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I recently encountered the phrase "got you" while interacting with a younger individual, and I'm trying to understand its meaning and appropriate usage in this context.

From what I gathered, it seemed to be used in a reassuring or affirmative way, but I'm not entirely certain. Can "got you" be interpreted as a form of agreement, or acknowledgment, or is it more of a casual way of saying "I understand what you're saying"?

I am curious about the nuances of this phrase, particularly how it is perceived when used by an older person while speaking to someone younger.

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    How do you consider "acknowledgement" and "saying 'I understand what you're saying'" to be different things? Commented Jan 15 at 6:57
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    See also this question. Commented Jan 15 at 9:37
  • @the-baby-is-you - some languages differentiate between 'I heard what you said' and 'I understood what you said'. Japanese is one I'm aware of, the difference between 'hai' & 'wakarimasu' is subtle but significant. Commented Jan 15 at 9:38
  • @DoneWithThis. That is true also in Italian, although replying with Ti ho sentito. (I heard you.) to somebody who keeps repeating me the same sentence would be understood as Ti ho sentito ed ho capito. (I heard you and I understood.)
    – apaderno
    Commented Jan 15 at 23:44

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Background

The full phrase is "I've got you", which is shortened to "I got you", "got you", "I gotcha", and "gotcha" pretty much interchangeably, though "gotcha" is arguably the most idiomatic and versatile.

How to use

You can say any of them to mean you're following what someone is saying, especially as they explain or describe something at length.

"Pawns move forward one space at a time, except the first move, where they can go two."

"Gotcha."

"They capture diagonally in front of them, like this."

If said in response to an order (usually phrased as a statement, sometimes a command, but never a question), they additionally mean "I'll do that."

"We need all these flats painted green, tape on the floor, and those lights better be working Monday."

"Gotcha."

Caveats

"Gotcha", being particularly idiomatic, is special in a few ways. You can say it when you don't really mean it, communicating lack of confidence through tone. The longer versions serve to emphasize that you really do understand (and we usually save them for when emphasis is needed).

In addition, "I got you" in response to a request, compared to "I gotcha", is more likely to be heard as a supportive "I got your back" than a businesslike "On it." I can't think of a time one of them would be inappropriate though.

Who can use

It seems this phrase saw a major uptick around the 1970s, though it existed before that. (There are enough unrelated usages that I wouldn't trust this graph too much, but let's assume that's true.) That's long enough for most of the population to use it natively and the rest to pick it up over time. I wouldn't bat an eye hearing it from someone of any age, or from a non-native speaker, regardless of whom they were speaking to.

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