Thursday, 5 January 2012

Excuse Me, What Do You Mean?


SCENARIO
Imagine you are talking to a relative, a friend or a colleague. At some point, he/ she appears to be a little bit confused. Perhaps what you have said appears obscure or unrelated to anything you were talking about. For whatever reason, the other person wants you to clarify what you mean.

He/ she could choose to be less formal and say:
Perdón, ¿a qué te refieres?


Alternatively, he/ she could choose to be a little bit more formal and say:
Perdón, ¿a qué se refiere (usted)?
  


OUR TIP

In this situation, your reply may be influenced by the more/ less formal register used in the question. However, it should be stressed that the choice will be entirely yours.

In cases like this one, it may help you to think of two types of answers:

1- Answers which include a reference to the other person. With this type of answer you MUST choose between talking to the other person in a manner which shows:
    • Less formality/ less need to be respectful or keep distances.
    • More formality/ that you want to be more respectful or keep distances

Your choice may be influenced by the level of formality in the original question. Sometimes, you will choose an answer which matches the level in the original question. However, you don't always have to do so.

Some examples of this type of answers could be:
  • Less formal answers
    • Me refiero a la carta que enviaste a tu hermana (I mean the letter you sent to your sister).
    • Me refiero a tu trabajo (I mean your work).
  • More formal answers
    • Me refiero a la carta que envió (usted) a su hermana (I mean the letter you sent to your sister) .
    • Me refiero a su trabajo (I mean your work) .

2- Answers which do not include a reference to the other person. In that case, you will not have to make any decisions about the level of formality.

Some examples of this type of answers could be:
  • Me refiero a lo que nos había dicho Antonio (I mean what Antonio had told us).
  • Me refiero al hermano de Pedro (I mean Pedro's brother).

Now you should practice answering the question:
Perdón, ¿a qué te refieres?

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