Won’t you close the window?

Make yourself at home, won’t you?

Source: "English Grammar", by Angela Downing

The first sentence’s modality is not polite, The second is polite, says the book. But there’s no comment in the book about:

Won’t you sit down?

Is this polite, not polite, or to be suspended until meeting a specific context?

  • 1
    Whether a modal question like this is semantically polite depends on what's being asked. Whether it's actually polite depends on how it's said (tone of voice, stress, intonation, body language, as J.R. says) Q1 asks someone to do something that the speaker wants done, so it's not inherently polite: it's inappropriate. A much more polite modal form is: Might I ask you to close the window? Q2 asks someone to do something for the listener's benefit, not the speaker's, so "won't you" is the appropriate modal form. While there are standard polite structures, it's all case-by-case. – user264 Apr 28 '13 at 3:20

Perhaps Sentence 1 would sound more polite if it were rephrased as:

Would you please close the window?

but the form you provided doesn't strike me as particularly rude; at least, it's not as caustic as:

Why don't you close the window?

Like most politeness questions, though, whether such statements will be regarded as rude or polite often depends more on the tone and inflections of the voice, more so than the words themselves.

I believe that:

Won't you sit down?

is normally regarded as a polite way to let someone know they can have a seat.

| improve this answer | |
  • 4
    I'm flattered that you selected my answer, but I think it would be better to wait a half a day or so, and see if anyone else has anything to add. – J.R. Apr 28 '13 at 2:56

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