Sometimes when you’re having an English conversation with someone, words fail you (you don’t know or you’ve forgotten what words to say). Once you’ve lost track (missed your place) in the conversation, it can be hard to start again! Sometimes you need to buy time (delay) in an English conversation. We’re here to help you do just that!

If you’re ever in a sticky (complicated, tricky) situation when you’re speaking to someone, use these phrases to help collect your thoughts. You can thank us later! 🙂

I’m sorry, could you repeat that, please?

(ˈaɪm ˈsɑːri kəd ˈjuː rɪˈpiːt ˈðæt ˈpliːz)

If you need some time to think in a conversation with someone, or you didn’t hear what they said, you can ask them this question. People are usually willing to repeat (say again) what they just said so that you really understand what is going on. This is also a great way to buy time in a conversation if you need to think. If you understood what they said, but need some time to think, you can do so while they’re repeating what they said.

For example:

  • -I need you to come to this meeting tomorrow from 3pm to 5pm.  –I’m sorry, could you repeat that, please? There’s some construction going on, and I can’t hear you well.
  • I’m sorry, could you repeat that, please? -Of course! I said, this area of the city is really beautiful. Do you think so, too?

I don’t understand what you’re saying.

(ˈaɪ ˈdoʊnt ˌʌndɚˈstænd ˈwɑːt ˈjɔːr ˈseɪɪŋ)

If you need to buy time in a conversation, just tell the person that you don’t understand! People always want to be understood, so they’ll make sure to repeat what they said or help you to understand. Sometimes, it’s very easy to buy time when you’re talking to people, and the easiest way to do so is to be straightforward (honest).

For example:

  • -What do you like doing in your spare time? –I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying. I’m learning English.
  • -What’ve you been doing with yourself lately? –I don’t understand what you’re saying. What do you mean?

Could you rephrase that, please?

(kəd ˈjuː riːˈfreɪz ˈðæt ˈpliːz)

When you’re talking to someone in English, if you don’t understand something, you can ask them to rephrase (say it in a different way). This is a great way to figure out what is going on, especially if they’re using words that you don’t know. If you’re talking to native speakers, don’t be afraid to ask them to say things differently. They’ll most likely want to help you learn, and will be willing to rephrase what they mean.

For example:

  • -He’s been really down in the dumps lately. –Could you rephrase that, please? -He’s been really sad lately.
  • -I’m living for the weekend. –Could you rephrase that, please? -Sure! I can’t wait for the weekend.

In what way?

(ˈɪn ˈwɑːt ˈweɪ)

Sometimes, you may want to know more about what someone says. You may not completely (totally) understand what it is that they have said, or you may want to know more about their opinion. Asking this question is a great way to find out more, or to find out more about what it is they mean. If you ask someone “In what way,” they will probably tell you more about what they mean. This can be a great way to get a conversation going with someone, and a good way to get to know more about what they think!

For example:

  • -I don’t think this was his best novel. He has some better ones. –In what way? I really liked this one!
  • -She didn’t like the movie very much. –In what way? What didn’t she like about it?

Do you mean… (repeat what they said)

(ˈduː ˈjuː ˈmiːn…)

Once in a while, you may not understand what someone said. In these cases, it’s good to clarify what they mean. If this is the case, you can repeat what they have said to you, and they will either correct you, or expand (talk more about) on what they meant. This is a great way to buy time in a conversation, if you don’t know what exactly is going on. Plus, it really tests your memory! Have you ever had to use this phrase in a conversation before?

For example:

  • -I really dislike my job. It’s way too stressful. –Do you mean that you hate your job because it’s stressful?
  • -We need to increase revenue by 10 percent in the next year. –Do you mean that next year we need to increase revenue by 10 percent?

Have you ever had to buy time when you’re talking to someone in your second language? How did it work out? Share your experiences with us in the comments below!


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Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and has to buy time when she speaks German, sometimes!

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