Almost all of my students use the word "cooperate" in this way: "My company cooperates with X." X can be a company or person. For example, if the student works at MediaTek, they will say "We cooperate with Sony and HTC for mobile chip design."

In looking in several dictionaries, the first definition is always "to work together toward a common goal," however the example sentences do not have "work together" as the feeling but "do something you don't really want to do." For example, "ask the child to cooperate and go to bed." I have heard sentences such as "The suspect is cooperating with authorities," or "Her child is uncooperative in class and causes disruptions."

I always thought cooperate has this feeling of "forced" or "unwillingly obliges." Before coming to Taiwan, I never heard people use "cooperate" in the sense of "work with another company." I usually suggest "We work with HTC and Sony." as a better choice. Also, they will sometimes say "I need to / must cooperate with my customers." This usage seems to support my idea of the word, however when I ask for further details they don't feel "unwilling" to work with customers. Some do, though.

Does cooperate mean to work together without any emotional feelings or willingness or obligation? Is cooperate a neutral word?

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    You have misinterpreted the meaning of "cooperate". There is no implication, in general. of coercion. – Hot Licks Sep 12 '15 at 12:31
  • @HotLicks Well, I know it means work together, but isn't it usually used when people don;t really want to but need to? A little kid doesn't want to go to bed early but if they don't cooperate with Mom, then there will be punishment. What about a child who is uncooperative? Do teachers say "Your child is cooperative in class?" – michael_timofeev Sep 12 '15 at 12:42
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    If by "usually" you mean that greater than 50% of the uses imply some sort of coercion, that may be true. But there are many cases where the word is used in a sense where no coercion is implied. And yes, a teacher might say "Your child is cooperative in class." – Hot Licks Sep 12 '15 at 12:44
  • @HotLicks The reason I ask this is because as a teacher living in Taiwan (a country trying their best to make English a second language) I am faced on a daily basis with the wildest uses of English, and I can't always say "That doesn't sound right to me." I mean it doesn't, but I have to be able to cite a rule or reason, otherwise it sounds like I'm just saying "This is my personal perspective." – michael_timofeev Sep 12 '15 at 12:51
  • @HotLicks If I go into a store here I am faced with "classical milk tea" and slices of white bread sold as "toast" and in front of parking lots there are signs that say "preferred altitude 1.7M." – michael_timofeev Sep 12 '15 at 12:55

The word itself is neutral. It's only the examples you gave that have a context of implied threat.


I don't think cooperate is neutral; it implies a mutual willingness to work together; there is normally mutual benefit from the work. It is fairly normal to use it when talking about cooperation between companies. When used in the context of asking a child to go to bed, the child is being asked to work with the authority or parent and go to bed. There's obviously a degree of obligation in that usage but I think of that in the same way as you would a courtesy question.


Cooperation, like assent, can be wholehearted or grudging.

In American English, "work with" is more commonly used to describe mutual ventures, as you suggest:

FlimFlam Inc is working with Disney to create a virtual theme park with hundreds of imaginary rides replete with long waiting lines.

  • I agree but if someone told you "my company cooperates with AT&T." you wouldn't imply something from that? Does cooperate need some sort of phrase or clause so that the right implication happens in the listener's mind? – michael_timofeev Sep 12 '15 at 11:15
  • Is cooperate then a British usage? – michael_timofeev Sep 12 '15 at 11:16
  • No, cooperate is not British English, it is very common in American English. And no, there's no connotation nor undertone of unwillingness. The standard interpretation is mutual desire and willingness. Of course, it's possible, through context and intonation to add such a connotation. – Dan Bron Sep 12 '15 at 11:18
  • I would assume that the desire to cooperate was mutual, absent any qualifier. Not sure whether "cooperate" is the preferred British usage for mutual business ventures. – TRomano Sep 12 '15 at 11:18
  • "Cooperate" is hardly uncommon in American English (or in British English) -- but "working with" is more common. books.google.com/ngrams/… – TRomano Sep 12 '15 at 11:20

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