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(I'm not a native speaker) In this example:

A: Oh. Since we are getting a bar, does that complicate shipping at all?
B: Not at all. It will take the same time to arrive.

Does not at all sound weird, misplaced or rude in that sentence? I've found some dictionary entries showing that not at all is used to say "no" or "not" strongly.

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  • 14
    Note that "not at all" is also used as a reply to thanks (and it is also not rude in this context, quite the opposite!).
    – tomasz
    Jul 14 at 9:57
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    Not at all. It's perfectly acceptable in this context. Jul 14 at 22:05
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    The fact is it can be used BOTH in a seething, angry, way OR in a particularly happy, positive agreeable way. (Do note that exactly the same thing applies to simply the word "No".)
    – Fattie
    Jul 15 at 12:28
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    It's the most polite answer to some questions. "Do you think I'm being stupid here?" Jul 16 at 14:40
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    Because it takes more effort to say and is longer, it can come across as less abrupt than "No" and can hence be more polite
    – Caius Jard
    Jul 16 at 17:27

11 Answers 11

50

Just saying something slightly more strongly is not usually "rude" in English-speaking countries. If person A asks person B if something is a problem, and person B says "not at all", then person A is pleased. 'Not at all' in that conversation is a polite and helpful reassurance that all is well. 'Absolutely not!' said with emphasis might be even stronger and not rude either. If person B said 'of course it bloody isn't' now that would be rude.

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    It's strong, but not rude. To Michael's example above, if person B just answered, "No", person A might not believe them because they didn't say it strongly enough. "Not at all" reassures that we really mean it, not just saying it.
    – gotube
    Jul 13 at 20:58
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    No but their members might ask questions about the situation in English. Jul 13 at 21:41
  • 28
    As always it depends on context. This is correct for OP's example, but if the querent would prefer a positive answer (to, for example: "Do we still pay the same shipping if we're getting a bar?"), then 'Not at all' would come across as less polite. Perhaps use ''with extra emphasis' rather than strongly', so extra emphasis added to an answer that aligns with the desired answer is more friendly whereas extra emphasis on an answer that isn't what is desired is less polite.
    – mcalex
    Jul 14 at 4:51
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    @MichaelHarvey in the past I've seen that the term "strong language"has caused confusion, as its meaning is so different from things like "strongly-worded"
    – Chris H
    Jul 14 at 10:08
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    @Glen_b I'm having a hard time seeing a context where that isn't rude. That very much sounds like Obviously not, why are you even asking?
    – TKoL
    Jul 15 at 8:49
12

"Not at all" in that case is simply a short way of saying "That does not complicate shipping at all". Note that "not" in "Not at all", "Of course not", "Not if...", etc. is being used in place of a prior sentence.

Since the question itself already contains "at all", "Not at all" in your example is not rude or anything.

You ask: "Does not at all sound weird, misplaced or rude in that sentence?"

I answer "Not at all."

11

"Not at all" is simply more emphatic than a simple "no". Whether it's rude or not really depends on what answer the person is hoping or expecting to hear.

In general, if you're giving good news, emphasis is fine; you're telling the person what they want to hear, so the emphasis acts to reassure them that you really mean it, while using language that downplays the answer would feel like you aren't really certain of the information. For example:

A: Since we are getting a bar, does that complicate shipping at all?

B: I don't think so. It should take the same time to arrive.

This would convey that B doesn't really know and is just guessing.

By contrast, if you're giving bad news, it's more polite to downplay the negative, or at least keep it neutral, while emphasis can come off as aggressive, frustrated, or rude, depending on how it's worded.

Downplayed: "Well, potentially. It's possible it may take a little longer." (This is fine, though it may make the listener wonder if they're being honest that it's only a possibility, or if it's definitely going to take longer and they're being dishonest.)

Neutral: "Yes, it will take a few days longer." (It's bad news, delivered as a clear matter of fact, so it's not rude.)

Emphatic: "Oh, absolutely! It will definitely take longer." (This emphasis may come off as rude -- it could suggest I should have already known this and I'm being stupid for even asking, or it might imply that I'm making the speaker do extra work and they resent that fact. But it depends on your relationship and tone of voice; I could say something like this to my brother without implying there's a problem with it, where I probably wouldn't want to speak that way to a customer.)

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    I keep hearing the words of Prufrock's interlocutor when she says “That is not what I meant, at all” It's definitely more emphatic, and since it's unwelcome (to Prufrock), more disappointing. Jul 14 at 19:15
  • Ah, there it is. Lots of others are getting hung up on short vs. long phrasings, and confirming a negative vs. denying an affirmative. But I totally agree that it's situational, depending on whether they perceive a "no" as desirable. Jul 15 at 5:53
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Not at all, there's nothing wrong it this usage. Simply saying 'no' can sound abrupt, as some kind of imperative.

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    +1 for this; shorter is often taken as ruder, and wordier as politer, for whatever reasons. A lot of people will take offense at a simple No, even if the message is positive. "Do I have to give back this million dollars?" "No!" "Well, you don't need to be rude!".
    – CCTO
    Jul 14 at 16:00
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    I like the answer but you might want to double-check your wording.
    – JimmyJames
    Jul 14 at 20:24
8

In your example it's not rude at all, in fact it is more polite if anything since it reassures strongly that their extra order does not complicate things. But consider the following:

-- I made cookies, do you wanna try some?
-- No, not at all!

Now that could be considered more rude than a customary “No, thanks”.

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    In this example there is a complicating factor, the reply is acting as an emphatic rejection,not just an emphatic confirmation of a negative.
    – Stilez
    Jul 14 at 20:22
7

The other answers are fine, but I find it interesting that your question itself seems to "know" the answer:

does that complicate shipping at all?

"Not at all" is the opposite of rude when the question shows concern. You are trying to get across a feeling of "relax, everything's cool". This happened because your question was showing concern.

That wouldn't be the case if the question was showing a strong, affirmative point. Consider:

"Isn't Mary the single most beautiful woman in this world?" "Not at all"

This could be used rudely, though I believe it would need some assistance from the way you would tell it.

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    Exactly this! "Not at all" in this context is actively polite phrasing. Jul 14 at 18:44
5

I'm from the western U.S. and the phrase "Not at all," when used in its most common fashion, is not rude. In fact, in its most common use, I disagree that it's stronger than "no." In our culture, it's simply formal and polite. It's similar to saying de nada (it is nothing) in Spanish, which I hear said all the time by my Spanish-speaking friends.

It should be noted that the phrase in our region is most commonly heard when the negative response has a positive connotation.

Would you mind passing the salt? Not at all!

Compare the same statement with the shorter, more terse "no."

Would you mind passing the salt? No.

In a situation like that (and in our region), using "no" sounds more dismissive, suggesting the person asking the question deserves little or no attention. However, I admit that the distinction is mighty thin and could be more reflective of my social group than my region.

However, compare this with a negative response having a negative connotation:

Will you help us? Not at all.

In this case the response would be very, very rude.

Let me leave you with one more idea, and it's kinda contrary to a statement I made earlier. When used in its most common fashion in my region, the phrase isn't stronger than "no." However, I believe it is fair to say the phrase can be thought of as an "emphasis," a verbal way to place an exclamation mark at the end of a "no." Thus, in a positive context it expresses enthusiasm to support the intent of the request.

Does this dress make me look fat? Not at all!

But it also emphasizes the negative context.

Did you do your homework? Not at all!

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  • Finally a correct answer.
    – Fattie
    Jul 15 at 12:31
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    Oh my goodness, this makes it sound regional. When it's very common in most varieties of English.
    – Lambie
    Jul 15 at 17:30
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    @Lambie That may very well be true, but I don't have enough insight to make that claim. The best I can do is claim a regional perspective. Jul 16 at 2:45
4

In this case it's a business partner assuring the speaker that there is no problem "at all": It is probably welcome news, and the purpose of using "at all" here is to put the person asking at ease and relieve them of any concerns.

In a context like this "not at all" is not only not offensive; on the contrary, it is polite and may even be a little white lie or exaggeration. For example, if you ask a clerk whether it would be a problem to gift-wrap an item you bought they may say "oh, not at all" even though there is a line of other customers waiting. They do this because it is their business policy to do so on request, and they don't want to make the customer feel bad. They say "not at all" even though it is in fact an inconvenience.

In other contexts though it can surely have an offensive edge, in particular as part of a rebuke or refutation: "Are you trying to take advantage of this old lady?" "Not at all, what are you thinking! I'm just helping her!"

3

I think it totally depends on the context. In my opinion using the "not at all" expression is not rude and it actually seems kind of friendly if you just met someone.

In the example you are giving it's not rude, it's friendly and kind.

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    Your answer could be improved with examples and references. Welcome to the ELL.
    – fev
    Jul 14 at 17:21
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I think in your example it doesn't sounds rude. In fact it's a good way to deny something when you don't want to say "no" entirely. This sounds good when the conversation is passive, calm, and polite.

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    Not sure your answer brings anything new to what the other answers have said.
    – fev
    Jul 14 at 20:54
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' Not at all ' does not sound rude. For example, if you were asked, " Are you upset? " you could respond as, " No, not at all "

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  • Your answer does not add anything new to the other answers.
    – fev
    Jul 16 at 14:51

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