Could anyone please let me know how should I imply that a negative happening has been what someone has deserved it?

Mother: I'm sorry to have to punish you in this way, but...............!
Bill: I didn't mom!

I know the following three options and to me they all sound idiomatic and natural:

a. you deserved it
b. it served you right
c. you asked for it

By making this thread, I was going to discover the semantic prosody of each case and the possibe shades of meaning between these three options. The only nuance that crosses my mind is that "deserve" is the most formal choice which can cover both positive and negative cases while the other two options seem to be of more negative things.

1 Answer 1


"It serves you right" is usually used with hostility. I wouldn't expect a mother to say this when punishing her child. Assuming the mother is not in an irrational rage, she is punishing the child for his own good. She does not hate him, she loves him. And so this sentence would be inappropriate. It would be more likely to be said by, for example, someone who believes that another person wronged him, and now he sees that person suffering. Like, Al sells Bob a used car. Bob finds all kinds of problems with the car and believes (rightly or wrongly) that Al cheated him on the deal. Then the new car that Al bought breaks down and it costs Al a lot of money to fix it. Bob might say, "Hah hah! It serves you right!"

"You asked for it" is usually used when the speaker is inflicting the punishment. The other two can be used regardless of who or what causes the punishment. Like, Al insults Bob to his face. Bob replies, "You asked for it!" and punches Al in the mouth.

"You deserve it" can be used for both positive and negative things. Like, Al gets a big promotion at work, and his friend Bob says, "You worked hard for it. You deserved it." Or Al gets fired from his job and his enemy Bob smirks and says, "You goofed off all the time and did shoddy work. You deserved it."

  • Thank you @Jay, just may I ask you to provide me with some more explanation regarding "You asked for it"? I think based on your offered explanations it means: "you whated it yourself (and perhaps I am doing it reluctantly, while I didn't want to e.g. pynch you in the face and you forced me to do that)" when the punisher is influcting the due punishment (say a punch in the face) on someone who is being punished. Am I following you?
    – A-friend
    Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 9:40
  • 1
    @A-friend "you asked for it" is usually something people say before doing something nasty. It is not generally used when the person is reluctant to mete out punishment. More when they believe you have provoked them. It is generally said in anger. I'm hedging my words a little here with "usually" and "generally", because not always. But most of the time.
    – Jay
    Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 0:50

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