13

I'm not a native speaking English person. I asked questions like this "You want a drink of water, or not?" "You want to have a pizza, or not?'

Then I was criticized by a native English speaker who claimed these questions are rude. Are they? And I was supposed to start them with "Do you...?". Do I have to use "Do you" every time I ask a question?

Best regards, P.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Drew, TimLymington, Phil Sweet, Ellie Kesselman, Glorfindel Apr 12 '17 at 6:53

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 11
    They are sometimes rude, but sometimes not. There is no answer to the general question you ask. – GEdgar Apr 11 '17 at 13:59
  • 7
    It's not necessary to add or not. It's quite sufficient just to ask: Would you like a drink of water? or Would you like a pizza? – Ronald Sole Apr 11 '17 at 14:01
  • 5
    It could be said in a rude manner (i.e., emphatically), but it isn't rude simply as a question. However, it isn't necessary and has a nuance. If you ask "Do you want to eat a pizza?", there are a lot of possible answers, including, "I think I'd rather have a sandwich." If you end the question with "or not", you're implying a binary choice. – fixer1234 Apr 11 '17 at 14:01
  • 3
    Good question without an easy answer. The way the question is asked - the intonation, the rhythm, the emphases ... (the prosody) is definitive and can be highly nuanced. – Dan Apr 11 '17 at 14:28
  • 3
    "Or not" is almost always unnecessary, and can make give a clear, short answer to the question more difficult. – Wayfaring Stranger Apr 11 '17 at 16:50
45

The "...or not?" phrasing seems to imply that your correspondent has been undecided for a while, changing decisions back and forth and you are now urging them to make up their mind once and for all.

-- Let's go for a walk.

-- OK. But give me 5 minutes.

-- OK.

// 5 minutes later

-- Hey? Are you coming?

-- Umm... I don't know. I still need some time.

-- How much time do you need?

-- Another 5 minutes.

-- OK...

// Another 5 minutes later

-- So are you coming or not?

So I would say that or not may imply some sort of urgency or finality that may come across as rude in some situations, but naturally much depends on the context.

  • 25
    I think this is the nub of it, it is a phrasing that for native speakers is often reserved for an 'argumentative' situation and will therefore tend to make people feel defensive when it is used outside of that context. – Spagirl Apr 11 '17 at 16:00
  • Yes i agree, good answer. You might as well say... "hurry up". That is certainly rude. – Gary Apr 11 '17 at 16:34
  • 1
    In other contexts, it can add politeness, though. If I say to my boss "This book seems to be misfiled. Would you like me to refile it, or not?" it can mean "...or am I actually wrong and it is filed correctly?" i.e. it's less presumptuous. – MissMonicaE Apr 11 '17 at 16:40
  • 2
    @MissMonicaE that also changes the subject of the question though. If you're asking "should I do X or not?" (first person) it can be interpreted in a "rude" manner but is very dependent on tone and context; if it's a situation where the listener knows you genuinely do not know whether you should, no rudeness would be interpreted. If you're asking "are you going to do X or not?" (second person) though, it frequently -- but not always -- implies some sense of urgency and/or impatience. – Doktor J Apr 11 '17 at 17:03
  • This answer is correct. I think I would describe the typical use as exasperation or annoyance at the other person's waffling or delays. "I've been waiting 30 minutes, are you coming or not?" – BradC Apr 11 '17 at 21:51
6

Tone of voice counts for a lot.

If I heard a non-native English speaker asking whether I wanted water, or not? with a pleasantly rising-pitched, questioning inflection at the end, I'd think differently about the asker's mood, intentions and attitude than I would if I heard anybody, native or otherwise, talking about whether I wanted water or not in a blunt, downward-pitched rhetorical-statement sounding inflection at the end.

  • 1
    Sure, we allow non-native speakers a fairly wide latitude, but if a native speaker added "...or not", even with an upward inflection, I'd probably interpret it as thinly disguised exasperation in most contexts, or perhaps view it as passive aggressive. – BradC Apr 11 '17 at 21:55
2

The standard way to ask a question in English is Do you [verb].

Do you want to have a pizza? Or not? Do you want to have a pizza, or not?

If you chose to not use Do you as the regular form of question, this usually implies either that you know the person well and maybe that you have been having a longer conversation up to the point when the question is asked.

Want to have a pizza, or not? Want to have a pizza or not?

Dropping off the Do you is informal but most of all implies you are already in a conversation or hanging around with a person when you ask the question. So, it can be seen as rude if you ask a question without it.

Often, with children who have been making a ruckus, a parent might leave off the Do you in asking the question. In that sense, it is almost a threat meaning: If you [the child] do not start behaving well, you can't have a pizza. So, it can also denote annoyance or irritation. Couples when annoyed with each other might also leave off the Do you. Also, good friends might leave it off because they know each other well and in that case, it is merely informal.

The or not is neither rude nor not rude.

1

The more your question emphasizes the "or not" phrase, the more impatience a native English speaker will generally perceive in the way the question was asked. I.e. "Do you want a pizza or not?" is generally fine (although the "or not" is superfluous) "Do you want a pizza OR NOT?" would generally imply "Make up your mind!"

Also, "Do you ...." is generally used, as opposed to "Do". A better colloquial usage might be to just shorten the question to a single noun: "Pizza?" which could be used in place of "Do you want to share my pizza?", "Do you want to go out for pizza?", etc.

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