Imagine you’re listening to a colleague in a meeting. Gradually you realize that she’s beginning to lose you. You don’t understand exactly what she means, perhaps because you’re struggling with the vocabulary. Or you may have the impression that other members of the group are confused by a word she uses. Or maybe you feel that everything is just too theoretical. In all of these cases, you can aid understanding, and in turn make the meeting more efficient, by asking the right question. This post gives examples of phrases you can use to do just that.

Asking for an explanation

You may need an explanation because you’re unfamiliar with a word which is central to the speaker’s message or because you’re unsure what this word means for the speaker.

  • Could you explain what … means, please.
  • Sorry, I’m not familiar with the expression … What does it mean exactly?
  • I’m not quite sure what you mean by …
  • Just to be on the safe side, what exactly do you mean by …

Asking for confirmation

You may want to confirm that you have understood the message correctly. Or perhaps you have the impression that the speaker is using a word incorrectly (e.g. a false friend) and this is causing confusion. In either case, you can use the following phrases to ask for confirmation.

  • So your position is that … Is that right?
  • Just to make sure I’ve understood you correctly, …
  • Sorry, are you saying that …?
  • When you say you can’t do it actually, do you perhaps mean that you can’t do it at the moment?

Asking for an example or more details

Perhaps you think it would be helpful if the speaker could provide a specific example or more detailed information. 

  • You said you needed the goods urgently. What exactly do you mean by urgently?
  • That’s interesting. Could you give me an example?
  • I think it’d help us all to get a clearer picture, if you could tell us about (the difficulties you had the last time the delivery was late.)
  • Could you give me some more information about …


Posted on Oct 3, 2016 in finding the right words
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Porträt Nicola Bartlett
Nicola Bartlett
I’ve been an English trainer for over 25 years, helping adults to get their message across in English – clearly and appropriately. Successful communication in English requires more than just a good knowledge of the language. An understanding of different mentalities and a feeling for the best approach are vital, too. » more