How dared you speak to me like that?

Is this a correct way to use "dare"? Shouldn't we say?

How dare you speak to me like that?


6 Answers 6


Dare is sometimes called a semi-modal verb, because it sometimes patterns like a modal, and sometimes like a normal verb.

When it patterns like a modal, it takes inversion, and "not" negation, rather than do-support ("Dare you?" "I dare not").

When it patterns like a normal verb, it takes do-support: ("He didn't dare go", "Do you dare pick it up?")

Both forms are found, and are grammatical.

Personally I am very happy with how dare you? and find how dared you? strange and awkward. But I observe in the iWeb corpus that how dared [pronoun] is slightly more common than how did [pronoun] dare.

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    I don't know about that "iWeb corpus", but my first thought was to introduce another modal (could) that would allow me to retain dare without inflection (precisely because How dare you! is a "set expression" nowadays). Perhaps iWeb could reinforce what I found from Google Books. Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 18:39
  • @FumbleFingers Yes. For the past, I would definitely use How could you dare to speak to me like that? (What's funny is I was in the middle of commenting to this effect, when I looked up and saw your comment.) Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 20:48
  • @Jason: Your comment raises another interesting point. (I sense an "EDIT2" coming on for my answer! :) I feel it's significant that your first thought for the "past tense" version includes the infinitive marker - which virtually never occurs in the standard present tense version. Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 13:27
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    @Colin: This question certainly seems to have legs! I've just noticed that when saying that you're perfectly happy with How dare you?, you chose to transcribe it with a question mark. I haven't actually looked in Google Books ('cos they don't have any way to "auto-count" possible alternative punctuation marks), but I'd be prepared to bet that this specific usage is more likely to be written with an exclamation mark. Even though this is relatively uncommon for any utterance that in syntactic terms is phrased as a "question". Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 17:27

Technically speaking, if you were complaining about how someone had spoken to you in the past, you could reasonably use past tense dared.

But idiomatically, the expression How dare you! [do/say something outrageous] is something of a "fixed expression / set phrase", and I suspect some people might have misgivings about modifying dare for tense like that. To my ear, it would be at least slightly more "natural" (though of course it can't be fully natural, given it's riffing of a "frozen form") to use...

How could you dare speak to me like that! (using could as the past tense of can)

But that's a fine point. For most purposes, OP's version (or indeed, How could you have dared...) wouldn't be noticed as either "incorrect" or "unusual".

EDIT: Or perhaps not such a "fine point" after all. Here are some relevant searches in Google Books...

How dare you say that! - 25,100 hits for the "idiomatic standard" present tense version
How could you dare say that! - 211 hits
How could you dare to say that!1 - 3 hits
How dared you say that! - 3 hits
How did you dare say that! - 0 hits

Note that I added the exclamation marks myself (GB doesn't do punctuation). Obviously, that could be followed by a clause (How dare you say that I'm fat!), but that would be the same for all variations, so the relative preferences should still be valid.

1 I think it's relevant that another competent native speaker suggested including the infinitive marker to in the past tense version.

The "standard" present tense version is well over 100 times more common than past tense could, but GB has only 6 hits for How dare you to say that! (that's less than 1 in 4000, compared to 1 in 70 for including to in the "forced" past tense alternative).

This suggests to me that although competent native speakers know perfectly well that (for no good reason apart from established idiomatic usage) we don't include to in the standard usage, there's somewhat more uncertainty when it comes to the past tense version. Most likely that's because it's inherently a present tense usage (vociferously objecting to the transgressor, for what he just said/did). We become more uncertain about how to handle things using the past tense simply because idiomatically, such contexts almost never arise anyway.

In short, although this aspect of usage might "intrigue" learners (or native Anglophones with a particular interest in obscure details), the whole issue is more a matter of What would we say if we had to use this expression in a past tense form? (even though in practice we almost never do), rather than What do we say when we use this expression in a past tense form? (answer: We just don't!).

  • The iWeb corpus is not much help for those examples, perhaps because being a corpus of website material, that sort of direct address doesn't occur much. Only the first of those gets any hits at all: 89 of them. Without "say that", the figures are 4783, 17, 10, 13 for your four phrases respectively. iWeb is one of a dozen corpora available at BYU
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 19:21
  • Rather than adding "EDIT:" at the end and adding relevant info that contradicts one of your claims, you should simply edit your answer to stand as if it were always the best version of itself. Anyone interested in an older version of your answer can simply view the revision history.
    – V2Blast
    Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 22:58
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    "Many users won't have the necessary rep to view the revision history" - You don't need any rep to view the revision history. You can even do it while logged-out, as I just tested in an incognito window. You're right that "few would be motivated to do so anyway", but that's just because there's no need to do so most of the time. The point is for these answers to stand the test of time, rather than being organized like a typical forum. There's no need to mark edits because, similarly to Wikipedia, people are expected to edit answers to improve them as necessary.
    – V2Blast
    Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 19:23
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    The necessary rep to view revision history is 0 — you can do it without logging in, and I’m really astonished that you don’t know that. I agree that edits should not be marked as “EDIT”.  If you want to show the evolution of your answer, I’m sure you can find a more articulate way of doing it. Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 19:27
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    @V2Blast: Dang! You ninja'ed me!   :-(   ⁠ Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 19:28

How dared you to speak to me like that?

I have Grammarly installed, and as I type that sentence, it throws an error asking me to change from 'dared' to 'dare!' So yes, dare is common and soothing to our general knowledge of English!

On the other hand, if you change the question into a statement or sentence, you'll understand that it's grammatical:

You dared to speak to me like that

So, it's just past tense.

But 'How dare you...' is a way common in daily English. Check this -

'dare' also serves as an auxiliary verb chiefly used in questions and negatives


"How dare you/he/she/they [do something (present tense)]" is a set expression conveying present anger that an action is being done, has just been done, or was done in the more distant past. The tense of 'dare' does not change, nor does the tense of the verb of the action being complained about.

I come into my room. You have a glass in your hand. How dare you drink my whisky!

You tell me that your brother called me a fool yesterday. How dare he say that!

I recall that a politician, who I don't support, did a bad thing 20 years ago. How dare he do that!

Although the expression is phrased like a question, it is not one. If we wish to know how someone found the courage to do a dangerous thing in the past, we would phrase the question conventionally. We might say "How did you dare to attack the gang of thugs, armed only with a stick?", or "How did he dare to enter the lion's cage, knowing it might kill him?"

To express sorrow or anger that someone behaved badly, we could ask e.g. "How could you speak to my grandmother like that?"


In short, I believe that most native English speakers in that situation would simply not use that phrase, whether through conscious effort or unconscious decisions.

If I was being told a story by my friend, and my friend described another person wronging him/her, I could say "How dare they do that!", but more likely I'd say "I can't believe they'd do that!" or other phrases that aren't frozen into the present like "how dare you".

"How dared they" would certainly be understood, but it's more likely to be distractingly nonstandard. Using "How dared they" seems to fit better into archaic contexts.

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    "How dare you" is 100% standard in British English, not at all unusual. Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 7:18
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    @MichaelHarvey That's not the point. User45266 is saying that you would not say that in his example context.
    – user22427
    Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 8:30

How dared you to speak to me like that

is fine. It refers to a past event.

How dare you speak to me like that

is fine. It refers to a current event.

How dared you speak to me like that

is just wrong. It scrambles the time markers in what is an idiomatic construction.

EDIT: Weather Vane and I agree on the substance. And

How did you dare to speak to me like that

seems far more euphonious than "how dared you," but there is a perfectly acceptable past form of the verb "dare."

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    I don't agree with much of this answer. How dared you is using dare as a modal, and in that form, it doesn't take a to infinitive (see [this])(grammaring.com/the-semi-modal-dare). On the other hand, How dared you speak to me like that is perfectly consistent time-wise, because speak is a bare infinitive, with no tense. Compare How can you speak like that? (present) vs How could you speak like that? (past).
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 18:14
  • @ColinFine: I didn't have the relevant knowledge (or terminology! :) to hand when I somewhat cautiously advanced my proposition that it doesn't feel quite right to explicitly change the tense of dare itself in this particular "remonstrance, expostulation, call-it-what-you-will". But after posting it, and seeing that there were two other answers disagreeing with what I thought, I was heartened to find what I consider "supportive data" from Google Books! Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 18:33

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