I'm looking for some precise and concise ways of saying:

I may or may not have understood you and will confirm by paraphrasing: [...]

"In other words, [...]?" seems to be used often, but I feel like without the question mark it means:

I understood what you said and will prove it by paraphrasing: [...]

I realize the inflection of a statement is often the only thing separating "I think" from "I'm sure," but I'm wondering if there are other options besides "in other words." I say "paraphrasing" but it doesn't necessarily need to imply that I'll definitely be using different words, just needs to imply that I am not positive I understood.

Note: To explain some of the answers below, this was previously titled Echoing to confirm that I understand; however, I edited it as one user pointed out echoing means specifically a word-for-word repetition and that is not necessarily what I'm looking for.

  • One alternative to "In other words," could be "Do you mean,"... And yes, the inflection distinguishes a request for confirmation from a correction. I can't think of a way to do repeat back without having to use inflection to convey that difference. – keshlam Aug 3 '14 at 6:22
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    Sometimes just prefixing the repetition with OK is enough to get the point across. In many cases the intent is obvious just from context. For instance, when someone gives you driving directions, it's common to repeat it back to make sure you got it all. – Barmar Aug 3 '14 at 10:06
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    Another one to start with is That is to say,.... Or just Let me see if I understand correctly: ... – John Lawler Aug 3 '14 at 13:54
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    @JohnLawler If we can shorten it to If I understand correctly: ... it's both precise and reasonably concise. I'm happy with that as the answer. – moon prism power Aug 3 '14 at 14:27

Your question seems ambiguous. Echoing means that you repeat (part) of what is said, using the exact same words.
On the other hand, an expression like in other words indicates that you will not use the same words, but you will rephrase what was said in order to confirm your (correct) understanding.


  • So let's say that we meet for dinner tomorrow after work, maybe around eight, at the town square?
  • OK, dinner, tomorrow, town square at eight. I'll be there!

This is an exact repetition of the important parts of the message to confirm that you got all the details right.

Not echoing:

  • Well, my relationship was running out of new challenges and I couldn't take the repetition any more, so I had a long talk with her yesterday and we decided to end it.
  • So in other words, you got bored and you dumped her?

Depending on how you inflect that sentence, you may be offering your interpretation of what happened, or you may be asking if that interpretation is a valid one (so did I understand you correctly?), or you may be giving a (strong) opinion on what you think happened.

Depending on the intended effect you can more or less choose freely from in other words, if I understand you correctly, so what happened is, you're saying that, so, basically, or a plethora of other phrases.

  • You're right, I've replaced instances of "echoing" and "repeating" with "paraphrasing," because that's more accurate to what I'm asking. Accepting for If I understand correctly: ... which was also recommended in the comments above. – moon prism power Aug 4 '14 at 14:58

There is one profession tha hat cultivated this idea in an extreme way: air traffic control.

While this does not directly give you an answer, one can certainly learn something from them in this area.

I do not know which level of being really sure you aim at, so the methods used may be too strict - at least it's interesting context.

Some examples of the kind of communication rules used to make sure misunderstandings are avoided - a large part comes from strict and consistent communication patterns:

For example, by echoing in both direction:

Metro Delivery, Big Jet 345, Stand Bravo 1, Boeing 737 with information Q, QNH1006, request clearance
Big Jet 345, Metro Delivery, Cleared to Smallville, T1A departure, Squawk 3456, slot time 1905
Cleared to Smallville, T1A, Squawk 3456, Big Jet 345
(ICAO Standard Phraseology - A Quick Reference Guide for Commercial Air Transport Pilots, Page 6)

AIM - Section 2. Radio Communications Phraseology and Techniques

For more examples, search for atc communication guide.


Have you considered "OK, let me let me read that back to you: ..." ?

This is common when ordering food (or anything) over a noisy line, such as a telephone or drive-through mic:


I'd like two burgers, a large fries, and a chocolate shake.


Ok, let me read that back to you: you'd like two burgers...

  • I should clarify this is typically used for situations where someone is providing explicit, literal instructions, and it's sufficient to demonstrate you heard their words exactly. It does not communicate you understood or internalized their meaning. The actual words or concepts could be opaque; "read that back" is used when that's still sufficient to execute the instructions. – Dan Bron Aug 4 '14 at 12:36

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