggestions sometimes are too important in our professional and personal life. However, they become useless if you don’t understand or follow them. So, you must ask for clarification if you don’t understand them.

Here, I’ll share some ways to ask for clarification on someone’s suggestions in English.

Now, we’ll learn some useful expressions to ask someone to clarify instructions.

  • I’m not sure, but did you suggest updating the software?
  • Thanks, you cared. But can you repeat it so I can be sure about what you suggested?
  • Would you please tell me your thoughts about the issue again?
  • May I ask you to share your suggestions again?
  • Please share your advice again.
  • I am sorry, but I couldn’t follow your suggestions.
  • Could you rephrase what you just said to me about the problem?
  • Will you be a bit more specific about your experiences?
  • Would you mind sharing the suggestion again?
  • Have you just suggested calling him when he is home?

How to Ask for Clarification on Someone’s Statement or Information

When someone says anything, they usually give you information about something or someone. On many occasions, you may not receive the exact information for many reasons. However, it would be best to ask for clarification when you don’t get someone’s statement or information. So, how do you do it?

No worries! Here we’ll see some expressions you can use to ask for clarification in English on someone’s statement or information.

Now, we’ll learn some useful expressions to ask someone to clarify instructions.

  • I am sorry, but did you say he is the company’s CEO?
  • Would you please repeat what you said about our new project?
  • I beg your pardon, but have you mentioned my name as a team member for the new project?
  • So, do you really think this will be a profitable deal?
  • Could you please repeat the date of the event?
  • May I ask you to explain your observation about the new design further?
  • Do you mind if I ask you to mention his name again? Sorry I couldn’t follow you earlier.
  • Can you please be a bit more specific about the price?
  • Will you please share the total amount again?
  • Would you mind repeating the name of the place?
  • Sorry, but I didn’t quite catch your statement. Would you please repeat it?
  • Have you just said you will go to Cox’s Bazar next week?

Guide to Asking for Clarification on Someone’s Questions

Well! We encounter numerous questions in our everyday life. No matter where you are, maybe at home, the office, or somewhere else, you need to respond to questions. However, if you don’t understand someone’s question, you should ask for clarification and answer accordingly.

We’ll learn some expressions to ask for clarification on someone’s questions.

  • Can you please ask the question again?
  • Would you please repeat what you asked?
  • Did you ask about the total turnover for this year?
  • I’m sorry, but I couldn’t follow your question.
  • Please repeat the question.
  • May I request you share your queries again?
  • Could you rephrase your question, please?
  • Will you please explain the question to me?
  • I am sorry, but I couldn’t get your question.
  • Do you mind asking the question again?

How to Respond When Someone Clarifies Something

Once someone clarifies something for you, you must appreciate their effort. You should appreciate them and give them compliments for doing this favor for you. You should thank them from the core of your heart.

Now, let’s see some English expressions that you can use to respond to someone’s clarification.

  • Thank you for explaining the question to me.
  • I appreciate the way you clarified it.
  • I’m glad that you specifically explained the issue.
  • I admire that you clarified your position.
  • I feel privileged that you repeated it.
  • Thanks for clearly letting me know your opinion; I value whatever you suggest.
  • Thanks for the effort you made to explain it again.
  • This is so nice of you to clarify it.

7 Tips for Asking for Clarification in English

Politeness in Every Aspect

It’s crucial to approach the subject politely. This includes not just your choice of words but also the tone in which you speak and your body language. A respectful and courteous attitude can go a long way in ensuring the other person is receptive to your request. Make eye contact, nod to show you’re listening, and avoid any confrontational body postures.

Acknowledging the Favor

Remember that the person you’re speaking to isn’t obligated to repeat or clarify their statement. They might be doing you a favor by going over things again, so it’s essential to approach the situation with gratitude. An acknowledgment like “I appreciate your patience” can make a significant difference.

Start with an Apology

By beginning with an apology, you’re taking responsibility for not comprehending the information the first time. This sets a positive tone and indicates that you’re genuinely interested in understanding rather than placing blame. For instance, “I’m sorry, could you please explain that point again?” comes across as sincere and willing to learn.

Open-ended Questions and Summarization

Instead of just saying you didn’t understand, try to summarize what you grasped and where you got lost. This gives the other person a clearer idea of what needs clarification. For example, “So, from what I gathered, the project’s first phase will be completed by June. However, I’m not clear about the tasks involved in this phase. Could you elaborate on that?”

Be Specific

If there’s a particular term, phrase, or concept you didn’t grasp, pinpoint that specifically. This ensures the other person knows exactly what to focus on, making the clarification process more efficient. Instead of a vague “I didn’t get that,” a more specific “Could you clarify what you meant by ‘the turnover rate’?” is more effective.

Consider the Setting

How you ask for clarification in a formal board meeting will differ from how you might ask a friend in a casual setting. In formal situations, it’s crucial to be more structured and formal in your request, whereas, in informal settings, a simple “What did you mean by that?” might suffice.

Focus on Your Understanding

Instead of suggesting that the other person didn’t explain things clearly, emphasize that you didn’t understand. This prevents the other person from becoming defensive. “I didn’t quite catch that” is more effective and polite than “You weren’t clear.”

Asking for clarification is an art in itself. The goal is to better understand without making the other person feel like they failed to communicate effectively. By following these tips, you can ensure that your clarification requests are effective and respectful.

Sample Conversation: Politely Asking for Clarification in English

Situation: During a team meeting, Sarah is presenting a new project plan. James is unsure about one of the points and seeks clarification.

James: Excuse me, Sarah?

Sarah: Yes, James?

James: I’m sorry to interrupt, but could you please elaborate on the third point? I’m not entirely clear on that aspect.

Sarah: Of course, I’d be happy to explain. The third point refers to…

James: Thank you for clarifying. That makes more sense now.

In Conclusion

I have discussed several situations where you may need to ask for clarification in English. Try to use them in real life and master them. If you still have questions about this, you can comment below.

Thanks for reading.

Happy learning!

1. Why is it essential to ask for clarification politely?

Politely seeking clarification ensures open communication, avoids misunderstandings, and fosters a positive environment for learning and collaboration.

2. What are common phrases to ask for clarification?

You can use phrases like “Could you explain that further?”, “I’m not sure I understood that correctly. Could you please rephrase?”, or “Would you mind elaborating on…?”

3. How can tone influence the way I ask for clarification?

A calm and inquisitive tone can convey genuine interest and prevent the speaker from feeling challenged or defensive.

4. Can body language assist in asking for clarification?

Yes. Leaning forward slightly, maintaining eye contact, and nodding can show attentiveness and a genuine desire to understand.

5. How can I ensure I’ve understood the clarification provided?

Rephrasing what you’ve heard or summarizing the main points can confirm your understanding.

6. What should I avoid when seeking clarification?

Avoid interrupting abruptly or implying that the speaker did a poor job explaining. The goal is to understand, not to critique.

7. How can I handle situations where I need multiple clarifications?

Thank the speaker for their patience and express your genuine interest in understanding the topic fully.

8. Are there cultural nuances in asking for clarification?

Yes, the directness, formality, and specific phrasing can vary across cultures. It’s essential to be aware of cultural norms when seeking clarification.

9. How can I teach children to ask for clarification politely?

Modeling the behavior, practicing through role-playing, and reinforcing the value of clear communication can guide children in seeking clarification respectfully.

10. Is it appropriate to ask for clarification in written communication, like emails?

Definitely. It’s crucial to ensure mutual understanding, especially in written form. However, always ensure your request is courteous and clear.

Niaj A A Khan is an ESL Instructor with over 8 years of experience in teaching & developing resources at different universities and institutes. Mr. Khan is also a passionate writer working on his first book, "Learn English at Ease."

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