Why does "Do you read me?" mean "Do you hear me?"

This phrase is used (in movies) during radio communication, for example.

4 Answers 4


The use of the word "read" in spoken radio transmissions was used to ask "how well is my message being received"

When using electronic voice communication, it is useful to know the quality of the signal being received. So the question "how (well) do you read (my transmission)" is asking for an indication of quality. The speaker wants to know if he needs to speak slower or louder to insure the message is received.

This is all part of voice procedure

Voice procedure communications are intended to maximize clarity of spoken communication and reduce misunderstanding. It consists of signalling protocol such as the use of abbreviated codes like the CB radio ten-code, Q codes in amateur radio and aviation, police codes, etc., and jargon.

A typical response might be "I read you 5 by 5" where the first number indicates the strength of the signal on a scale of 1 to 5 and the second number indicates the quality of the signal (how much noise there is).

"I read you five by five" means "I read you loud and clear" which implies "I hear and can understand everything you are saying"


Besides its most popular meaning, read also means "to understand" or "to interpret". Consider the following examples:

  • I read his actions as stemming from pure rage.
  • He could easily read the fear in my eyes.

In radio (especially two-way) and telecommunication, words like roger, read and copy are used to clarify that communication has actually taken place. In potentially critical situations, the sender must always confirm their message has actually been understood and not just heard or read (in a literal sense). Examples:

  • Roger that! We'll exit in five seconds.
  • Agent 511, do you copy?
  • Inspector! Inspector! Do you read me?
  • Copy. Module will self-destruct in sixty seconds.

Several agencies and professions (e.g. aviation) have developed their distinct vocabulary for confirming the receipt and understanding of communicated messages.


I have been in the Military for 26 years & in civilian Law Enforcement for 15 years so I use this term all the time. Do you "Read" me does not just mean... Do you hear me? It also means... Do you understand me? Because you can "Hear" someone but not be able to "Understand" what they are saying. The reason for not understanding may be because the words are muffled, garbaled, broken, spoken in a different tongue, too frantic & run together, out of breath & slow, too loud or many other reasons to include environmental. It may also not be understood due to equipment problems coming from sender or receiver. So this has absolutely nothing to do with being a PC thing like someone mentioned.


It isn't "hear me," since it means "hear and understand the words of (someone speaking on a radio transmitter)."

  • So you're saying "do you hear me" actually means "do you understand me"? :-) -- Can it be that this is, historically, a "political correctness" thing, i.e. asking "do you understand me?" was considered blunt, so that "hear" was used instead?
    – Tomalak
    Commented Dec 19, 2010 at 21:27
  • @Tomalak Yes, from fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/read?match=en (transitive, telecommunications) To be able to hear what another person is saying over a radio connection. Do you read me?
    – stacker
    Commented Dec 19, 2010 at 21:56
  • @Tomalak: On the contrary, "do you understand me" is neutral, whereas "do you hear me" (except where it is to be taken literally, eg over a noisy radio connection) is usually either agressive or patronising, as it implies "you are not listening to what I am saying".
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Dec 20, 2010 at 18:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.