It happens to the best of us. Maybe I am in the middle of a conversation with a friend, colleague, or even a stranger on the street, and I say something that just comes out wrong. Oops! What now?
Maybe I used the wrong word or expression.
Maybe I lost my train of thought (forgot what I was saying).
Maybe I got distracted by something happening around me.
Or maybe I just needed a little more time to come up with the words to express myself clearly.
It doesn’t matter if you are a native English speaker or not – sometimes you need to clarify what you mean, or rephrase or restate an idea.
Perhaps you have accidentally said something that could be seen as offensive or rude, when that wasn’t actually your intention. Or you may see that the person listening to you looks confused and realize that your idea wasn’t clear.
Whatever the reason, using one of these phrases or expressions signals that you need a little more time to express your idea. It is a polite way to show the other person that you need to keep talking, and a subtle way to ask them to be patient while you find the right words to express yourself.
Identifying You Need to Clarify Your Idea
As soon as you have realized that you made a mistake when speaking or would like to try explaining yourself again, you should identify or admit that you need to clarify your idea.
These phrases tell your listener that you recognize your mistake and would like them to give you a chance to try again.
- Sorry, I lost my train of thought.
- Let me start that again.
- Let me start over.
- Let’s try that one more time.
- Let me rephrase that.
- That came out wrong.
- That’s not what I meant to say.
- Give me a second. Let me restate that.
- Let me gather my thoughts.
- Let me try that again.
- Let me explain that again.
As you may have noticed, many of these expressions use the phrase “Let me” at the beginning. This phrase can be seen as a small apology to your listener, and shows that you understand are asking for their patience as you reframe your thoughts.
Clarifying What You Mean
Once you have told your listener that you would like to try another way of expressing yourself, you can now clarify what you mean by restating your original thoughts in different words.
Introduce what you are about to say with one of these phrases to show that you are going to say things differently this time.
- What I mean is…
- What I meant was…
- Let me put that another way…
- What I’m trying to say is…
- Let me explain myself again…
- In other words…
These phrases are also helpful when you are giving a presentation or speaking to someone who looks confused.
You can repeat your same idea with slightly different words in order to emphasize your point, or to make sure that they clearly understood your idea.
Clarifying a Misunderstanding for Your Listener
Sometimes, we don’t realize that the other person didn’t quite understand what we said or that our idea was unclear.
In that case, your listener may use a strategy to clarify what he or she heard, or ask you to repeat something.
If your listener repeats something back to you, and it isn’t exactly what you meant to say, use one of these expressions to clarify your word, phrase, or idea.
These expressions are especially useful in professional situations, where it is important to be polite when repeating yourself. They indicate that you understand that you may not have been perfectly clear and are willing to try explaining yourself again.
- That’s not exactly what I meant.
- Actually, what I meant was (idea), not (the other idea).
- I actually suggested that we (do X action), not (X action).
- I meant to say that (rephrase your idea).
- My idea was actually that we should…
- What I meant by (word or phrase) was….
- I was actually trying to suggest that…
- Let’s see if I can explain myself better.
- Let me try to explain that another way.
Do you notice that many of these phrases use the word actually? In American English, the word actually is often used to clarify a misunderstanding. It makes the phrase sound a little softer and a little more polite.
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Have you found yourself in a situation where you needed to identify that you were unclear and clarify what you meant?
What kind of expression could you have used to clarify your thoughts? Leave a comment below practicing using one of these expressions and I’ll let you know if you got it right!
If you found this lesson helpful, you should definitely check out my lesson on clarifying what you heard, asking for repetition, and confirming your understanding.
Together, these lessons will help you avoid confusion and solve misunderstandings in your conversations with native English speakers, especially in the workplace!