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My husband and I disagree over my use of the phrase "Do you want to ..." when I'm asking him to please do something for me, for example "Do you want to sweep the floor while I do the dishes?" or "Do you want to hand me that Coke?"

To me it's an expression that carries the meaning of asking him to do me a favor, but he's not familiar with this and it sounds to him like I'm literally asking whether he wants to do the thing. So I'm trying to figure out if this is a real, known usage, or simply a weird turn of phrase I or my family developed somewhere (it's possible – I'm autistic and my family is pretty unusual).

Is anyone here familiar with this usage?

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    “Would you please . . “ is conventional and polite.
    – Xanne
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 22:23
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    My grandmother said this. It would not stick out to me at all, but having said that I don't think I've heard it for a while.
    – rchivers
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 23:12
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    Very common indeed in British English. [ However, it can be really annoying when you very specifically don't want to do that thing ;-) ] Commented Jul 1, 2021 at 0:12
  • Also widespread in the US. I agree with @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. that it's annoying in the instance he/she cites, and would likely go further.
    – cruthers
    Commented Jul 1, 2021 at 1:16
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    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. Very true, definitely a British idiom if not an American one as well. If you don't want to do but will do it to please the other person you can say "Not really but I will"
    – BoldBen
    Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 8:51

2 Answers 2

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This is a rhetorical device. The intent is to ask the other person to do something, and it would often be rude for them to refuse, phrasing it this way makes it seem less like assigning or ordering them to do it.

As in one of the comments, this wording is often used when the speaker is volunteering to do some other task. The participants in the conversation are often partners, colleagues, etc. and it's normal to divide the tasks. So they're suggesting who should do each task. It would be inappropriate for one to do work while the other does nothing -- the best they can do if they don't want to do the offered task is to suggest swapping roles, e.g.

A: I'll wash the dishes, do you want to dry them?
B: No, I'll wash, you can dry.

This works best when the responder is actually taking on the more bothersome task. This is getting more into the purview of Interpersonal.SE

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Personally I, like your husband, am greatly frustrated by this "idiom." My attitude is probably influenced greatly by my having been an English major and being a practicing lawyer. In my professional world, it is essential that we use words that unambiguously mean want we intend them to mean. I know that family interactions do not need to be that strict, but it is in my DNA to use words that actually have the meaning I am trying to convey.

Viewed through that lens, the "Do you want to ..." formulation feels to me as if the speaker wants to outright ask me to do something but wants to disguise that fact. If you would like for me to do something, I find it much more polite to say, "Will you please ...? The speaker is being straightforward about what she wants and not trying to disguise it as if the question is about what I want. If you actually are more concerned about what I want, go ahead and ask, but don't be offended if I say, "No."

Finally, I could live with the do you want to do X or Y? But that is not how it comes up in my life.

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  • But 'Will you please ...?' is far more in-your-face, hortative or even peremptory, than ''Do you want to ...?'. 'Would you mind ...?' is better hedged, more suitable in many situations. // Pragmatics is often considered as important an aspect of the language as straightforwardness. One has usually to assume that an addressee is far from being a literalist. Phraseology is needed beyond the robotic. Commented Jun 16 at 22:42
  • I agree completely. It is crypto-rudeness disguised as a question. In fact, I find it to be passive aggressive.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 17 at 0:16
  • If you take "will you...?" literally, it's an inquiry about future intention, just like "do you want to...?" If you must be literal, you could say something like "It would be helpful if you..." or "I would like you to..." But you're not really asking a question, you're making a request (or giving an order).
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 17 at 13:22

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