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On two separate incidents, I have been told that the sentence below (without any context) is rude.

I want a chocolate now.


Question:

Is this an absolute interpretation? Where is the argument for "rude" coming from - is it the use of "now" at the end? Or is it the use of "I want"? Please give me a good explanation.


Reasons why the sentence is rude.

In this answer, the answerer wrote

  • ... saying it like that sounds like you're ordering someone to get you chocolate quite rudely.

  • "I want chocolate now" sounds rude, as it sounds like saying "You give me chocolate now!" which is basically rudely ordering someone to do it (in comments).

Earlier today, another user said the following in the comments to my meta post:

  • I believe that "I want a chocolate now" is rude, and that it is good for native-speakers to warn learners of this, lest learners inadvertently say something rude when they intend to be polite ...

  • An adult who wants to eat chocolates while in company can buy & carry their own & needn't ask anyone else for one. So the remark must be from a child ...

  • "I want..." is rude, and "now" expresses impatience, & is even ruder.


Am I right with this explanation?

I think the sentence "I want a chocolate now" just by itself does not convey rudeness. It could sound rude with a proper context. None of the following sentences sound rude to me (I made them up):

(1) I had a long day. I want a nice, long shower now.
(2) That was a wonderful meal. Time for dessert! I want a chocolate now.
(3) Oh man, I want that drink now.
(4) I have worked for 3 months without a break. I want a vacation now.

In my opinion, the two words "I want ..." [without a tone] says nothing about a person ordering someone to do something rudely. "I want a vacation now" is not rude, unless it's meant to be.

Also, it is not clear to me how one knows the speaker wants the listener to go get them a chocolate when the speaker says "I want a chocolate now" (there is no context here). I can say this to my friend. It does not say anything about me wanting them to fetch me a chocolate (see 4th bullet in the reasons section).

In this post, FumbleFingers wrote "But 'rudeness' is a highly subjective issue ...", and StoneyB wrote "What does matter is your tone of voice and other non-linguistic cues you provide."

I think it's not right to state that "I want ... now" is rude without any context, intention, non-verbal cues, and tone of voice.

  • 1
    Without any context, you're right: it's not possible to say with certainty. But even absent linguistic context, this is some of the cultural context that surrounds the phrase "I want... now" youtube.com/watch?v=5wAlQf4WdiE – Katy Dec 7 '19 at 9:45
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    If you're merely stating what you want, "I want chocolate now" doesn't necessarily sound rude. But if it is an order, yes it does. But as you said, it is subjective; some people might find it OK. It is more polite to say it indirectly, for example, "I'm craving for chocolate". But it'll be up to the listener to infer what you really want to say. This isn't a matter of grammar, but of pragmatics; it is how you use a speech act. – user178049 Dec 7 '19 at 9:51
  • @user178049 Thanks for the comment. Would you be willing to write an answer? There is a bounty thing going on, if you are interested. :) – AIQ Dec 10 '19 at 1:16
  • @Katy Thanks for the comment. Would you be willing to write an answer? There is a bounty thing going on, if you are interested. :) – AIQ Dec 10 '19 at 1:17
  • @Katy I see I am not the only one who thought of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's "I want it now" song. Without any other context people might be subconsciously thinking of the selfish child from that movie because of the chocolate reference, which might be why so many people think that phrase in particular is rude. – windblade Dec 12 '19 at 3:35
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+50

You're exactly correct.

The reason that

I want a chocolate now.

might be rude, is because it could be meant to imply that the speaker expects that the listener provide him/her with chocolate immediately; in other words they are demanding chocolate.

Lets put aside notions of if or not this sort of demand is always "rude", of course there's a subjective judgment there. The important point is that these words may or may not convey a demand.

If read with a normal tone and stress pattern, no such demand is implied. The speaker is merely expressing a current desire. The meaning is just the same as

Now I want a chocolate.

and can have a sense of continuation of a series or sequence of events, as sentences starting or ending with "now" often do.

If on the other hand, the speakers pitch rises and falls on 'now' and that word is time-stressed, that is the diction that conveys the meaning of demand. (We'd often think of little children as saying things like this, and that's probably why "chocolate" makes more likely to think of it in this way than, say, a "second opinion").

Another stress pattern - with the pitch rising on the object, can connote a sense of: "the thing that just happened here before us made me think of / want a chocolate". Even: "Hey, think of chocolate, wouldn't that be great just now?" "I want a chocolate, now, don't you?"

In writing, when an author wants to convey that a demand has been made - say by an obnoxious child, an exclamation is always used and visual emphasis is usually given:

"I want a chocolate NOW!"

or set off (implying the demand stress pattern and also a little pause which also signals the intention), like

"I want a chocolate. Now."

or some such. If you imagine it in a book, you'll realize it would never just be written as it appears in the original question; that would look weird, flat, or just like bad writing in this situation - it's totally non-expressive - because /this is not the default/.

  • Thanks for the answer. Can you elaborate on what you mean by "that is the diction that conveys the meaning of demand". – AIQ Dec 9 '19 at 22:07
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    "the speakers pitch rises and falls on 'now' and that word is time-stressed" describes the diction that indicates that there is a demand and not simply a current desire. – BadZen Dec 15 '19 at 3:33
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Your example sentence

I want a chocolate now.

May or may not be rude, it depends on context and tone of voice. Usually if someone is asking for something from someone else then

I would like a chocolate now please.

Would be the polite way to ask, most people who feel it's rude are assuming something is being asked of someone. However, if I'm going through the kitchen grazing on different nibbles and I think/say to myself

I've already had some graham crackers and potatoe chips, I want a chocolate now.

Would not be rude.

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