Prompted by this question I got to thinking about the placement of the word now.

If it's placed before the comma, it refers to an immediate condition:

You don't want to answer this word-placement question now, do you?

You might want to answer the question, but the situation is not urgent. You could answer it tomorrow. In fact, it might preferable to answer that question tomorrow if, say, it was your lawyer talking to you and your answer was going on the record.

But if you place it this way,

You don't want to answer this word-placement question, now do you?

it hasn't anything to do with time. Now functions in a different capacity, but I'm not really sure what that is. An interjection, perhaps? Something else?

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    Now, now, do you really need to know? ... I'd regard this clause-initial now as a discourse marker equivalent to come or oh: a placatory slowing of the conversation and an invitation to reconsider. Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 21:59
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    @StoneyB: Interesting that you think it's "placatory". I think it's the precise opposite. You wouldn't use it when speaking to someone in a deferential register, would you now? Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 22:45
  • @FumbleFingers Quite right; but I would use it with a peer: "Now, FumbleFingers, you don't really think people who carefully avoid splitting infinitives should be put up against a wall and shot." Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 23:29
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    @FumbleFingers But now I see John Lawler's answer I realize that it does have the opposite use as well: "Now see here, you, who died and made you God?!" Context is everything. Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 23:33
  • Now let's think about this. Yes, you could say now there is an invitation to reconsider. But in that particular sentence, isn't it always the case that including it either has no effect on the implied relationship between speaker and addressee, or it slightly accentuates the sense of "talking down to someone"? I can't see how the word now itself could be held to add (or even, underline) an element of "placation" that's not already there anyway. Commented Jan 5, 2013 at 16:54

3 Answers 3


The deictic temporal use of now is Semantic.

The meaning of the now of now do you? is not Semantic but Pragmatic. It's what's known as a Discourse Particle or Pragmatic Particle in the trade. It's called a Conversational Management Marker in this paper. (Very boring terminology, I agree. Science is like that; at least it's not in Latin.)

This particular now is often associated with (any combination of (images of)) a shaking finger gesture, a sneering facial expression, and a taunting intonation curve, together comprising a potential off-record face challenge, to put it in terms of politeness theory, one of the branches of pragmatics.

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    @FumbleFingers -- no, it's "Okay, here ya go" (in my dialect of English), as he hands me a pint of IPA, per request. Making puns is one of the Seven Warning Signs of Linguistics. Commented Jan 5, 2013 at 3:34
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    omg - I had no idea that IPA was known outside England. Haven't drunk it in years. Cheers for the cigar though - "I'll have whatever you're smoking!" (anyway, J-Lo would have been cuter! :) Commented Jan 5, 2013 at 4:48
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    The best IPA in America for both of you. Get it on draft, if possible.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jan 5, 2013 at 12:01
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    @JohnLawler: No, it's OK. I'm mollified by shiny objects.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jan 5, 2013 at 14:19
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    You might also consider Brutal IPA.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jan 5, 2013 at 15:08

‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’ refers to words that ‘relate ideas to each other, helping to show the logic behind the information offered’ as conjuncts. Now, as used in the OP’s example, seems as if it might fit this description. The LSGSWE (‘Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English’), however, goes rather further, and places such words under the overall heading of ‘Linking adverbials’:

The main function of linking adverbials is to clarify the connection between two units of discourse. Because they explicitly signal the link between passages of text, they are important devices for cohesion.

The LSGSWE identifies six major semantic categories of linking adverbial: enumeration and addition, summation, apposition, result/inference, contrast/concession and transition. Now is given under the category of transitional adverbials, but it seems as if the authors have in mind such use as ‘Now, that may be true, but . . .’ It’s more likely that the use of now in the OP’s example is as one of those linking adverbials that 'mark a concessive relationship: they show that the subsequent discourse expresses something contrary to the expectations raised by the precedingclause.' Now is not given as an example under that category, but it seems similar to one or two that are. In particular, it seems to perform much the same function as terminal though.

Now as used in the OP’s example is likely to occur only in speech, and, as such, its sense will be enhanced by prosody rather than by punctuation.

(For anyone unfamiliar with it, the LSGSWE is the stripped-down version of the magisterial ‘Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English’.)

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    @Robusto. Thanks for the edit. It is right that we remain dispassionate and neither like nor dislike adverbials. Commented Jan 5, 2013 at 12:08

I'm not really qualified to say what you should call the role of the word "now" in the second example, but I don't think it's right to say it hasn't anything to do with time.

To my mind, it's something like the opposite of a "hedge" (a mitigating word or sound used to lessen the impact of an utterance). Including "now" has the effect of emphasising that you want someone to pay attention/respond now (at this moment, not when/if they get around to it).

So I'll invent my own terminology, and call it an aggressive/belittling "anti-hedge". Alternatively (shamelessly swiped from StoneyB's comment above), it's a discourse marker which in OP's constructions is primarily intended to cast the speaker in a superior position to whoever he's addressing. As can be seen from the fact that repeating it at the start of an utterance conveys an immediate impression of a parent talking down to a child.

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    Yup. Cigars all around. Though I'll take an IPA, thanks. Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 23:27
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    @JohnLawler ˌoʊkeɪˈhiːɹjəˌgoʊ
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 23:53

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