I am wondering if it is possible to say "I don't get what you mean" as a synonym of "I don't understand what you mean".
If it's possible, is it more colloquially to say "I don't get" or is it as polite than "I don't understand" ?


On SE, do you think that it's polite to use "I don't get it"?

It depends on the particular dialog, of course. Instead of saying, "I don't get it," you might consider saying, "I don't understand what you're saying." (not so much because "get" is too informal; however, the word "it" might be too vague).

Moreover, "I don't get it," can take on two meanings:

  • I don't understand what you're saying.
  • I don't understand why you're saying what you're saying.

Here's an example:

Math teacher: In a right triangle, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.

Student: I don't get it.

In this context, the student is saying that he's having trouble understanding the problem.

Here's an example of the other meaning:

Wife: I think we should go out to dinner more often.

Husband: I don't get it. You know money is tight, even with me working two jobs. Plus, we already go out to eat almost every Sunday.

In this context, the husband understands what the wife wants, but he doesn't think the request is reasonable, given their financial situation.

So, if "I don't get it" means, "I'm confused, I don't understand what you are saying," then it isn't impolite – not in and of itself. However, if you use "I don't get it" to mean, "I think you are being unreasonable," then the language might be considered a bit more confrontational.

  • I think your second example is matter of understanding as well and no real difference to the first. Thinking something is not reasonable is not understanding why it seems reasonable to other party. – Unreason Jul 13 '17 at 12:04

Yes, to both your questions.

"I don't get it" is colloquial and means the same thing as "I don't understand it." The former could be considered a bit rude in a formal conversation with your boss or something so use "understand" when you need to be polite or formal.

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    With at least one exception: It might be normal to say, "I don't understand," but it would be awkward to say, "I don't get." With the object, though, you can use either one ("I don't understand the problem" is roughly the same as "I don't get the problem"). – J.R. May 7 '14 at 20:35
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    Definitely a good point! – sraboy May 7 '14 at 20:52
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    Also, understand can be used in the passive voice, e.g. He is understood to be a friend of John, but get meaning "understand" cannot be used that way. – Damkerng T. May 7 '14 at 21:38
  • Ok thanks a lot! And on SE do you think that it's polite to use "I don't get it"? – Trevör May 8 '14 at 6:49
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    Yes, this is a pretty informal environment. If I continuously didn't understand something and used "I don't get it" and "I still don't get it" a few times, it could come across as me intentionally being obnoxious, so I'd change to "I really don't understand this" a bit later in the conversation. – sraboy May 8 '14 at 7:51

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