4

Are imperatives considered rude if they are used without "please" and "kindly"?

For example:

Go ahead
OR
Please, go ahead.

and

Give me the eggs
OR
Please, give me the eggs

  • 2
    In the majority of interactions with peers or superiors, yes, it is more polite to use a request format rather than a command. Commands imply superiority and suggest that respect is secondary. – Ben Nov 29 '14 at 16:51
  • 7
    If you mean "Go ahead" in the sense of "You walk in front of me so you get shot if anyone does", "Please" would be good. But if you just mean "You have my permission to do that" (As in, "Do you mind if I eat the last chocolate bar?" "Go ahead.") then there's no need for "please". – David Richerby Nov 29 '14 at 17:07
  • Where do you mean by "the west"? The western US? Western Australia? – Joe Nov 30 '14 at 8:05
  • If you do use "please" in the examples above, you would not normally follow it by a comma. You would write "Please give me the eggs" or "Please go ahead". – tautophile May 6 '18 at 19:54
7

In my experience (in the Midwestern United States) I would recommend the following:

When you are using an imperative in a way that benefits the other person, it's not common to say please, and it's not rude. 'Go ahead', 'take one', 'let me know if you need help', are examples where you would not say please because you're really offering the other person something.

If you're using an imperative to ask someone to do something for you ('Give me the eggs', 'help me move this'), then it would probably sound rude to not say please. However, people will often phrase it as a question: 'Could you give me the eggs, please?' 'Can you help me move this, please?' If it's phrased as a question, please is not necessary, but it makes it sound more polite, especially with people you don't know very well.

An exception to the second case is that people who are friends will often use the imperative without saying please and without phrasing it as a question, because it's faster.

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  • 1
    Another situation where I would not say please is where there is a long list of instructions. I once read a software manual/tutorial which had "please" before every imperative. The unnecessary wording was very distracting. Similarly when ordering in a busy restaurant or bar, "please" can get in the way. Starting with pleasant greeting, and a "Can we have" at the beginning and a "thank you" at the end can be a better way to establish rapport (The "thank you" also serves as a signal that you have finished ordering.) – Level River St Nov 30 '14 at 1:20
  • @steveverrill No, you can't 'please' everybody. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 20 '14 at 17:42
14

Expectations regarding explicit markers of politeness when an imperative is given are highly context-dependent (and not just in western society, of course).

They will be affected by such things as the urgency of a given situation; the setting (e.g. school, workplace, army); the existence of a hierarchical/power relationship (or lack of it); the existence of prescribed communication protocols (e.g. air traffic controller/pilot); the degree of familiarity or emotional closeness/kinship shared with one's interlocutor; the difference in age (e.g. adult/child); and individual temperament or personality. What might be considered rude behaviour in one situation might be regarded as efficient communication in another.

I'm sure I have left out quite a few other variables, but I think you have a basic outline of what kinds of factors and constraints might be relevant.

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  • Your answer is more comprehensive, but Josef's answer is more practical. I wish both answers could be integrated... – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jan 23 '16 at 16:10

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