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I have several times come across the phrase "I hear you" (spoken in response to, e.g., someone relating an experience of theirs), but I haven't been able to figure out whether it signifies a polite impatience or whether it implies understanding (or some of each). How should I use this phrase, and how can I interpret it?

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It's usually sympathetic/concilliatory, but as ever, context is everything. –  FumbleFingers Jan 5 '12 at 1:31
    
Can it signify either sentiment, then? –  Daniel Jan 5 '12 at 1:47
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Well, obviously if you say "I hear you, but xxxxx" then it's quite likely you're getting impatient with someone who doesn't want to accept that "xxxxx" overrules whatever they're banging on about. The same applies to "I hear what you say", which in my neck of the woods is more likely to be the phrasing. If no other context is added (i.e. - you say something to a group at large, someone says "I hear you", then the conversation moves on, possibly taken over by other speakers), then almost certainly that someone was expressing empathy/agreement with whatever you said. –  FumbleFingers Jan 5 '12 at 1:57
    
I think I encounter "I hear you, but ______" much more often than "I hear you" alone. For that reason, it caries a flavor of impatience for me even when there is no "but". –  alcas Jan 5 '12 at 4:53

6 Answers 6

up vote 7 down vote accepted

All that depends on the context where "I hear you" is used. It is as good as "I see" kind of a remark.

If "I hear you" is used in response before you complete a sentence then may be you are tautologic with respect to the other person.

If it is used after you complete a sentence then it is very much a kind acknowledgement.

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With the context you provided, the phrase "I hear you" is sympathetic. As you stated, it's generally used to express one's similar experience.

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In the UK it occurs as 'I hear what you say', which means 'You're talking a load of garbage, but I'm too polite to say so.'

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Context and tone of voice are key here.

A: blah blah blah and I am so glad to be done with that.
B: Yeah, I hear you. (Sympathetic)

Versus:

A: And remember to blah, and then blah, and it's really important to blah.
B: I hear you! (Stop nagging me; impatient)

In my experience (US) the former is more common but the latter sometimes occurs.

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"I hear you" is equivalent to "I see" or "I see what you mean". It means the speaker believes he gets your meaning. It does not imply impatience.

As an aside, people tend to prefer one of their senses for use in metaphorical phrases like "I hear you" or "I see". Some people "hear", others "see". Occasionally someone will even say "I feel you". Hypothetically, a sentient being with different sense priority could be expected to say "I smell what you're getting at" or "I taste your point"!

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"I hear you" means the person is in agreement, or acknowledging what was said to them.

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protected by RegDwigнt Feb 11 '13 at 15:48

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