Can You Repeat That Again - English Phrase Explained

vocabulary Jan 10, 2022
can you repeat that

"Can you repeat that?" is one of the first phrases many people learn when they start studying English. It seems that English speakers don't speak very clearly and learners always have to ask them to repeat! In this article we will discuss different ways to ask someone to repeat what they've just said.

"Can you repeat that?" When do you use this question?

When we're learning a new language we are also learning new sounds. The nuances of the language and how it is used by its speakers don't always follow the standard rules we find in textbooks. Instead, our experience of listening and observing how the language is used helps us more accurately identify different sounds. For example, most languages don't have the English /ɪ/ sound, so it's difficult for speakers of those languages to hear and say the difference between heat /hi:t/ and hit /hɪt/.

This is a very common situation among English language learners. And there is a very simple solution. Ask the speaker to repeat what they said. Too often we get embarrassed when we don't understand someone the first time...or the second time. But it's nothing to be embarrassed about. What's more embarrassing is pretending to understand when it is clear to everyone that you really don't understand. It's always better to speak up and ask them to repeat when you don't understand what someone says.

What is the meaning of the English phrase: "Can you repeat that again?"

When we ask someone to repeat what they've said, using phrases like "Can you repeat that?", we want them to use the same sounds to make the same words and phrases that they've recently spoken. Maybe they've said it in a peculiar way or maybe they've used a specific slang phrase, collocation, or idiom whose meaning isn't readily apparent. Native speakers ask people to repeat without giving it a second thought, so why should non-native speakers worry about asking?

Some English language learners feel stupid for asking speakers to repeat, but that doesn't make sense to me. Asking someone to repeat shows that you are intelligent, attentive, and responsible. Dumb, distracted, and irresponsible people don't ask speakers to repeat because they don't see value in understanding what that person said. By asking them to repeat you are communicating to them the fact that you are listening to what they are saying, you want to understand what they are saying, and you are honest because you will not pretend to understand if you do not.

Is it correct to say "Repeat that again"?

It's always better to add words like "please", "sorry", "excuse me", "thank you", etc. in English. And it's always better to avoid using commands. Commands are when we tell someone to do something, for example: "Sit down!" or "Stand up!" If we change it to "Could you sit down?", it will sound more polite because it is a question, not a command.

So, "Repeat that again!" is not the best way to ask someone to repeat what they've said. Instead, we should ask a question, such as "Could you please repeat that again?" or "Could you please say that again?" The word "please" is optional, but adding it makes the sentence sound nicer and more polite.

When should you use "Sorry" and "Please"?

"Sorry" and "please" are commonly used when asking someone to repeat what they've said. For example:

Sorry, can you repeat that?

By apologizing for not understanding the first time, we tell the person it's not their fault that we don't understand them.

Could you repeat that, please?

The difference between using "can" and "could" when making requests is clear when we use the full form of the verb instead of these short forms. "Can" and "could" are forms of the verb "to be able to". The long form of "Can you...?" is "Are you able to...?" and the long form of "Could you...?" is "Would you be able to...?" This shows us that "could" refers to a hypothetical situation, while "can" refers to a present situation.

"Could" is more indirect than "can" and slightly more polite.

Different ways to say "Can you repeat that?" and synonyms

It's a smart idea to learn other phrases to say instead of "Can you repeat that?" Such as:

Could you say that again?

This is a polite way to ask someone to repeat themselves. We could make it even more polite by adding "please" at the end.

Come again?

This is a conversational phrase that can be used when we want someone to repeat what they've just said or when we want to show that we are shocked or surprised by what a person has just said.

What was that?

This informal question can be asked when we didn't hear or didn't fully understand what someone said. It doesn't include any indirect words, so it's not as polite as some of the other things we can say. However, it would sound more polite if we said "Sorry, what was that?"

I didn't catch what you said.

Another informal, conversational phrase that tells the speaker it is our fault because we didn't hear or comprehend what they said. When we say that we didn't catch what they said it means we didn't hear it successfully. It doesn't mean that we didn't understand. This is an important difference. If it's loud and you can't hear what a person says, you can say "I didn't catch what you said." But if they person says something that you don't understand, you can't say it because it only means you didn't hear what they said.

Repeat what you just said.

We should avoid using commands in most cases, but sometimes it's the most appropriate option. If we want to make this harsh command sound more polite, we can say "Could you repeat what you just said?" or even "Could you please repeat what you just said?"

What did you say?

We should be careful with how we pronounce this phrase. Our intonation can drastically change the meaning. Watch this video for examples:

How to politely ask someone to repeat what they said after they've already repeated it once before

We've all been faced with the awkward situation when we've asked someone to repeat what they've said to us, but we still don't understand what they said. That's the dreaded moment when we have to ask them repeat a second time, or third time, or fourth time. Maybe we have bad hearing and frequently don't hear what people say. But probably we just aren't accustomed to hearing the way this person makes these sounds or the phrases and mannerisms that this specific person uses in their speech.

In this case, it is polite to use phrases like:

Could you say that one more time?

With this question we are literally asking them to do it one more time and they will probably think that it's the last time we are asking.

I still didn't get it. Could you say it differently?

Asking this way shows that you take responsibility for not understanding them. This is important because you are not blaming them for speaking unclearly, instead you are blaming yourself for not being able to decode what they've said. Plus, by asking them to say it differently, not just repeat it the same way, you are proactively trying to solve the problem.