Republicans made "you didn't build that" into a rallying cry at their convention last week, turning President Obama's quote about business against him and casting him dismissive of the hard work of many Americans.
Now Obama admits, he could have chosen a better "syntax" for his words.
"Obviously, I have regrets for my syntax," he told a local TV reporter. "But not for the point, because everyone who was there watching knows exactly what I was saying."
The president, in an interview with Virginia's NBC 12, was responding to a question about his comments in July that were pounced on by Republicans and their presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.
Republicans have implied that Obama was suggesting business owners didn't build their own businesses, but he and his campaign have countered that he was referring to the public infrastructure and shared resources that make it possible for businesses to grow.
The following were his extended remarks: "If you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own. You didn't get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
Obama's 'you didn't build that' regret
Obama to argue change takes 'more than a few years,' but 'better place' on horizon
Dem delegates, leaders struggle to explain floor fight over God, Jerusalem platform change
'No evidence' Romney's tax records stolen by hackers, firm says
Bill Clinton delivers emphatic endorsement of Obama, saying America is better off
Romney campaign tries to undermine Clinton's support of Obama in new ad
Obama's 2008 convention words hang over Charlotte speech
Emails suggest Axelrod leaned on Gallup after unfavorable poll
"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help," he continued. "There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."
He later called the Republican attacks "bogus."
"What I said was, together we build roads and bridges," Obama told a local reporter in the days after the controversy first started.
But Romney counted that Obama was revealing "his ideology."
"The president in fact believes that people who build enterprises like this really are not responsible for it, that in fact it is a collective success of the whole society that somehow builds enterprises like this. In my view we ought to celebrate people who start enterprises and employ people."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.