I am not a native English speaker and use the expression "come again" in various forms such as "Come again, please" or "Can you come again?". I consider it to be a general expression which can also be used in formal speak. Is it not the case?

In my search for the answer I read through this question that discusses the sexual connotation of the phrase. But I could not definitively figure out if the expression can be used in a formal sense.

How does it fare compared to using "Pardon" or "Sorry" in the same context?

  • come again? Informal what did you say? thefreedictionary.com/come+again urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=come%20again – Kris Feb 20 '13 at 13:18
  • I certainly wouldn't use this in a formal written document. I think in speech, it could be used in a reasonably formal setting. – Peter Shor Feb 20 '13 at 13:19
  • @PeterShor: Yes, I do understand that it would be awkward in a formal document but I am only concerned with its spoken formal usage. – Sayan Feb 20 '13 at 13:23
  • Don't use it formally. Instead use Please repeat that – mplungjan Feb 20 '13 at 13:28
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    You’ll have to define what “an absolute slang” is. In the first place, there is no such thing as “a” slang, since slang is not a count noun. In the second place, neither does it make any sense to apply “absolute” here. What do you really mean? – tchrist Feb 20 '13 at 17:13

"Come again?" as a question has a very different meaning from "Can you come again?". The former is an informal way of asking the speaker to repeat themselves (as if you didn't understand or hear them) - the latter however is politely requesting that a person comes to a specific location on another occasion.

So in that vein the former is very much slang, and wouldn't generally be used in a formal context. As a general rule, formal speech or text should avoid phrases or colloquialisms that could be misinterpreted or have alternate meanings.

  • That makes sense, the phrase in question after-all has a sexual connotation to it and could be misinterpreted. But wouldn't "Can you come again?" be self explanatory to not mean asking the other party to a location at another time, according to the context? – Sayan Feb 20 '13 at 14:47
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    I can't think of a context where the meaning of "Can you come again?" changes. The added formality forces a given meaning. – PhonicUK Feb 20 '13 at 14:56
  • to support @PhonicUK, I want to say that I thought your examples and question were speaking about inviting a person back to a specific location. It was only until the very last sentence about "Pardon" that I even realized that the question was about repeating a statement. – horatio Feb 20 '13 at 15:26

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