Someone calls you on the phone, but you don't know who they are. The conversation goes like:


You: "Um.. Who am I speaking with, please?"

Caller: "It's ThisGuyWhoseVoiceYouShouldHaveRecognized..."

Should your response be:

"Oh, hi! Sorry, I didn't recognize YOU."


"Oh, hi! Sorry I didn't recognize YOUR VOICE."

Could the former be used in a phone conversation at all?

Does it not sound like that you don't recognize them/they're importance/their existence?

Please also let me know if you'd go with an alternative phrase to begin with, and if you could give two examples, one polite/formal and one for casual situations.

  • The former implies that you're talking in person. The latter shows that you're referring to the person's voice, that is, his/her voice.
    – Schwale
    Jun 20, 2016 at 17:06
  • 3
    If you're on the phone (assuming it's not a video call), it's contextually obvious you can only have failed to recognize the voice (it would be perverse to suppose the speaker meant he didn't recognize the number shown on "caller display" in such a context). So it's not necessary to explicitly mention the voice, but it's of no consequence whether you do or not. No-one would think you were talking about failing to acknowledge the caller's very existence or "validity". Jun 20, 2016 at 17:10

3 Answers 3

  1. Oh, hi! Sorry, I didn't recognize you.

Yes, I think this can be used in a phone conversation for the simple fact that it is understandable. I don't believe it suggests that you did not recognize that person's "importance" or "existence". Actually, 1. might be fitting if you are very close or intimate with the speaker.

  1. Oh, hi! Sorry I didn't recognize your voice.

This seems preferable over 1. since it is clear that you are talking about the person's voice.

Some casual alternatives are:

  1. Sorry about that!
  2. Sorry, I didn't realize it was you!

I feel like I used 2. regularly.

As for formal/polite, I would just change "sorry" to "my apologies" or "pardon me" in 2. Maybe even something like

Pardon me. I did not realize/recognize with whom I was speaking.


Normally, "I didn't recognize you" means that you didn't recognize the person visually -- you didn't recognize their face or however you might tell it was them on sight. "I didn't recognize your voice" of course means that you did not recognize them based on the sound of their speech.

If someone called me on the phone and I couldn't tell who it was, I would most likely say, "I'm sorry, I don't recognize your voice." But if in that context you simply said, "I don't recognize you", presumably they would understand this to mean that you didn't recognize their voice, as you have nothing else to recognize them by. I don't think most fluent speakers would say that, but there's no reason for it to be unclear.


Usage of "didn't" in both forms of the sentence notably implies that till that moment in time (of you saying so), you did not recognise the person or the voice, but now you DO. There is nothing wrong with using the "you" or "your voice" as it simply means what it sounds - the former meaning you "didn't" recognize the person altogether and the latter meaning you "didn't" recognize just their voice.

On the other hand, I think you meant to use "don't" instead. And then (after changing both your sentences to use "don't"), there is a difference in politeness with using " you " sounding intently much harsher than saying "your voice".

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