4

Help yourself to a drink, _________?

A. Will you

B. Won't you

According to the answer sheet, B is the answer because the question is in fact an offer made to someone and B is more polite. Does that make A incorrect? What about "would"? That can fit in the sentence too. What difference do these 3 make in the meaning? Plus, is B really more polite? It seems kind of frustrated to me.

9
  • Yes, would for politeness, hence "won't you".
    – Kris
    Jul 5, 2017 at 8:58
  • 3
    @Kris - What? would implies wouldn't. won't is a contraction of will not; would doesn't come into it.
    – AndyT
    Jul 5, 2017 at 9:39
  • You are allowed to wait more than 5 seconds before picking an answer as the best one! If you wait you may get better ones.
    – AndyT
    Jul 5, 2017 at 9:51
  • @AndyT sorry XD I'm relatively new to the community! And btw, your answer made it pretty clear to me. I mean, I got what I posted this question for.
    – Ithilel
    Jul 5, 2017 at 9:59
  • @Ithilel - Fair enough. Glad I could help :)
    – AndyT
    Jul 5, 2017 at 10:00

1 Answer 1

4

Well, either is grammatically correct, but they have different meanings.

When using question tags, we use the negative form of what we want/mean. According to this eslbase.com page:

If the auxiliary verb in the sentence is affirmative, the tag is negative.

You’re Spanish, aren’t you?

If the auxiliary verb in the sentence is negative, the tag is affirmative.

You’re not Spanish, are you?

So, "Help yourself to a drink, won't you?" implies the opposite: you should help yourself to a drink. It is therefore a polite offer.

"Help yourself to a drink, will you?" implies the opposite: you shouldn't help yourself to a drink. It might be used in situations such as someone random walking into a private party, and taking a drink. It might be followed up with some aggressive behaviour by the person who said it to the person who took the drink.


Just to make it confusing, I've thought of another meaning of "Help yourself to a drink, will you?". It could be used when the speaker is frustrated that somebody hasn't done something already. It would usually have the word "just" at the beginning:

Just help yourself to a drink, will you?

I can't think of any grammatical "rule" for this usage. But it certainly isn't a polite offer. In speech you could tell this apart from the "aggressive / you shouldn't have done that" meaning above by the stress, emphasis and speech pattern/timing. I can't work out how to make that clear in writing, as the "will" will be stressed in both versions. In writing the context should make it clear which is used.

6
  • Perhaps perfect grammar. Doesn't match usage, though.
    – Kris
    Jul 6, 2017 at 7:19
  • @Kris - I'm more than prepared to believe that usage is different, but you don't indicate what the differences are. Are you talking about other uses for "won't you", other uses for "will you", both? What are these other uses?
    – AndyT
    Jul 6, 2017 at 8:28
  • 1
    There's also the unmarked and certainly not impolite "Help yourself to a drink, will you?" when you've brought a good friend home and you've got to rush to the loo, say. "Help yourself to a drink" is perhaps more usual here. Apr 29, 2022 at 18:38
  • @EdwinAshworth Yes I was going to suggest that "Help yourself to a drink, will you?" (or won't you"), while correct are a little dated - at least in the UK. My own preference would be for "Do please help yourself to a drink".
    – WS2
    Apr 29, 2022 at 19:37
  • Fascinating... I'd use @WS2's formulation, or perhaps simply "Help yourself to a drink (...if you'd like)"
    – Dan
    Apr 30, 2022 at 13:04

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.