How to use the phrase ‘of course’ – it’s not always polite

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.
Oh.
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

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

  • October 16, 2018 at 7:25 am
    Permalink

    Hi,
    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.
    Example:
    Can I borrow your dictionary?’ ‘Certainly.’ (formal) ‘Sure.’ (informal)

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

    Reply
    • October 16, 2018 at 7:44 am
      Permalink

      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.

      Reply
      • September 25, 2019 at 1:39 pm
        Permalink

        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!

        Reply
        • September 27, 2019 at 2:55 pm
          Permalink

          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”

          Reply
  • June 27, 2019 at 5:12 pm
    Permalink

    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.

    Reply
    • July 3, 2019 at 10:48 pm
      Permalink

      Thanks for this example Loraine.

      Reply

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