Is the phrase neutral, like "you need to know", or it has some negative connotations?

  • "You need to know" and "you have to realize" are different phrases, with different connotations. Are you asking about both of them? – Keiki May 14 '15 at 16:09
  • No, only about 'you have to realize'. – Eugene Demidov May 14 '15 at 16:12

Context, context, context.

If you suspect that your hearer does not know X, You have to realize X is informative: it means "I tell you X because it is necessary that you know it*. In this case, it is more or less equivalent to You need to realize/know X.

To understand why he is doing it that way you have to realize that he has very little training.

If you suspect that your hearer does know X, You have to realize X is a reproach: it means Surely you know X—why are you ignoring it!.

Why are you just standing there? You have to realize that a horde of angry orcs is about to descend on us!

Note that You need to will not bear this meaning.

  • I think there something a bit odd about telling someone it's necessary that they realize something (as opposed to simply saying you would be surprised if they didn't already know it), because realization isn't really a voluntary activity. In a similar vein, whereas I'm happy with I'm reading this book to understand [quantum physics, why God created wasps, etc.], it just doesn't seem quite right to replace understand with realize there. I feel that if you're actively doing something in this general area, you must either be seeking to understand or to appreciate, not realize. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 14 '15 at 17:29
  • It might also be worth mentioning that You must know/realise X is a (probably more common) alternative for your second sense above. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 14 '15 at 17:33
  • @FumbleFingers Or You('ve) gotta – StoneyB on hiatus May 14 '15 at 17:55
  • Ah, right! I'm not sure if it's any different to the AmE ear, but to me at least, You ('ve) gotta know your wife's been cheating on you can only mean that in the opinion of the speaker it's not possible that you don't know. If it were a "performative" statement (speaker thinks it's necessary that you know something you don't already, so he's actually telling you right now), I'd have to articulate it more fully as You have got to know your wife's been cheating on you (but I'd probably say You need to know... anyway). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 14 '15 at 18:15

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