I have heard this phrase often when people are irritated if not upset about what had happened despite them making it clearer that they don't wish for it.


  1. I thought I said NO.
  2. I thought I said no surprises
  3. I thought we said no to puppies

What does the phrase mean actually? Does it always carry a negative tone with it? The above examples obviously emit irritation to me. Any thoughts?

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    This is another one of those questions where translation into your language would produce the same result.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 15:24
  • Have you seen no cases using, eg, I thought I said YES; I thought I said plenty of surprises; I thought we said yes, bring on the puppies? Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 19:44

3 Answers 3


The tone is usually negative, and sarcasm is involved. When the TV that cost £1000 is smashed, and I say to my son, 'I thought I told you not to play football in the house', I am pretending not to be sure that I told him that.

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    That pretending is the irony of sarcasm, because you know you did more than think you said it. Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 13:25
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    @YosefBaskin - like saying to a waiter, 'I could have sworn I asked for steak' when he brings you fish. I am told by my American sister-in-law that some Americans call this sort of thing English 'snark' and don't like it. She's been here long enough to pick up the tendency. Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 13:28
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    Yes, we use that tone to fake 'taking it on ourselves': It must be me. This isn't what I ordered, but that's just me. Did I miscommunicate? Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 13:35
  • @MichaelHarvey Although "I could have sworn" is actually a pretty strong statement and therefore void of sarcasm, or at least irony (can you have sarcasm without irony?). It may be used to actually express self-doubt. Like muttering to oneself "I could have sworn that I put my glasses on the desk (but cannot see them now, what's wrong with me?)". Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 15:11
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica - 'I could have sworn' can be used with or without sarcasm. Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 16:16

It does generally carry a negative tone, but not always. One can imagine a young couple in love and one of them looking adoringly at the other, saying, “I thought I said I didn’t want any birthday gifts.” Here it might be intended to convey mild surprise, and perhaps infatuated gratitude. But that sort of example is probably the exception.

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    Ah, 'infatuated gratitude' - how fine it was! Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 12:27
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    Shameless steal from Frank Zappa - Cheap thrills in the back of my car/Cheap thrills - how fine they are! Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 15:11
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    Kind of a double irony (she knows she said it, and she is not mad even though she is pretending). "Bad boy!" -- "You shouldn't have!" would be lacking the first part, only pretending an objection. Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 15:14

Other answers have talked about the meaning in your examples, but I just want to add that it can also literally mean what it says, that is "I was under the impression that I said something [but actually I didn't]".

For example, say I'm explaining how to set up a tent and I say, "Now do the pegs like I said." but someone replies "How's that?" so I say, "Oops, I thought I said that already. They need to go in at a 45-degree angle."

Or say I'm walking a customer through setting up some software, and they want to disable a specific feature. The menu to do that is confusing so they click the wrong option and I ask "Didn't you want to disable that?" so they say "I enabled it? I thought I said to disable it! Darn menu didn't make any sense." (And just in case it's unclear, "said" here doesn't literally mean "spoke out loud".)

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    Tone of voice is very important in distinguishing the two cases. Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 18:03
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    @Glenn And context in the second example here. Without the surrounding sentences, a frustrated tone on "I thought I said to disable it!" could be either at the menu or at me (if the customer misunderstood how the process works).
    – wjandrea
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 19:11

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