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"I seem to remember that the park adjacent to my school was humongous."

This is a sentence of a native speaker when he was talking about how things have changed compared to when he was young.

The expression "I seem to remember ..." sounds different to me. And I wondered why he said "I seem to remember..." rather than "I remember....". And I concluded he used it to mean he can remember a little of those days", otherwise he would have said "I remember....".

So, if my conclusion is correct, is it idiomatic to say "I seem to remember ........"? If yes, can I use it for other verbs, for instance "I seem to forget ....." rather than "I forgot ..."?

4 Answers 4

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"I seem to remember" is quite idiomatic. The expression means that I have what appears to me to be a memory, but I am not confident of it - perhaps it is vague or perhaps it wasn't a real memory but some other mental construct. An alternative sentence is "I remember the park as being humongous". This doesn't express the same doubt about my memory, but it does allow for an altered viewpoint (for example because many things look larger to a child).

"I seem to have forgotten" often means that I think I have forgotten to bring something. It may also mean that I can't remember something just now but may remember later. In this case it may have the additional meaning that I want some inducement (perhaps a bribe) to "remember" something.

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    In AmE sort of remember is also used to mean the same thing.
    – EllieK
    Jan 17 at 13:37
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    I draw a subtle distinction between the two. "I seem to remember ..." indicates a clear memory that you have reason to doubt, while "I sort of remember ..." indicates a memory lacking some details (whether or not the overall memory is correct).
    – chepner
    Jan 17 at 19:40
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    "I seem to have forgotten" can also be a softening of "I have forgotten", when used as an admission. Similarly, "I seem to have mislaid my keys." That doesn't really apply to remember, which isn't usually an admission. Jan 17 at 20:34
  • I think you have decently explained the meaning, but offered no justification for the phrase being idiomatic. Doesn't the intended meaning have to differ at least somewhat from the literal sense of the phrase? "Seem" literally means to appear, or to give an impression, and is included in a million different ways to soften statements about anything from a more absolute form. "Inflation seems to be related to government spending." is not idiomatic. Jan 17 at 21:44
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    @justhalf Thanks, Understood. Having reviewed more answers on this stack I do see that "idiomatic" is indeed universally used here as you have described. Jan 31 at 17:31
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I seem to verb is idiomatic, it makes the statement less strong/forceful.

It could mean either

  • they remember it dimly (they have a vague remembrance of the place), or
  • they remember it clearly but their memory is inconsistent with the facts presented.
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    Or as a variant on your second case: they remember it very clearly but there's a difference with what others might be "remembering" and they're phrasing it to deflect direct conflict: "I seem to remember that I paid for the last round".
    – CCTO
    Jan 17 at 21:09
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It depends a little on the emphasis -

"I seem to remember..." Is more of a "Are you sure about that, because I'm pretty sure THIS is actually the case"

"I seem to remember..." Is usually more of a "I remember this, but I can't figure out where I remember it from"

"I seem to remember..." Without any major emphasis is often more along the lines of "I think this is the case, but I'm not certain"

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    Who knew it would be this complex, but a great start! For the first case it can be correctional and authoritative, in which case the subject is asserting their opinion over others. But it can also be facetious and deliberately untrue, if in a humorous tone it could be a cheeky attempt to subvert a rational/logical argument, or it is also used as a mechanism to express disagreement or as a direct rebuke to a previous statement, most likely to have been someone else's "I seem to remember..." Jan 18 at 12:56
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    It is a generally idiomatic term, but the meaning is more complex than just that the statement is less strong/forceful Jan 18 at 13:00
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    Correct, and then if you emphasise the lot, you could just be sarcastically mocking whoever just said it. Jan 18 at 13:01
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To add to the excellent answers already here, there is another usage which is very specific (and a cliché often used in comedic dialogue). It can be an attempt to make the listener to identify their connection or obligation to the topic in a non-forceful way. The intent can range from playful to blaming.

If either the person or the topic is what the speaker doesn't "seem" to remember, it is a softer attempt. When the person and the topic are both stated, then it is a stronger attempt, and more likely to involve blame: the part that the speaker "seems" to remember here is the connection between the two.

Playful: "I seem to remember that someone wanted to go to the fair."

Soft blaming: "I seem to remember that someone was going to fix that leaking faucet."

Stronger blaming: "I seem to remember Steve talking about the leaking faucet."

Edit to add: In real life conversation, the playful usage is fine. However, it might appear manipulative to use this to actually coerce someone into admitting fault or blame.

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