Would you normally say "it's impolite [any continuation or no continuation at all]" or the word impolite is too formal for kids and you would rather choose to express the same thought in a different way?

The reason I asked this question is because the other day I witnessed this scene: A mother (Asian) in a restaurant was correcting her child's behaviour saying, "Don't put your feet on the couch" when her child asked her why she was not allowing him to do so, she said, "because it's impolite." Her friend who was sitting next to her (obviously British, judging by his accent) said, "We wouldn't use the word impolite when talking to children, it's too formal."

It seems to me that I have heard some native English speakers (I don't remember whether they were Americans or British) use this word when talking to their children. On the other hand, that mother's friend didn't need to lie. So I decided to ask this question here.

  • 11
    Do you remember that precocious kid who never had problems in class and seemed to be a natural learner to whom every scholarly endeavor seemed effortless? That was his mother you saw in the restaurant. The British friend is an idiot.
    – horatio
    Mar 16, 2011 at 14:35
  • @horatio -- perhaps completely wrong, but hilarious.
    – jbelacqua
    Mar 17, 2011 at 2:14
  • @horatio -- I agree with Jgbelacqua. It is hilarious.
    – brilliant
    Mar 17, 2011 at 3:50
  • I find it a bit of a strange notion... it's like not teaching your child to use the bathroom, because that's too formal. No, my kid only uses the john. Except on casual Fridays; Friday its only the bog.
    – oerkelens
    Jul 31, 2014 at 16:14

10 Answers 10


I think impolite is the most polite word to use when you're pointing out or warning the kids against bad etiquettes or rude manners.

  • So, would you use it when talking to your children or it's "too polite"? (also, please, check my edits in the question, thank you).
    – brilliant
    Mar 16, 2011 at 9:45
  • 1
    Well, I would because it would subtly put across the notion of something that is not polite and acceptable (or rather appreciated) in a society. On hindsight, another set of good words could include "discourteous" or "ungraceful". Now calling it too formal would be the lady's whim. I don't quite concur with her opinion on this.
    – n0nChun
    Mar 16, 2011 at 10:52
  • 7
    For what it is worth, "impolite" isn't remotely formal in my Midwestern American culture.
    – MrHen
    Mar 16, 2011 at 15:01
  • @MrHen: "..."impolite" isn't remotely formal in my..." - Thanks for telling me that.
    – brilliant
    Mar 17, 2011 at 0:35
  • Impolite is about the most straightforward word you could use in this case, imo. Jul 1, 2014 at 18:09

I'd say it. I'm not an expert, but I think kids generally get the idea of oppositeness pretty well, and since one teaches them the word "polite" pretty early, I wouldn't hesitate to teach the prefix "im—" and other not prefixes. Although it's true that you don't hear impolite often in casual speech. One fear, of course, is that they'd start appending "im—" to every other kind of word to negate it, but I've read that's how they naturally learn the rules of grammaticality, by broadly over-applying and then restricting to exclude irregular forms.

EDIT: If you're talking about register, as n0nchun apparently thinks you are, isn't that kind of a silly thing to be worried about? I don't believe anybody would really expect a child to negotiate complex social rules that are the essence of formality; in most societies, they are given many, many years, 'till at least the age of puberty 'till they are expected to reliably chose words of the appropriate formality. And mostly, the worry is that children up spoiled and improperly informal; I'd personally be delighted if my future kid was precocious in picking up appropriate formalities before his age.

  • I think he was talking more about the impact of the word rather than the understanding of antonyms and negations. Sometimes, there is more to the words than just meaning. The way you say it has a lot more to do than what you say, and yeah, only sometimes :)
    – n0nChun
    Mar 16, 2011 at 9:06
  • @Billare: I don't quite understand what you mean by register here. I have added some details to my question to make it clearer what I mean. If you have time, please check it out. Thank you.
    – brilliant
    Mar 16, 2011 at 9:47
  • 3
    @brilliant Sorry, check my link; I actually picked up the term from this forum and had grown so comfortable with using it I forgot it was technical jargon. It encompasses what you're saying about "appropriate formality" very well.
    – Uticensis
    Mar 16, 2011 at 9:50
  • @Billare: Which link do you mean? The one in your profile?
    – brilliant
    Mar 16, 2011 at 9:57
  • 1
    @brilliant No, in the answer. Register, as a sociolinguistic term.
    – Uticensis
    Mar 16, 2011 at 9:58

I just asked my mom, who was often complimented on how well-behaved and polite we three were. (I only tried to wrestle that gumball machine once, after all.) She says that you use the vocabulary with your children that you want them to use. You treat them the way you want them to treat others, and that includes speech. So, no, using words like polite and impolite is not "too formal." It's a way of instructing them to use words like "polite" and "impolite."

If I were talking to an adult, "impolite" is the word I would use, because I think it shows a certain amount of respect and intelligence. It's also the word I'd use with my three-year-old cousin because the meaning is appropriate, but it's more subtle than "rude" or "bad." If I tell him he's being bad, he gets upset. He knows what that means. He wants to be a good boy, but he's three and he doesn't know all the rules, and throwing trains at cousins is FUN. When I tell him he's being impolite, he gets serious, and calms down to avoid being "bad." He understands that "impolite" is a sort of warning while "bad" and "rude" both mean he's actually done something wrong.

Purely anecdotal evidence, I know, but those are my personal observations.

I noticed a sort-of theme in some of the answers about explaining things to children, which I agree with in principle, and my mom claims she once did as well...Until she actually tried it. She could try to explain things until she was blue in the face, and we would still just ask "Why?" And it seems to get worse the smarter a kid is. What do you say when a kid wants to know why the dirt from your shoes will get on the bench, or why there's dirt on your shoes at all? Are you really going to try and explain static electricity and all the other stuff involved (I admit, I don't actually know)...?

Personally, I have trouble explaining why my cousin's throwing his trains at me is bad. I have no problem telling him that throwing trains, or anything, at anyone, especially me, is very bad, and he should never, ever do it. Because I said so. And so does Mommy. And Daddy. Yes, I mean it...And no, throwing AT and throwing TO are completely different. NO! if you're throwing it TO me, you have to warn me!...I know it's not as much fun, but that's just how it works. Because I said so. Trust me.

  • "She could try to explain things until she was blue in the face, and we would still just ask "Why?" And it seems to get worse the smarter a kid is" - HA-HA-HA!!! That's exactly my experience with my son, I am afraid his younger brother will soon add to it :) Thank you very much for your answer.
    – brilliant
    Mar 17, 2011 at 0:38

I think it depends on the age of the child. Very young children usually learn "good" and "bad" as modifiers to their actions, so using "good manners" and "bad manners" is more likely to resonate than a whole new structure of "polite" and "impolite." As children mature and their vocabularies expand, the more formal words become more common.

  • @Matthew The child was about 5 years old. But wouldn't polite be a more common word for a child of that age rather than good manners. In fact, I even find it quite hard trying to fit good manner in this case: "Don't do it" - "Why not?" - "It's a bad manner/It's not a good manner" - sounds a little bit awkward to me. What do you think?
    – brilliant
    Mar 16, 2011 at 12:47
  • 3
    The singular is awkward, but I've never heard or used it that way. Rather, "It's bad manners," or, "That's bad manners." Mar 16, 2011 at 12:49
  • 1
    @Matthew: So, you think "That's bad manners" sounds more common for a child compared to "It's impolite"? (I am not arguing, just asking). In my language, the word "manner" would definitely be a strange word for a 5-year-old child as "manner" is an abstract noun, while the adjective "(im)polite" would be more common as such phrases like "She is very polite", "What a polite boy!", etc. are among the most frequent phrases that a 5-year-old would hear. However, I do realize that it may not be the case in English.
    – brilliant
    Mar 16, 2011 at 13:40
  • 1
    @brilliant By age 5 "polite" and "impolite" would be reasonable, but at age 2 or 3, yes, as @Dusty notes, "manners" is very common in American English. Mar 16, 2011 at 15:28
  • 1
    @brilliant: note that "manners" is not merely the plural of "manner". In fact, "manners" has acquired meanings that have nothing to do with "manner".
    – Marthaª
    Mar 16, 2011 at 15:44


This would be a better alternative than the word 'impolite'.

  • Do you think the word rude could really apply to a child putting his feet on the couch? To me, the word "rude" itself sounds a bit too rude to be used by a mom applying it to her child. However, I may be wrong. May I know, which English here do you primarily mean, British or American?
    – brilliant
    Mar 16, 2011 at 14:26
  • 1
    'Rude' works for me best here (AmE). If you're going to say it's impolite to put your feet on a couch, then 'rude' would be appropriate, too (it's not rude to use the word 'rude'). The English guy is a buttinsky who doesn't know what he's talking about (with respect to children) and the mom didn't want to go through the explanation that "your shoes on the couch gets them dirty, which involves difficult cleaning that she doesn't want to do so just stop it"...easier to use the one word.
    – Mitch
    Mar 16, 2011 at 16:01
  • 1
    ...For the record, when I was little, my mom said "Don't be rude!" when she was actually scolding me. She said "Don't do that! It's impolite!" when she was warning me off of something, but I wasn't in trouble. Yet. So, at least in my case there was a difference, but it was completely contextual.
    – kitukwfyer
    Mar 16, 2011 at 17:42
  • @Mitch: Thank you, I didn't know that saying rude was not that rude. For some reason, I thought that the word itself, apart from what it described, was close to foul language.
    – brilliant
    Mar 17, 2011 at 0:27
  • @kitukwfyer: Yes, that's exactly the connection I had in the back of my head, and that's the reason why I thought that the word rude was not a good word. Now it's clear to me: impolite is better for a warning, while rude is better for scolding.
    – brilliant
    Mar 17, 2011 at 0:31

My problem with the answer "it's impolite" is that it doesn't really tell the child anything. You might as well respond "because I say so". (At least for me, it's always been easier to follow rules when I understood why they existed.) By all means, use that phrase, but don't stop there.

The main reason no to put your feet on the couch is to avoid getting the couch (and indirectly other peoples clothes) dirty. The child might argue that her/his feet are clean. Then the parent has to convince the child that if you get the habit putting your feet on the couch, you might sometimes do it when they aren't clean--so it's a bad habit.

Another thing which is impolite is to only provide seat that are comfortable for adults...

  • 3
    I think many of our rules of propriety and "politeness" relate to cleanliness. If I were in a mood to have a discussion with my child, I could certainly go into detail about why certain taboos exist. However, a restaurant might not be an appropriate place for such a discussion. You give children too little credit, saying "it's impolite" should be enough and the child would fill in the blanks later.
    – ghoppe
    Mar 16, 2011 at 16:10

We have always spoken to our children as we would speak to each other. We rarely dumb things down but may need to explain afterward. Kids learn quickly, it's just what they do. That being said, unless you're willing to explain and rephrase after, you can just end up with a confused kid subject to an arbitrary rule.


For "impolite" to have any meaning to the child, the child must first understand what, "polite," behavior is. Polite behavior, however, is hardly ever advocated ahead of time.

It is easier to correct bad things when they happen then outline all the proper activities that may be allowed to pass.


For young children, I would use the words "not polite," because they are less likely to understand im polite.

I also endorse one of the other suggestions, "rude" because the term even sounds "rude."


Yes, I would definitely say "impolite." Kids learn vocabulary very quickly, and the words you share with them are a gift they'll use their whole lives. The more words they're exposed to, the more they'll understand, the faster they'll learn. If you don't say "impolite" because they've never heard it before, then next time they won't have heard it before either, and so on. Simply defining the word is less useful to a young than using it in context repeatedly. Don't wait for someone else to teach your kids what you already know, especially if it comes up!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.