Before you do this exercise, it’s a good idea to check out our information on intonation and stress.
Sometimes you may not completely understand what somebody says to you. This isn’t uncommon, and it can happen for a variety of reasons (for example, a noisy environment). The appropriate response is to make it clear that you didn’t understand, and request clarification from the speaker.
One option is to politely explain that you didn’t understand a part of the message, and ask for the speaker to repeat all of it. Read and listen to these possible responses.
Sorry, I didn’t catch that. Can you repeat it?
Sorry, what was that?
Sorry, one more time?
Sorry, would you mind repeating that?
Sorry, could you say that again please?
Excuse me, what did you say?
Notice that the questions in these phrases have rising intonation, including the single word Sorry? Go here to learn about rising intonation. There are also modal verbs in the formal requests. Modals (such as would, could, and may) are a grammar structure that English speakers use to be more formal.
Repeat the sentences above, paying special attention to your intonation.
Another option can be useful when you think you understood a person, but you aren’t 100% sure. In this case, you can use contrastive stress to tell the other person what you think you understood.
Click here to learn more about contrastive stress.
A> I live right around 113th street.
B: Sorry, was that thirtieth or thirteenth?
A: I need these reports by the 25th.
B: Sorry, the twenty-fifth, or the twenty-sixth?
You can also use this strategy when you completely understood a person’s words, but you aren’t sure about their meaning.
A: You should update both accounts by next Monday. B: Sorry, do you mean Monday the 14th, or Monday the 21st?
Try repeating the sentences below, putting appropriate stress on each question. After you guess, check the stress placement by listening to each clarification. For extra practice, see if you can guess which requests are more formal than others.
(1) Did you say you’d have it done by today or tomorrow?
(2) I didn’t quite catch that. Were you hoping to assign two or three people to this project?
(3) Quick question: Is the homework four or five pages long?
For a full list of references used cited in the “Appropriate Communication” sections, click here.