I know that when teachers want to speak briefly with their students, they often say

Can I have a word with you?

And depending on the tone, students could be in for it.

What I'd like to know however, is whether it's okay the other way around. As in for students to use this phrase when they want to speak to their teachers? Or is it only appropriate to be used by people of senior status when addressing those of junior status? And if it goes the other way it would come across as rude.

  • 2
    It's polite and appropriate, but there is a slight chance that it could be misinterpreted as peremptory. Instead, just say: "Excuse me, can I talk to you for a few minutes?" Jul 10 '17 at 5:08

I personally disagree with P. E. Dant's comment, as it would probably get misinterpreted quite often - see below.

In my opinion, it's not really OK the other way around - the phrase carries with it a stern implication, such as in your example. If a student said "Can I have a word with you?" to their teacher, the teacher would probably find it to be mocking of their status. The reason for that is that there are other sentences which mean the same thing, but don't carry that implication - the choice of words when spoken from a junior to a senior seems out of place.

For example, something like this sentence:

Can I speak to you for a moment, {insert honorific here}?

Is more appropriate for this scenario, as it carries with it the same politeness. I'm a student, and this is what I would personally say to my teachers if I wanted to talk to them about something.

I think a reason why it carries with it a "senior-to-junior" impression is because it's usually spoken by superiors to inferiors in the first place, and it seems weird and out-of-place to say that sentence the other way around.

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