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I'm want to ask about something I heard in the last part of the movie staring Russell Crowe (Robin Hood) and Oscar Isaac (king John).

When the king John is trying to convince people to join forces against the French attack and Robin is approaching there is this dialog:

Robin: I want to speak.

People screaming: Let him speak, let him speak.

King John: Speak if you must.

So what's the meaning of the "Must" in this sentence "Speak if you must"? Looks awkward say this instead if "Speak if you want", "Speak if you need"?

  • ...neither my own experience, nor this NGram, suggest that "go if you must" for example is in any way "dated" or otherwise "awkward/unusual". Capitalised as an explicit imperative it actually seems to be gaining currency. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 9 '14 at 15:20
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King John evidently does not want Robin Hood to speak. Figuring the crowd wants to hear what Robin has to say, and since Robin is eager to speak, the King figures he may as well let him speak.

The expression "if you must" indicates a bit of impatience on the part of the one who says it. This person thinks there are better things to do than what you want to do, but he'll let you do your thing--again, only if you must. Notice, however, that in the case of Robin, the "must-ness" is on Robin's part, not the King's. If the King were to say, "You must not speak," then Robin would not have spoken. The King's words, in that case, are an order. Must-ness, as answerer Jasper Loy, above, suggests, indicates something that has to be done, in the opinion of the one who wants to do it.

Now if the person who wants to do or to say something thinks it can wait, he might say,

"Well, it's not really that important. I can wait until a later time,"

in which case, whatever needed to be said or done wasn't that important.

The word must denotes something urgent, but what you consider urgent and what another person (such as the King) thinks is urgent are not necessarily the same. If the person in charge thinks it's not urgent, he may still give his subordinate permission to speak, but only because he has the authority to grant permission.

In conclusion, perhaps an example might help. Keep in mind, the person who says "If you must" is a little impatient, and the person to whom it is said thinks what he has to say or do is urgent.

A husband and wife are having a serious discussion. All of a sudden, their 18-year-old daughter bursts into the room and says, "Mom. Dad. I have some really good news," to which the mother says to the daughter, "Can't you see your father and I are having a serious discussion?" to which the daughter says, "But Mom, it just can't wait!" The mother, a little annoyed, and with a sigh, says "Well, if you must tell us your good news, and it just can't wait, go ahead and tell us." The daughter then says excitedly, "Mom. Dad. I've just been accepted at Harvard!"

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It simply means speak if you have to.

  • Is this something British specific? I mean, is there a chance someone ask you in a Starbucks "order if you must"? – Vitor Canova Mar 9 '14 at 14:46
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    @VitorCanova, I don't think that anyone uses it much, though I've heard it before. The only author I know of who really routinely uses it is Shakespeare. – recursive recursion Mar 9 '14 at 18:11
  • @VitorCanova the term "if you must" is impolite, and implies that the speaker would rather you did not do the thing. So, perhaps if the server was speaking to someone they would prefer not to serve, they might say that, but odds are they would get a talking-to from their manager afterwards. – Dewi Morgan Jan 30 '16 at 3:40
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Semantics:

Robin: I want to speak.

I have something important to say.

People screaming: Let him speak, let him speak.

Yes - yes - yes

King John: Speak if you must.

I'm still King, whatever you say. I won't be so stupid to say no when the people say yes. But I'm not gonna endorse you. I'll just won't prevent you from speaking.

So this means kind of I don't really care about your opinion but if I cannot stop you from sharing it with me anyway, go ahead and leave me in peace afterwards. ;)

  • Thanks , the last paragraph you wrote is just what had happened there. You clarified a bit for me in the end. ;) – Vitor Canova Mar 9 '14 at 23:52
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Here "speak if you must" clearly shows that king is not approving the idea of robin talking.but since robin wants to talk and people wants to hear him speak , the king unwillingly tells him to do so;but he still doesn't agree.here "must " is used in an assertive manner.it is used as a signal of intent to make the other person understand that "I don't like it" or "it's not a good idea" Eg : tony wants to go for a movie But his father doesn't want him to.so if tony insists, his father would unwillingly say "go if you must" this is usually used in situations when you are in a fix or if you have no other option and the other person happens to be someone you respect or love.

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King John is saying... Speak if you have to do that..if you have no other choice than telling me what you have to say and people want you to do it. The use of MUST is correct.

  • Thanks Josh61, but actually I didn't think it was wrong either. – Vitor Canova Mar 9 '14 at 23:54
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    Not in a hell's chance. I give him 3 weeks and then he's back complaining about newcomers, demeaning women users, and arguing with the mods. – Mari-Lou A Aug 19 '17 at 21:41

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