Here is part of a story. I cannot understand some of it.

Mama tried to remind them what Thanksgiving was really about, but every time she did, Papa would interrupt. "You'll have to excuse me, my dear," he'd say. "It's time to water The Giant (The Giant is a pumpkin's name)."

I can't understand the sentence, "you'll have to excuse me, my dear,"

Why is "you'll have to" in front of "excuse me"?

closed as off topic by user19148, J.R., tenfour, FumbleFingers, RegDwigнt Nov 3 '12 at 14:40

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  • Please support our sister site specifically for English language learners. Thank you. – RegDwigнt Nov 3 '12 at 14:35
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    @RegDwighт and other closers: I don't see why this question is OT while this question, with 17 upvotes and a +46 answer, is not. – StoneyB Nov 3 '12 at 15:00
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    @StoneyB: your link doesn't work for me. But in any case, the fate of that other question should be discussed on that other question and not here. – RegDwigнt Nov 3 '12 at 16:29
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    I don't think that all native English-speakers, particularly younger ones, would know about the phrase in question. What's wrong with digging into a little "manners archeology" for the benefit of our members and other viewers? – Kristina Lopez Nov 3 '12 at 16:59

“You'll have to excuse me” is a fixed phrase which doesn't mean what it appears to mean.

Phatic expressions like “excuse me” are used to make the social aspect of conversations more pleasant. These expressions are typically fossilized from earlier very formal usage, and often “eroded” — worn down to the point that their literal meaning has vanished. This causes no confusion, however, since it’s the use of the expression, not its meaning, which is important.

“Excuse me”, for instance, is not a demand, as its imperative form implies, but a request, worn down from something like “I ask that you excuse me for interrupting you.”

In your example, Papa is being extra polite; perhaps he feels that a simple “Excuse me” is a little too abrupt, so he extends the expression. His extension, however, does not mean “You are required to excuse me”. “You’ll have to” is understood as if it were an eroded version of something like “I regret that circumstances put you in the unpleasant position of having to excuse, &c.”


Papa is using a form of asking forgiveness for interupting her story. He might have also said, "please forgive me...", or "I beg your pardon...", or "you will have to forgive me but...".

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