Submitted by jayles the unwoven on June 4, 2014

When is “of course” impolite?

a) “Could I borrow your pen please?”  “Of course.”

b) Teacher: “Did you do your homework?”  Student: “Of course.” 

c)  Interviewee: “May I sit down?”   Interviewer (thinking: what a twit!): “Of course.”

d) Police: “Do you have ID, and license?” Driver: “Of course, officer. Good of you to ask”. 

e) Called from the shower: “Is it raining out?” Spouse: “Of course.” 

f) In hallway to home-comer: “Is it raining out?” Dripping home-comer: “Of course.”

g) At party: “Could I borrow your wife for a quickie?” “Of course.”

h) After party: “Are you coming?” Only sober car-owner/driver: “Of course.” 

i) Boss: “Can you have that report on my desk by 2300?” “Of course.”

Of course it may depend on how it is said, but where would it be dangerously ambiguous?

What alternatives are there which are safer?

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e sounds mordant. "Of course" reads like "no duh" to me, but contextually, it works. A yes fits better there though.

The only time(s) that I can think of in which"Of course" is impolite is when it is inflected in a certain way.

When can bet dangerously ambiguous? Not a clue.

Alternatives: "(Yeah,) sure", "okay", "yes", etc.

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I don't quite follow the question - I don't see that's it ambiguous in any of these. Sarcastic (f), over-generous (g), cheeky (b), perhaps, but ambiguous? Perhaps the guy in (g) is being ironic, but you never know nowadays.

But in the title it asks when it's impolite, which is rather a different question, and as Jasper said, that depends on intonation, or what else is said (as in the police example).

No safer, perhaps, but "be my guest" or "go ahead" would work for a, c and g. Or perhaps "Mi mujer su mujer" for g?

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From the following book
moly.hu/konyvek/susan-doughty-geoff-thompson-problem-english-a-practical-guide-for-hungarian-learners-of-english

"Of course: this is perfectly acceptable as a polite response to a request for information eg: Can you give me a lift? Yes of course"

"However as an answer to a request for information it normally sounds rude... eg:
Is it raining? Of course ((why do you think I'm soaking wet?))
Are you coming with us? Of course (I'm the one with the tickets you fool)

I've never been quite happy with this distinction: it seems to me that if one is continually saying "of course" it might be interpreted as betraying a contemptuous attitude.

Of course in some languages (French, German, Russian, Hungarian) the equivalent is much more common than "of course" in English, so there is a tendency for them to overuse it in English.

Or perhaps it's just all in the intonation and facial expression.

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@WW Interesting that you say "cheeky" for (b). ESOL students sometimes use "of course" in this way with no intention of being cheeky.
I guess in some way it is payback for the implicit-in-the-question idea that the student might have been too lazy to do their homework.
But jow to ask and answer that without the side-issues?

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