How Many Ways Can You Say “What?”

As someone with hearing loss, I spend a lot of time asking people to repeat themselves. Saying “What?” all the time has gotten a little boring, so I have been brainstorming about other ways to ask the same question.

Recently I was having coffee with someone who was impossible for me to hear. His voice was in my weakest decibel range, he kept covering his mouth with his hands, and he was a mumbler! I explained about my hearing loss and asked him to speak louder, but it was a lost cause. I decided to play a game. How many different ways could I ask him to repeat what he said before I had to reuse a method.

Here is my list. Please add your suggestions in the comments.


With words

  1. Pardon?
  2. Huh?
  3. What’s that?
  4. Did you say something?
  5. Excuse me?
  6. Can you repeat that?
  7. What did you say?
  8. Can you spell that name?
  9. Say what?
  10. Sorry?
  11. What do you mean?
  12. Can you say that again?
  13. Can you face me and say that?
  14. Repeat what you think you heard, but as a question.

Without words

  1. Cup your hand behind your ear.
  2. Stare blankly at the person.
  3. Tilt your head to one side with a confused expression.
  4. Shake your head in confusion.
  5. Shrug your shoulders.
  6. Pretend you were distracted by your phone so they feel compelled to repeat themselves when you look up.

Readers, how do you ask someone to repeat themselves?

Connect with me on Facebook and Twitter

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


44 thoughts on “How Many Ways Can You Say “What?”

  1. You used most of mine. My usual favorites are, “I’m sorry?” And “I missed that.”

    Last night, I tried joining in a conversation with a man & a woman I know fairly well. Both know I have severe hearing loss. The man kept turning to look at his phone while speaking (sitting on my fully deaf side) & the woman (on my hearing side) kept either turning to look for her son–other direction–or dropping her voice. I finally just dropped out of the conversation. It was too much to follow. I don’t like to just ignore people but, after asking them to repeat a number of times and having to turn my head to try to read lips, I just got too tired. I gave up & decided I’ll sit by myself next time…


  2. Instead of a list of alternate questions, here’s a list of alternate statements.

    1. I didn’t understand that.
    2. I can’t understand you.
    3. I don’t hear well, so I missed some of that.
    4. I’m hard of hearing, so you need to speak louder.
    5. I can’t hear well and I partially lip-read, so it helps if I can see your lips.
    6. It’s hard to understand you over all the background noise.
    7. I’m a bit deaf so I need to ask you to repeat that.
    8. My hearing problem means I can only understand people when they speak distinctly.
    9. I have two hearing aids but, unfortunately, I still didn’t understand you.
    10. With my hearing loss, it’s easier to unerstand you if you speak a bit slower.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m afraid after a while, mine are generally huh? and ‘a ?’ (as in the A from ABC) … I think it’s quite rude that once you’ve explained your predicament that the people who you are speaking to don’t make any effort. It infuriates me .. but I use one of your statements and say “did you know that hearing aids don’t work like glasses” … it makes people stop and think. Thank you!


  4. I could really relate to this one. I usually tell people, quite bluntly (but with a friendly smile) that I’m deaf and if I don’t respond they’ll know I didn’t hear them. I guess people who don’t care if I respond or not, I don’t care a whole lot about what they have to say. Yeah, a little rage there — but most people, I find, are quite willing to help if they can and only need the occasional reminders. I find the most usual thing I have to say is, “if you turn your back, I can’t tell what you’re saying.” I notice that a lot of hearing people also don’t get things if it’s said with a back turned…could be we’re all lip readers?


  5. Another excellent topic. My daughter, who has lived all her adult life in the South, contends that it’s rude of me to keep repeating “What?” during a conversation. She says it sounds rude, and Pardon me? or Excuse me? would be more mannerly. But What? seems short and to the point so that’s what I mostly say. Asking the speaker to spell a word I can’t understand can bring the conversation to a complete halt; then we sometimes get into a long boring dialogue about hearing loss. Could someone invent a necklace with a blinking light saying “What?” so I don’t have to keep repeating?


  6. So true and people just assume you’re not paying attention. When my brother was young he had trouble with fluid in his ears only we didn’t know and he said huh all the time and my mom used to get so mad. For myself I’ll be honest people tend to not taking my hearing loss seriously because it’s not total so I often compensate by pretending.


    • I understand the allure of pretending and did so for many years. Now I prefer to come clean up front and sometimes it makes a difference. It takes the pressure off me at any rate. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I didn’t hear that, come again, please repeat that, I missed that, say it again please (but a little slower and a little louder), I can’t hear you when you’re not looking at me, I didn’t understand a thing you just said.


  8. I have discovered (and I use) a wonderful tool. I had a button made that says “please face me, so that I can hear you better”.
    The words, “please face me” are printed in mirror writing, so my conversation partner (aka CP) is compelled to look at the button, which makes him or her look at my face and…guess what? They ask me, “are you hard of hearing or something?” And, of course, I say, “yes….I will have trouble hearing you, if you don’t face me….could you please help me communicate better?”
    Living in Israel now, my friend made the button for me, in Hebrew.
    I’m having similar success.
    Being open and up front about my hearing loss, has made people be more respectful.
    If you’d like more info, or you’d like to see the button, write to me ..



  9. When meeting people for the first time I tell them I’m hearing impaired and they need to face me so I can lip read. Funny response I get quite often : “Oh that’s okay”!


  10. I tend to use the phrase “what’s that” quite often. One thing I read that Neil Bauman wrote is something I often bring up to friends and family to help them understand. Hearing aids are more like a cane than they are like eyeglasses. A person with a cane can hobble along, but no one expects him to run a 5k. That’s how hearing aids are for me.


  11. With words, I use: 2, 4, 7, 13, 14. A couple additional ones I use: “Are you talking to me?” and “Sorry, I didn’t hear/catch that.”
    Without words, I use: 1, 2, 3. If it’s one of my nieces or nephews, I will occasionally actually reach out and gently turn them towards me to remind them they need to face me when they talk.


  12. What’s hilarious is repeating back what you heard them say, and seeing the weird looks they get on their faces. One time my mom, referring to the metal sticks you use for smores, said we needed to get “Fire pokies.” What I heard was “Wire cookies” and I just stared at her like, “I have no idea what you meant to say just now, but I know what i heard was not it.”


  13. Again….I’m telling you….wearing the buttons, really helps people “get it”.

    I have several buttons, in English. I have one button in Hebrew, because I now live in Israel.

    When people are constantly reminded to look at me when they speak to me, they are more apt to continue to look at me.

    Also, I ask them NOT to shout at me…that does no good. I ask them to speak more slowly.

    Hearing people do NOT get it. They can’t. They don’t live inside our heads.

    That is why I also show them YouTube videos, which depict, in video, what if feels,like to be HOH/deaf.

    That is only if they care enough.

    If they don’t care, then, there’s no point.



  14. you’re welcome.
    Get the buttons.
    It will save you time and energy and frustration.
    The buttons get the attention of the person who is speaking to you.
    Google the phrase, “I can’t hear you if you don’t FACE ME”
    Print it out and then go to a button making store and have the buttons made (perhaps $20 for 10 of them).
    You can give them to your other HOH/deaf friends.

    The first part of the phrase is in mirror writing, so it really grabs the attention of the communication partner.
    It catches their eye and they often tell me, “Hey, why are those words backwards?”
    So, it’s more than a conversation starter. It gets their attention and it really gets them to slow down their speech and look at you when they speak to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I want to send you a copy of the front of the button. But, I cannot attach it here. Do you have an email address where I can send it?

    Thank you.


  16. Shari,

    I tried sending you the picture of the “FACE ME” button, but the email address that you gave me…”” gets rejected and sent back to me as “undeliverable.”
    Do you have another address where I can send it to you?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s