What Do You Mean? 30 Other Ways to Ask for Clarification (Formal and Informal)

We commonly ask “what do you mean?” to clarify statements, phrases, or words that our companion, partners, and friends utter. We ask this when we did not totally understand others’ statements or when we are not sure about what we understood. Also, we use this to tell someone that we need them to rephrase what they have said. Sometimes, we ask this question to request a person to add an explanation to support their statement. However, this question is not always appropriate to use. There are better and more appropriate ways to state this depending on the type and formality of situations that we are in.

Ways to Ask “What Do You Mean?”

Common ways to ask “what do you mean?”

  • “Kindly elaborate on what you have just said.”
  • “Kindly elaborate further on what you have just said.”
  • “I don’t understand. Please rephrase it.”
  • “Would you mind clarifying that for me?”
  • “Could you please clarify what you have just stated?”
  • Are you saying, ….?
  • Kindly provide more examples for me.
  • Will you please break down that for me?
  • “My apology but I was not able to grasp what you were saying. Would you please rephrase it for me?”
  • “I’m sorry but I’m not sure about how I understand your words. Would you please state it using other words?“.
  • “If I understand you correctly,… Is my understanding correct?”
  • “So you are saying… am I right?
  • Could you break that down for me?”
  • “Kindly explain you come up with that conclusion?”
  • “Thank you for providing an example, yet I am still confused about how you solved the other problem. Would you please provide more examples for me?”

How to use some common ways to ask “what do you mean?”

1. Kindly elaborate on what you have just said.

You can use this to politely ask someone to explain further what they have just stated instead of simply asking, “what do you mean?” If not, you may say:

  • “Kindly elaborate on that. Thank you.”
  • “Would you mind clarifying that for me?”
  • “Could you please clarify what you have just stated?”
  • “I am a bit confused about what you said. Would you mind clarifying that for me?

2. I don’t understand. Please rephrase it.

This is applicable if you can’t comprehend what he/she is saying. Other than that, you may also say,

  • “What are you talking about here?”
  • “Sorry, I did not get it. Will you please rephrase it?”
  • “Sorry, I did not catch that. Will you please rephrase it?”

However, if you want it to appear detailed and more polite? You can say:

  • “My apology but I was not able to grasp what you were saying. Would you please rephrase it for me?”
  • “I’m sorry but I’m not sure about what I understand. Would you please state it using other words?”

3. Are you saying, ….?

If you are not sure of what you understood, you may ask using this to clarify. Thus, instead of asking what he/she means, you would let him/her validate if your comprehension is true. Other ways to ask, “what do you mean” for the same purpose are:

  • “If I understand you correctly,… Is my understanding correct?”
  • “So you are saying… am I right?

4. Kindly provide more examples for me.

If you want him/her to expand further his/her is explanation, this is one of the best questions to ask. If not, you may give a bit of explanation about his/her responses before asking this. For instance,

  • “Thank you for providing an example, yet I am still confused about how you solved the other problem. Would you please provide more examples for me?”

5. Will you please break down that for me?

You will ask this question if you want someone to explain in detail what they have just said. Other ways to ask these are:

  • “Could you break that down for me?”
  • “Kindly explain you come up with that conclusion?”

Idiomatic expression with the same meaning

Idiomatic expression is an informal language that allows you to describe an event, emotion, feeling, environment, or organism using unrelated words. Here are some of the idiomatic expressions that have similar meanings to “what do you mean”?

  • Will you please shed light on what you stated?

This means you are asking someone to explain further or at least expand on what they have just said.

  • Would you mind enlightening my brain cells about your statement?

This is the other way to say that you have not understood what he/she said and that you need clarification.

  • Sorry, but I can’t make heads or tails of what you said. Would you please clarify it?

You’ll use this if you are confused about what a person said so you want them to rephrase it.

  • Sorry, but what you’re saying beats me. Will you please rephrase it?

You’ll use this if you can’t understand what a person is saying so you need to let them rephrase it.

  • It’s quite muddy. Would you mind rephrasing it?

This means that what they said is vague to understand so you have to let them rephrase it.

  • I have no clue of what you’re saying.

This means you have no idea of what he/she is saying.

How to answer the question “what do you mean?”

Be cautious in answering this question because this is based on what you have just currently said. Thus, you must be aware of what you’re saying for you to answer such question precisely. Based on your conversation, you may answer this by:

  • Clarifying what you have just said.
  • Rephrasing your statement by using simpler words.
  • Giving examples.
  • Expanding your explanation.
  • Breaking down your statement especially if you involved a particular process, method, technique, or cycle.

Using other ways to ask and answer “what do you mean?”

How to ask “what do you mean” in formal situations?

As I recently said, there are various ways of saying, “what do you mean” depending on the situation. If you are having a formal conversation or have received a formal email and you want to ask such question, use polite and formal words. Here are some examples:

  • Kindly elaborate further on what you have just said.
  • “Would you mind clarifying that for me?”
  • “Could you please clarify what you have just stated?”
  • “My apology but I was not able to grasp what you were saying. Would you please rephrase it for me?”
  • “I’m sorry but I’m not sure about how I understand your words. Would you please state it using other words?“.
  • If I understand you correctly,… Is my understanding correct?”
  • “So you are saying… am I right?
  • “Thank you for providing an example, yet I am still confused about how you solved the other problem. Would you please provide more examples for me?”
  • Could you break that down for me?”
  • “Kindly explain you come up with that conclusion?”

How to ask “what do you mean” in informal situations?

If you are in an informal conversation, you may use informal terms and idiomatic expressions in a friendly voice. Examples are:

  • “What are you talking about here?”
  • “Sorry, I did not get it. Please rephrase it?”
  • “Sorry, I did not catch that. Please rephrase it?”
  • Will you please shed light on what you stated?
  • Would you mind enlightening my brain cells about your statement?

How to answer “what do you mean” in formal and informal situations?

Answering “what do you mean” questions depend again on the situation that you are in. If you are in a formal situation, you may thank them first for letting you know their thoughts before answering. Also, you may use words that are simpler but always use the main medium of instruction. On the other hand, if you are in an informal situation such as SMS texting and daily conversation, you may utilize simpler words or terms, and local dialect for them to easily understand.

Conclusion

The “What do you mean” question is a chance to ask someone to rephrase or further explain their thoughts. Also, if you encountered this question, this is your chance to explain further your thoughts, statements, plans, or suggestions. Thus, make sure to follow this guide in answering such questions.

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