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When two people meet, and one of them says hello but the other one can't recognize him or her, the other one would ask "Do I know you?"

I know this is natural for English speakers but it could be strange for some non native speakers like me.
Because in this situation I would ask "Do you know me?"

Why do English speakers ask in this way?
From a common-sense standpoint, it is strange to ask others whether I know someone or not.

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  • I dunno, to me it's pretty clear that if someone greets me, they (think they) know me, so it's nonsensical to ask "do you know me".
    – Marthaª
    Commented Dec 25, 2017 at 4:52

4 Answers 4

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"Do I know you?" is an idiomatic expression that could be used when you can't recognize a stranger who says "Hi!" to you. Depending on tone and intonation, it could be interpreted as cold rejection uttered to avoid him/her or friendly gesture to ask him/her to elaborate on where/when/how they met before.

"Do you know me?" could sound more rude and cold than "Do I know you?".

There are other English expressions using this construction, for example:

Did I miss something?

It asks others to tell the questioner what happened while (s)he was absent. Using your explanation, the question sounds weird because it asks others whether I missed something or not.

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Let's say I run into you in the grocery store. You are pleased to see me and say hi effusively. But I don't recognize you. I'm quickly scanning my memory -- should I be remembering this person? "Do I know you? (Should I be remembering you?") At this point you will take pity on me and tell me how we met, where we interacted.

I don't say "Do you know me?" because clearly you do.

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  • Your last sentence was interesting. And when I say "Do you know me?" it also implies 'I think I don't know you, but are you sure you really know me?' Thanks anyway.
    – Gerlinde
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 13:41
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    ... Yes, 'Do I know you?' is more polite, conceding the (potential) failing to be the speaker's. Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 13:07
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"Do I know you?" is more polite and natural than "Do you know me?" If I ask you "Do you know me?" and you actually don't remember me you might be embarrassed. "Do I know you" moves this embarrassment feeling to you.

"Do you know me?" can also have a connotation that I know you and I expect you to remember me.

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Phil Collins - Wear My Hat Lyrics:

I said 'Listen pal do I know you? Have we ever met? Why do you want my name on this little piece of paper?'

It clearly means two things:

  1. You don't know the person, but he knows you.
  2. You know the person, but you can't recognize them.

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