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Suppose I tell something to my companion and I want to make sure he understands me. I thought I may simply ask "Do you understand me?". But recently I heard that in such cases I should ask "Does it make sense?" instead. Is this true? Which option is appropriate to use in business communication?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by FumbleFingers, Benyamin Hamidekhoo, aedia λ, p.s.w.g, Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 7 '13 at 16:14

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It should be "does that make sense" if you are referring to what you just said. –  Kosmonaut Apr 23 '11 at 14:37

8 Answers 8

up vote 13 down vote accepted

"Do you understand me?" slightly carries the implication that it is your fault if you do not understand.

"Does it make sense?" carries the implication that it is my fault if you do not understand.

So politeness suggests that the latter is better.

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By "my" do you mean the speaker and by "your" do you mean the "listener"? –  Kosmonaut Apr 23 '11 at 14:50
    
Personally I wouldn't be too keen on doing business with anyone who asked "Does it make sense?" in a written communique concerning the project we might be collaborating on. Give me someone who knows what they're talking about, please! –  FumbleFingers Apr 23 '11 at 14:53
    
If I'm not wrong, this difference occurs as a result of the difference in subject; in the first construction 'you' are the one with questionable ability to comprehend, while in the second, 'it' is the one with questionable comprehensibility. So yes, I would agree that the latter is more polite, although the first is more direct (it requires a response with relation to exactly how much the listener understands). However, it must be noted that ultimately tone and body language tend to convey more in face-to-face interaction, especially for business communication. –  demi Apr 23 '11 at 16:19
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There is also a known psychological factor that if the listener doesn't understand, they may not feel comfortable saying that. If the questioner is of higher status, or someone they do not work with on a regular basis, the listener may say "yes, I understand" simply to save face even if they don't. Therefore, if you're worried about true understanding, using an equivalent of "does it make sense" works better. –  Martha F. Apr 24 '11 at 4:51

altenatively:

Is what I just said, intelligible?

or

Is what I just said, comprehensible?

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I generally go with a simple:

Is this explanation okay..?

As it sounds neutral and encourages the receiver to provide feedback.

If I used pronouns while asking for feedback, like "Did you understand..", "Did I explain this..", .. it generally makes the receiver feel like you might take their feedback negatively or take offense if they were not able to understand.

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I would say that both have their tendency to offend. Literally, questions are questions; however, we are talking now about sociolinguistics and implied verbiage. Regarding "Does that make sense?"— is still a little offensive and condescending. Typically used in verbiage to a child from a parent, it seems that this has become prevalent in the workplace these days. Think about how the respondent might answer, yes or no, and if no, then you might have just put the word 'idiot' behind the phrase. "Does that make sense, idiot?"

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In American english, many will use this phrase in a disciplinary manner to advise or reinforce to the listener that no argument or failure to comply will be tolerated. ie: "Do not do that again. Do you understand me?" Since the phrase is frequently used in this manner, it takes a negative or angry connotation in general speech and will frequently draw an unintended negative response. If making a genuine request to an equal to confirm that you are being understood I would more likely choose a phrase like "Am I making sense to you?", or more casually "Do you get me?"

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"Do you understand me?" seems very rough because of "me". I would change it to "do you understand?". By asking this it seems that the listener might not understand, which implies that you are not completely equal. This question sort of fits better if you are speaking to someone who doesn't really speak your language. So the understanding means that you might not actually be capable of understanding.

"Does that make sense?" Is a nice way of asking if you are making yourself "understood" But more towards a politeness as @Henry says. I would use this option over the other one any day. And I think that is the best you can do.

Good luck:)

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In many contexts the two sentences are equivalent.

In some situations, "Do you understand me?" carries overtones of superiority, intimidation, etc. Correspondingly, in some other situations, "Does it make sense?" implies submissiveness, uncertainty, etc.

In a business communication I would avoid using either form. Partly because of the possiblity the recipient might pick up on either of the above overtones (which presumably you wouldn't intend), but mainly because I feel they are both a bit informal for the context.

Better by far to say something like Please do not hesitate to ask for clarification if required.

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I think there's a small difference.

"Do you understand me?" is usually confirming, in a straightforward manner, whether somebody understands the facts/argument of what you have said.

"Does that make sense?" (usually with "that", at least in UK English) can mean something similar, but is a more loaded question, implying that the other party should or has an obligation to understand what was said, and that if they don't, they are in some way stupid or disobedient. If the person saying this is your boss, they're not really enquiring about your ability to follow their argument, but effectively saying "Now do as you're told".

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I think this is wrong. Especially the bit about "does that make sense?". That is a much more polite way of asking if you made yourself understood to the listener, not the opposite like you are saying. –  masarah Apr 23 '11 at 14:45
    
Well, in the UK, this is really how I observe it being used. If your boss says "Does that make sense?" they're really not trying to be polite and check they've made themselves understood, but rather assert their authority and the fact that you should have understood them/the idea first time. But you could always try it and see if you get fired, I suppose... –  Neil Coffey Apr 23 '11 at 14:49
    
I have lived in the UK myself and I am married to an Englishman, and I still disagree. –  masarah Apr 23 '11 at 14:58
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Why the downvote? Totally agree with Neil on this one. Does that make sense? could certainly be condescending, especially depending on the tone of voice that goes with it. –  Jimi Oke Apr 23 '11 at 16:09
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@Jimi "A downvote? Does that make sense?" ;) –  Paul Amerigo Pajo Apr 24 '11 at 1:53

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