What Native Am.Eng Speakers exactly mean when they say

"I can sort of understand it."

I mean, how sort of here correctly used in this context?

I mean, if it has only one possible correct meaning or usage here in this context and needs no more context to be provided.

  • 6
    May I give you a few hints re. the way you are phrasing your questions? First, skip the “greetings”. You may have noticed that usually someone edits that line out. Second, you may be doing yourself a disservice by asking for answers by native speakers. Many non-native speakers have put a lot more effort into understanding how a language works and can actually explain the details better, having struggled themselves at some point. Apart from that, it’s just impolite. The votes on the answers should reflect the quality and correctness. Trust the community.
    – Stephie
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 14:58
  • 4
    And in a more general sense, as I noticed that your questions seem to follow the same pattern: You may want to read How to Ask and this Meta post and include more details about your current understanding and - if appropriate - the context. Btw., we often highlight quotes with a preceding ‘>’.
    – Stephie
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 15:21
  • 6
    A correct answer is correct no matter if written by a non-native speaker. An incorrect answer is still incorrect even if written by a native speaker. You have to trust that the community will vote for the best answer to your question.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 15:59
  • 3
    Anyway, did you try looking in a dictionary? Sort of: in some way or to some degree
    – Andrew
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 16:01
  • 3
    The phrase isn't only used by AmE native speakers. If you don't know the phrase, it is better not to make assumptions. Commented May 10, 2019 at 16:42

1 Answer 1


"Sort of" is colloquial and means essentially the same thing as "kind of" (I can kind of understand it), "a bit" (I can understand it a bit) and similar.

If someone says that they "sort of" understand something it means that they understand some of it but not all, or have a vague understanding but are lacking the details, or have only a basic understanding of a more advanced subject.

For example I could have this conversation with a colleague: - let's assume we both received the same email from Bob:

Me: Hey, do you understand this email from Bob?

Colleague: I can sort of understand it [= "I understand some/most of it", or something like that], but I don't know what Bob actually wants us to do.

Another example:

I sort of cleaned out the cupboard/closet, but there's actually a lot of trash still in there.

You will often (especially, in my experience, in American English) come across these being expressed as "sorta" (sort of) "kinda" (kind of), even in writing (informal only). In fact "kinda-sorta" is now its own slang term! (see e.g. this answer).

Oh, and a similar usage: I have found myself saying things like:

I can sort of understand her point, but I actually don't agree that everyone should sign up with this website (or whatever) because XYZ [in relation to a contrary point of view]

I was sort of [= a bit] expecting to receive that letter today, actually!

  • Oh! I see now. Tanks alot!! Really appreciate it! Even though i should have looked it up in Some of the good online English dictionaries. I mean, it's not that hard or the type of informal/slang phrase that you probably wouldn't or can't find in any good online English dictionary out there, it's completely my fault. But for some unconvincing reason I still don't know why I've decided to look it up in this app when it's not that hard or the type of informal phrase that probably any good online English dictionary wouldn't cover it. Commented May 10, 2019 at 21:01

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