I read from a blog that

Using “I see” Sometimes can be considered negative response in English. It is a curt reply.

“My sister is getting married.” “I see.” <- not appropriate response. Indicates you have a problem with it. Why? Lack of positive reinforcement.

I see many people use this phrase. Please consider using “I understand,” or “oh really,” or something that indicates you have interest.

Does "I see" really mean me having a problem with it? Is it a curt reply and a negative response? I have used it as synonymous to "I understand", to acknowledge I have received and understood the information, without any negativity. Update: I found this video about "I know" and "I understand", and did she make sense on "7. I see" and "8. I see what you mean"?

Does "oh really" indicate having interest? I thought it has sarcastic connotation and means not believe.

  • 7
    There are ways to be postivie, negative, or neutral in "I see," "I understand," and "Oh, really?" Commented Feb 12 at 14:49
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    All of these could be neutral, disinterested, or sarcastic depending on the situation or tone of voice. Unless you have a specific use-case scenario, I can't really tell you much more. Do you have an example sentence or some context where you want to use these phrases?
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Feb 12 at 15:45
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    Not sure I entirely agree with the premise that "I understand" is better. This is more a question of good manners than language. If someone says they or a good friend or relative is getting married, you should be enthusiastic. Which is where "I see" fails. "Oh really?" isn't always sarcastic but tends to be; "Really?" is more likely to indicate genuine surprise.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 12 at 16:24
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    Tone is everything in sarcasm. No one said that but me and no one seems to want to acknowledge it either. I cannot figure it out. It's not about the language per se. I can use any utterance and be sarcastic. "What beautiful flowers!" is potentially sarcastic.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 12 at 20:38
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    "I see" could be appropriate, depending on the context. For example: "Will you be leaving for your annual Hawaii trip this weekend?" "No, not this time." "Oh, why not? You've been doing it for ages." "My sister is getting married." "I see!" "Yeah, we're all looking forward to the wedding!" (Tone of voice is everything here. There are many things you could mean by saying "I see" here: excitement, disapproval, surprise, disappointment, disbelief, etc.) Commented Feb 13 at 18:46

5 Answers 5


The source might have picked a poor example, since it exaggerates the problem so much. An announcement of a wedding is socially expected to be joyous news, so "I see," "I understand," and "oh really" would all be socially inappropriate because they're unenthusiastic. The blog author seems to be saying that there are times that "I understand" or "oh really" would be more appropriate than "I see."

Unless they can give a better example, I think they're overthinking it. "I see" and "I understand" are nearly identical sentiments. There could be times that one is more appropriate—like "I understand" after being given detailed instructions for a task, or "I see" after a detailed explanation. Meanwhile, "oh really?" can express sincere interest, but you're right that it's very easy to commandeer for arch sarcasm, to challenge an assertion ("Really? are you sure? you really want to assert that?").

All these expressions can be rude based on tone of voice, and I see no reason to assert that "I see" is less suited to polite, sincere interest than the others. I would ignore this advice and quit reading this blog.

  • I found this video bilibili.com/video/BV1FZ4y1x7rW?t=338.0, and did she make sense on "7. I see" and "8. I see what you mean"?
    – Tim
    Commented Feb 13 at 2:18
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    In my opinion "oh really" can really also be used with lots of enthusiasm in a clearly positive way. But it's all about tone and intonation and also facial expression. For the rest I fully agree
    – Ivo
    Commented Feb 13 at 9:11
  • I agree with the core of this answer ("I see" is decidedly not joyous) but I disagree about the interpretation of "oh really", which can definitely be used for happy surprises. It seems the article's author had a different intonation in mind that this answer's author.
    – Flater
    Commented Feb 14 at 4:21
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    @Ivo and Flater, I did say that “oh really” could be positive: ‘Meanwhile, "oh really?" can express sincere interest…’ Commented Feb 14 at 12:23
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    "oh really" could have a wide range of meanings: "oh really! that's so exciting!" — "oh really? I'm caught off guard, but it seems like good news" — "oh really? I find that surprising, and I'm concerned". It is semantically neutral, and so leaves a lot up to tone, shared history between the speakers, and other context. As you pointed out, the fact that the words are so neutral in response to such an emotionally-loaded piece of news is the crux of the ambiguity. "I see" does feel different to me; I can't imagine it being anything other than implicitly judgy.
    – yshavit
    Commented Feb 14 at 17:38

There's nothing inherently wrong with saying "I see," but it's inappropriate for the example. It usually conveys that you're thinking hard analytically about something, like after someone explains a difficult math concept, or when someone has informed you of a problem that could impact third-quarter profits. Saying it in response to a wedding announcement indicates that you're working hard to fit the information into your worldview, at best, or even pondering how to thwart it.

"I understand" is similar. It tends to indicate a further stage of understanding, one where you've comprehended and accepted what you're being told. It's still a standoffish way to respond to good news, especially because it implies there's something to accept.

"Oh really" can be sarcastic when you say it about something obvious and/or in an unimpressed tone, but if you say it with intrigue, it indicates that you're engaged and would like to hear more. It invites the conversation to continue on the topic for as long as necessary, rather than claiming you already understand it perfectly.

It contains no information about whether you find the news good, bad, or ambiguous, so if it's good, you'll probably say "Good for her!" or "That's great!" later in the conversation.

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    This answer might be confusing because it's not exactly neutral. It describes the meaning of these phrases as either "good" or "bad" when "neutral" is also a reasonable choice of meaning for any of them. Whether a response is rude or not will depend on the relationship of the two speakers. (E.g in some situations, it would be rude to mention your sister's wedding, and a neutral response would not be out of place.)
    – jpaugh
    Commented Feb 13 at 1:53
  • I found this video bilibili.com/video/BV1FZ4y1x7rW?t=338.0, and did she make sense on "7. I see" and "8. I see what you mean"?
    – Tim
    Commented Feb 13 at 2:17
  • @Tim Yes, she gave valid examples, though they're not necessarily the first usages I'd think of. "I see what you mean" is much more neutral to me than she portrayed it. Often when we take a compact idiom (like "I see") and expand it into a longer form (like "I see what you mean"), it's to emphasize the literal meaning without the usual connotations. Commented Feb 13 at 3:25
  • Re: "Saying it in response to a wedding announcement indicates that you're working hard to fit the information into your worldview, at best, or even pondering how to thwart it": Or perhaps that you're not taking the wedding announcement at face value. (Speaker #1: "My sister *pause, wink* is getting married *pause, wink*." Speaker #2: " . . . I see.")
    – ruakh
    Commented Feb 13 at 6:30
  • I think working to fit the information into your worldview is a bit of an overinterpretation, for example: "A: I won't be at work tomorrow, my sister is getting married. B: I see". It's not that "I see" is inherently rude, it's more that "I see" is just a neutral acknowledgement, which comes off as curt when a more enthusiastic response is socially expected. Commented Feb 13 at 14:27

The blogger is talking nonsense. Both I see and I understand can be used in the sense "I understand what you say," or "I accept the point you are making". Oh, really? can mean "I'm interested in what you tell me".

On the other hand, both I see and Oh, really? can be used sarcastically, to suggest that the point of what the other person says is obvious or not at all interesting.

  • I found this video bilibili.com/video/BV1FZ4y1x7rW?t=338.0, and did she make sense on "7. I see" and "8. I see what you mean"?
    – Tim
    Commented Feb 13 at 2:18
  • Yes, she makes sense (though I find her 'stomach bug' example a poor one!). Commented Feb 13 at 9:27

Sarcasm is carried by tone and/or intonation and not just by phrases or words. It may, in fact, not be sarcastic at all to use "I see". It can just be saying: I understand.

Sarcasm, or verbal irony, is a figurative language device employed to convey the opposite meaning of what is actually being said. In verbal communication, a pause, intonation, or look can provide the cues necessary to determine whether there is sarcastic intent behind a comment. In writing, these social cues are inaccessible. Thus, we must rely on our understanding of the world, the speaker, and the context beyond the statement to discern between sarcasm and sincerity.

[...] In this paper we explored the role various linguistic features play in computational sarcasm detection. We investigated a combination of text and word complexity features, stylistic and psychological features. The result of our experiments indicate that contextual information is crucial for sarcasm detection. We also observed that sarcastic tweets are often incongruent with their context in terms of sentiment or emotional load.

study on sarcasm

That study only deals with text. Nowhere does it mention spoken language. I find that shocking.

Here is a blogger who gets it right:

How to recognize sarcasm? There are no words, sentences, or idioms which really are specific to sarcasm, because, what really conveys sarcasm is the tone of voice. [bolding mine]

blogger Sarra at Leeve

  • 1
    This does a good job of explaining sarcasm, but it may be worth being more explicit about the nuances of "I see".
    – ColleenV
    Commented Feb 12 at 20:37
  • @ColleenV Anything at all can be sarcastic. "I see" is not special in that regard. It could be said with a great big smile and not imply anything sarcastic. It could also be very serious.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 12 at 20:40
  • Yep. I was just thinking about why someone may have downvoted your answer. Maybe they needed it to more directly talk about the phrases in the title. I'm on my phone and truncated my first comment before I added "oh really "
    – ColleenV
    Commented Feb 12 at 20:43
  • @ColleenV No worries. It seems cellphones are taking over, which I, personally, cannot stand. Small screens, small letters. Ugh. :)
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 12 at 21:27
  • I found this video bilibili.com/video/BV1FZ4y1x7rW?t=338.0, and did she make sense on "7. I see" and "8. I see what you mean"?
    – Tim
    Commented Feb 13 at 2:18

Other answers already have covered the most important bits: pretty much every phrase in English can have a variety of meanings depending on tone. That being said, it's important to emphasize that if you want to talk like a native American-English speaker I would take whatever that blog says with a grain of salt.

Please consider using “I understand,” or “oh really,” or something that indicates you have interest.

No native speaker would answer like this for a typical conversation. Neither of those answers indicate an interested response. "I understand" is something you might say to your coworker, boss, or parent when you are being lectured about something (typically). "Oh really" indicates surprise when it isn't being used sarcastically, but even if you were surprised the person was getting married you'd find a more tactful way to express that. Perhaps "that's great" or even "wow!" would be much more obvious choices.

That's not to say it can never be used. If someone described to me how they had to get married because it was a literal shotgun wedding I might respond "oh really", but to state that it is a typical response is incredibly wrong.

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