This expression seems to be used even when the speaker does not expect the other person to agree with them.

What would the intention of the speaker be? Is the expression considered rude?

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    Not necessarily rude, but often laced with a good measure of sarcasm, as you've rightly detected. Although perhaps not as rude as, "What are you? Some kind of idiot?" it still might be considered condescending. – J.R. Sep 22 '12 at 10:59
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    +1 for condescending, which is exactly the right description. – Optimal Cynic Sep 22 '12 at 11:59
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    "Understand" does not necessarily imply "agree". – StoneyB Sep 22 '12 at 12:45
  • @StoneyB Good point. I think that might be why it feels impolite to me. The listener might understand why doing something that is bad for them is in the interest of the speaker, but they may not agree with/understand the moral justification. – fgm2r Sep 22 '12 at 12:58
  • @StoneyB: I think in this context, "understand" does not mean comprehend but sympathize, which is essentially the same as agreement. – David Schwartz Sep 23 '12 at 7:21

As well as the uses already given, it can serve to fill out an excuse, usually with 'you'll' rather than just 'you'. For example, 'I'd love to come, but that's the day I'm having my etchings framed. I'm sure you'll understand.'

  • This is the use I'm interested in. It is quite likely that the listener does not understand why you prioritize having your etchings framed over coming on that day (in the example you also the future tense, implying that the understanding may not be present yet). Do you think it makes the message more polity or the opposite? – fgm2r Sep 22 '12 at 12:42
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    It all depends on the situation and the relationship between the two speakers. The speaker who says it may very well be sure that the person addressed won't understand. A safer version is I hope you'll understand. – Barrie England Sep 22 '12 at 12:49

I have often used the term in order to be polite and not patronise the listener. I have used in a context of not needing to explain a series of thoughts and almost used it as "assumed knowledge" for the listener. So for example

We have to ensure that those goods are sent out this week or else we start to get complaints and financial penalties. I am sure you understand.

Rather than explain in detail which customers will complain and the associated financial penalties, the phrase has been used to bypass that explanation and just acts to reinforce a sense of assumed knowledge of what may happen.

In another example, it can be used to explicitly avoid part of a conversation. So the example this time may go something like:

I wanted to attend the wedding, and I was pleased that she found her perfect partner, but given we dated a few years ago and I still have feelings for her. Well, I am sure you understand.

I can think of examples also where it could be used aggressively, passively, encouragingly and so on. But each example indicates the listener has assumed knowledge of the implication.

  • +1. This answer can be improved by providing citations. Otherwise it reads too much like personal opinion rather than an answer having a factual basis. – MetaEd Sep 26 '12 at 3:32

I don't think it's considered as an expression. It's plain English and implies that the person you are speaking with already knows what you will say. I dont think it's rude unless you shout at the guy; or put it in a context that makes it rude. For example:

Hello, Dave. How are you?

Hey, Mike. I am good. What's up, buddy?

Well, I am sure you understand this (I am sure you know this) but I am going to tell you anyway...


I am sure you understand this... [But I am going to repeat it to you because you are a moron...]

  • Thanks. Do you think it would also be used in ways where it couldn't be taken literally because the person won't be understanding (in the sense of relating/agreeing with the speaker)? – fgm2r Sep 22 '12 at 12:36
  • @fgm2r: Please give me an example. – Noah Sep 22 '12 at 13:12
  • I think Barrie gave a good one english.stackexchange.com/a/83394/5168 – fgm2r Sep 22 '12 at 13:15

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