If you don’t understand what someone is saying, or you are simply not sure of what was being said, checking the understanding and asking for clarification is essential.
In order to be able to use the phrases appropriately, again I’ll add abbrevations such as F for formal phrases, SF for semi-formal and I for informal phrases.
I’d also like to add that it’s good idea to combine these clarification phrases with the ones which you can find in the post on how to interrupt in English.
Asking for Clarification
F: I’m afraid I am not quite clear what you mean by …
F: I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you mean by …
SF: I’m sorry, but could you explain what you mean by …
SF: What do you mean by … ?
I: What exactly are you trying to say ?
I: What (exactly) are you getting at ?
Asking for Clarification E-mail Examples
Since I work as a part time translator for an import-export company, here are a few clarification phrases which I use on the regular basis (it’s copy-paste from my emails):
“I’m afraid I haven’t understood what you meant when you said that we are late for booking the container”
“Hi Jo. Thank you for your prompt reply. Could you explain what “GSM” means, and how come that your and our GSMs don’t match ?”
“I’m not quite clear what you were referring to when you mentioned extra charges in your previous e-mail. Could you clarify it, please.”
After dealing with useful English phrases which will help you when asking for clarification, my next post will be about giving clarifications.