Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
ask clarify English

Have you been in a situation where you needed a bit of clarity?

Did you want somebody to help you to clarify but feel unsure of how to ask for it in English?

We’re going to look at the various ways to ask for clarity, because it comes up in conversation quite often.

You will know how to ask for clarification, and how to use these phrases in conversations and common situations.

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Today we have a great listener question that may prove to be quite helpful.

Hi Lindsay, Michelle and Jessica!

I’m Joy from the Philippines, and I’m currently working in Thailand. I listen to you every day and my day isn’t complete without your awesome podcast. 

I feel like I know the three of you personally based on stories you tell on the show and on your IG. That’s connection right there! You’re walking the talk! 

My question: Could you tell me other words/ phrases I can use instead of saying “clarify” when I want someone to make things clear? I heard others say “shine a light on something.” I wonder what else I can use to sound a little bit more natural.

 I appreciate what you do so much.

Asking For Clarity In The Right Way

This is a question that you can probably relate to in your conversations.

It’s helpful for students to ask questions about English, but also for general situations like this.

It may be asking questions about a specific topic such as asking for directions.

This question is about a word or even a situation where you need a bit of clarity.

When you ask somebody to clarify something, you are asking them to make something clear.

You might say “can you clarify what you meant in this sentence?”

As in the example in the question, you could say something like “shine a light” on something.

You can also use another version of this which is closely related, which is to say you want to “shed light” on something.

These are all different ways for asking somebody to clarify something, and they can work quite well in conversation.

Other Ways To Ask For Clarity

When you are asking for clarity in something, you want to be very direct in this request.

The good news is that since this may come up often in conversation, there are multiple ways of saying this.

So what else can you say when you are looking for a bit of clarification on something?

  • Clear Up: Something is unclear to you and you would like some help in fixing that. You are asking somebody to make something clear to you. In this situation you might say something like “I’m a little confused about how to get to your apartment. Can you clear it up for me?”
  • Unpack something: It’s a little bit different, but it can be used in multiple situations. It can be a smart way of asking somebody to break it down or clarify something that is confusing to you. A great way to use this could be “I’m not sure I follow_______, can you unpack that for me?”
  • Break it down: This is almost a visual type of request or phrase in its use. You are asking the person to take it slow and break it down, so that you can understand what they are trying to say. You might say something like A: “So if X is 32 then Y is 16.” B: “I don’t get it.” A: “Okay let me break it down for you.”

These are all useful ways to ask for clarification, and they all work well in conversation.

The idea is when you speak to try and somehow simplify ideas.

Something is confusing to you or needs clarification, and so these are all ways to ask for that clarity.

Roleplay To Help

A roleplay can be quite helpful in this situation since it is clarity you are seeking.

In this roleplay, Lindsay is showing Michelle her work presentation and practicing it for her.

Lindsay: “So what do you think?”

Michelle: “It’s good! I think it’s really good that you are shedding light on this topic that people often don’t understand.” 

Lindsay: “Thanks. Do you need me to clarify anything?”

Michelle: “Yeah. I’m sorry, but I’m more of a visual learner. I think you could add a graph or something to illustrate the point you are making on slide 6.” 

Lindsay: “That’s a good idea. You think that will clear up any confusion?”

Michelle: “Oh definitely. Also can you unpack something for me? Why do you talk about our clients dropping off in February when I can see there was an increase on the 2nd?”

Lindsay: “Oh good question, Michelle. I’ll break it down for you.”


These phrases are so much more interesting than asking someone to “explain” something.

They are helpful in so many different situations, so consider how and when you might use them.

We all need clarity sometimes, and now you know how to ask for it.

Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for that clarity, and when you do it in the right way it works well.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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