Is it natural to say the following when expressing anger at someone for something they have done, and they don't have the right to do the thing?

Who are you to behave like that?!

Who are you to teach me how to talk to people?!

  • It's completely natural in British English. – Michael Harvey Oct 8 '19 at 21:56
  • And American English. – pfalstad Oct 9 '19 at 0:07

"Who are you to [do something]?" is common in English, and is used to mean "what right do you have to [do something]?", in a situation where the speaker thinks that the listener does not have any such right. "Who are you to tell me what to wear? You're not my parent!" "Who are you to call me a drunkard? You like a drop yourself; everybody knows that!".

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

or if you prefer:

But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'"

Romans 9:20

Who are you, to point your finger at me
Who are you, to tell me I ain't no good
Who are you, who are you
Who are you, who are you

Who Are You? (Mr Probz)

Who are you to question my wisdom with your ignorant, empty words?

Job 38:2

According to the Telegraph, Lavrov berated his boyish British counterpart, asking at one point, “Who are you to f—— lecture me?” The Daily Mail has it as “Who the f— are you to lecture me?” and quotes a Whitehall source saying, “It was effing this and effing that. It was not what you would call diplomatic language. It was rather shocking.”

Russian Minister

Who Are You To Ask Me Who I Am? Two Party Authentication Is A Must

ITSP Magazine

Who are you to tell us what to do? Last week, I came across an article titled "Ladies, Please Stop Doing This On Instagram".

The Odysseyonline

Who Are You to Judge ME?


|improve this answer|||||
  • I can only comment from my own experience as someone living in Britain that the phrase "Who are you to [do something]?" to me is something that comes off as awkward, if I heard someone say this in the wild I would have to complete a double-take. To clarify, the reason this is so awkward is because of how formal it is. If you were yo say something like this, it wouldn't naturally be said so formally. – Matthew Oct 8 '19 at 21:45
  • I hear it lots, and it is generally said informally. In particular, expressions like "who are you to [say something] to me?" – Michael Harvey Oct 8 '19 at 21:55
  • Perhaps we just live in different parts of the UK but I do agree that it makes sense, just weird to myself. – Matthew Oct 8 '19 at 21:57
  • Bristol, born in London, 67 years old. – Michael Harvey Oct 8 '19 at 21:59
  • 1
    Native AmE: Here, it's pretty common and ordinary. I found it mystifying when I first heard it as a little kid, but eventually I understood it when I understood how it expresses perception in relation to a dominance hierarchy. +1 for great range of examples as well as correct explanation. – Ben Kovitz Oct 9 '19 at 21:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.