There’s a curious thing about the phrase of course. Use it correctly and it’s polite. But use it wrongly and it causes problems. Learn how to use it correctly in this video.

Click here to learn how to use can, could and may to ask for permission
Click here to learn how to use the verb mind in polite requests
Click here to learn more polite phrases for everyday English conversation

Of Course Video Script

‘Of course.’ This is such a useful English phrase, but be careful. If you use it wrongly people might think you’re angry or when you’re not, or they might think that you think they’re stupid. That’s no good! You don’t want to get it wrong, but don’t worry. In this video you’ll learn how to use it correctly.
‘Of course’ is a dangerous phrase because it can be polite or it can be rude. Let’s start by looking at some polite ways to use it.

Are you coming to my party on Saturday?
Yes, of course! I’m looking forward to it. Erm… I was wondering. Can I bring a friend?
Yes, of course. Please do.
Thank you.

‘Of course’ is polite and friendly here. It’s like definitely, certainly. It emphasizes that what we’re saying is true or correct. Of course I’m going to Geri’s party because I REALLY want to go. And Geri will be VERY happy if I bring a friend. When we’re saying yes, ‘of course’ can add emphasis.
The most common way we use ‘of course’ is to reply to requests.

I’m going to lunch.
Oh, can I come too?
Yes, of course.

‘Of course’ means ‘please do – you’re very welcome. OK, here’s another way to use ‘of course’ politely.

Oh. I’m sorry to hear that. OK. Good-bye. We’ve lost a customer.
I tried my best.
Of course you did.
I did everything I could.
Of course, I know you did. Don’t worry about it.

I’m agreeing with Jay here. I’m sympathetic and ‘of course’ is a polite way to agree with what he said.
Now is ‘of course’ always polite? No. So what’s an impolite way to use ‘of course’? Let’s look at one.

Do you need some help?
Of course I do!

Jay is criticizing me here. He’s complaining that I wasn’t helping. If he had asked for help though, it could be different.

Vicki, can you help?
Yes, of course.
Thank you.

Of course is polite here and we’re both happy. So what’s going on? Sometimes ‘of course’ is polite and sometimes it’s not. Well, to understand this, you need to know what ‘of course’ really means.

Double word score. Ha ha. We’re playing scrabble today. I love scrabble.
Vicki’s winning, of course.
By fifty points.
She always wins.

So what does ‘of course’ mean? It means obviously.

I’m really good at scrabble so of course I’m going to win. It’s obvious

If something is obvious – easy to see or understand – we can say ‘of course’. And that’s why we often use ‘of course’ when we say ‘yes’ to requests.

My battery’s flat. Can I use your phone?
Yes, of course.

Of course means the answer is obvious. You know I want to help. Please go ahead. So when people ask us for something, we often say ‘of course’.

Can I borrow these?
Of course!

‘Of course’ means ‘yes’ here and it implies you should already know the answer. Obviously I’m happy for you borrow them.
Now that was a request, but what about offers? When someone offers us something, can we say ‘of course’? Let’s see.

Do you want some more water?
Of course.

Of course isn’t polite here. If an answer is obvious you should know it already.

Of course I want some more water. Why are you asking? Are you an idiot?

‘Of course’ means he thinks I’m stupid. That’s not nice. So what’s the polite way to respond to an offer?

Do you want some more water?
Yes, please.

A simple yes. That’s what you need. Just say ‘yes’ without ‘of course’. Let’s look at another example. Suppose I ask about you about the weather.

What’s the forecast? Is it going to rain?
Yes, of course.

Of course is strange here. It could be a rude because it implies ‘Why are you asking me this? You should already know the answer.’ But I didn’t know the answer. Here’s a better response.

What’s the forecast? Is it going to rain?
Yes, it is.
Oh. I’ve got my car so I can give you a lift if you like.
Thank you very much.

Now that conversation is polite. If someone asks a question and they don’t know the answer, say a simple yes.
Now one more thing. The opposite of course is ‘Of course not’. Again, we say it to add emphasis.

Are you wearing my perfume?
Of course not!

‘Of course not’ means definitely not. Absolutely not.
So can we use ‘of course not’ reply to requests in a polite way? Well possibly. It can happen when we use the verb ‘mind’.

Do you mind if I borrow these?
Of course not.
Thank you.

‘Of course not’ is polite here because of the word ‘mind’. ‘Do you mind?’ means ‘do you object?’ So ‘of course not’ means, ‘No, I don’t object – Obviously I’m happy for you to borrow them’. ‘Mind’ is an unusual verb and we’ve made another video about it. I’ll put a link here.
OK. Let’s check you’ve understood. You’re going to see Geri asking me two questions. Are my answers appropriate or not? And if not, what should I say?

Are you ready?
I love your necklace. Is it new?
Yes, of course.

Did you hear the storm last night?
Yes, of course

Were my answers appropriate? No! Geri’s questions were normal questions, not requests, and she didn’t know what my answer would be. Let’s look at what I should have said.

I love your necklace. Is it new?
Yes. I bought it last week.
It’s very nice.

Did you hear the storm last night?
Yes, I certainly did! Wasn’t it loud?
Lots of thunder.
Yes and lightning too.

Did you get them right? Well done.
OK. I have one more question for you. Do you want to see some more of our videos? I hope you said ‘Yes, of course’. You can subscribe to our channel and if you click the little bell icon too, you’ll get notified when we make a new video. Thanks so much for watching and see you next week! Bye!

Click here to learn how to use can, could and may to ask for permission
Click here to learn how to use the verb mind in polite requests
Click here to learn more polite phrases for everyday English conversation



20 thoughts on “How to use the phrase ‘of course’ – it’s not always polite”

  1. Radek Więckowski

    I am a little confused about the usage of the phrase of course in reply to requests : You wrote that the most common way we use ‘of course’ is to reply to requests:
    I’m going to lunch.
    Oh, can I come too?
    Yes, of course.

    But in online Oxford English Dictionary I read the following: you may not sound polite if you use of course when you answer a request for permission. It can be safer to use a different word or phrase.
    Can I borrow your dictionary?’ ‘Certainly.’ (formal) ‘Sure.’ (informal)

    I would be grateful to you for explanation.
    Thank you in advance,
    Radek from Poland

    1. Hi Radek. I don’t know why the OED says this. ‘Of course’ can be impolite when it’s used to reply to non-permission-request questions, as we explain in the video. The only way it could be impolite in response to a permissions request is if you get the intonation wrong. (All sorts of things would be impolite if you get the intonation wrong.) I wonder if that’s what they were thinking of. Was this from the OED or the OALD? I have a lot of respect for the OED and the OALD, so I’m surprised to find myself disagreeing with them here. I wonder if it’s because they’re concerned about intonation. I also wonder if it’s because they’re concerned learners might confuse permission requests and other questions, which was my concern too – hence us making this video.

      1. What about when it is used in this context, which is how I always hear it, I think it’s rude, and why not say,u are welcome, context is, Thank you for…, Their rude response, Of course!

        1. Oh great thought, David. Of course a more standard answer to ‘thank you’ would be something like ‘My pleasure’, ‘You’re welcome’ or ‘Not at all”

      2. re the upstandingness of The OED…
        the WRITTEN word is completely different from
        the SPOKEN word
        besides using different internal neural/ brain channels.
        besides aural/oral complications of tones.
        if you try pronouncing Chinese tone operates the entire meaning …as in the word MA … mother, horse, etc. etc.
        ok. your expressions are pretty good.

  2. People use of course to much like saying awesome to much. They have no idea how to use the words or how impolite they come off.
    It sounds dismissive and RUDE.
    I said thank you for seeing that my card got to the person intended.
    The person delivering it said of course. Like you idiot why would you think I didn’t deliver it?
    When -you are welcome would have been appropriate and not offensive.

  3. This is a wonderfully thorough discourse on the subject. Congratulations and thank you!

    Recently I’ve been hearing “of course” much more frequently from twenty-somethings here in the U.S. (For the record, I live in the vicinity of New York.) Although I may be misinterpreting things, it feels as if it has a bit of an “Okay, Boomer (you dolt)” connotation. On the other hand, it may have just become a nouveau way of saying “Yes” in the same way that “No problem” sounded like a rude version of “You’re welcome” until I learned that it had simply become the under-30’s preferred way of saying “You’re welcome.” (It still bothers me, but I’ve come to accept it intellectually, much the way “hassle” used to annoy my parents in the 60’s and 70’s until they began to incorporate it into their vocabulary.)

    Anyway, I’m wondering if others have noticed a similar increase in the use of “of course” in place of a simple “yes” — with or without the overtones.

    1. Oh thank you so much for this lovely thoughtful response, Charlie. I loved your take on new usage. Much appreciated.

    2. Absolutely! It’s why I clicked onto this site.

      When you were young, and a parent reminded you that another adult said “Thank you”….was your response “Of course?” I was taught to say You’re Welcome. WHO IS DIRECTING OTHERWISE? Now, when I hear that 20-something say “of course,” I ask; “Of course…what?” 1) Of course you’re thankful that I served you. OR 2) Of course I’m doing this for you, I have no other choice.

    1. Oh interesting! I think the answer is technically yes, but in this circumstance I think we’d all recognize that he was responding to the thanks as he would a request. Especially when he’s been kind wnough to do the dishes! Great question Elizabeth!

  4. Yes! Thank you David. I have asked a number of young adults about this trending response to my expression of gratitude and they simply don’t get why I am offended by this. I take it as a rejection of my appreciation for their service. Just say “You are welcome”.

  5. A bit harsh and over the top, but when I hear “of course” in answer to my “thank you,” these are the thoughts I impute to the speaker:

    “Sigh… would be incomprehensible to me, and even to the least of your ilk, to think that anything less than your bended-knee, bootlicking gratitude were appropriate. Truly, it would’ve gone without saying. But there you’ve gone, saying it anyway. I cannot unhear that; the damage is done. You are not welcome.”

  6. ha… this is why i don’t work in ESL any more….
    a true life video here might indicate more adequately how Human Interaction may differ from INTENTION and ATTITUDE speak as loudly as wordy-words.
    In my book group (mostly AmerEnglish high education) whenever i explain a point the older fellow will loudly snap, “Of course” and continue on to his own speechifying.
    Now i end my own speaking point with the phrase:
    .”and now let’s hear from the ‘of coursicans.”

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