Suppose a a woman has a very impolite, naughty and bad-tempered child; once a number of relatives come by to their house as guests. Before their arrival, mother speaks to her child. She wants to mention some points to her child in order to avoid losing face; are my following self-made examples mean the same in such sense:

  • Please preserve our dignity in front of the guests.
  • Please maintain our dignity in front of the guests.
  • Please save face in front of the guests.

For me they all mean the same excepting one point which differentiates the last one from the other tow; in my view, the last one can be used either before or after occurrence of an event in which one would lose his / her face but the first two are used just before occurring a problem (at least) in my scenario.

  • BTW-Comment, Why did you prefer to omit the definite article before "front"?
    – Cardinal
    Aug 1, 2016 at 14:18
  • 4
    @Cardinal In front of X is correct here; it means approximately "at a position in the direction X is facing", so in this context it means "in the presence of". In the front of X means something different: approximately in X, in its front part. Aug 1, 2016 at 14:24
  • I always thought "saving face" was something you did after an event to minimize the embarrassment and social disgrace caused by the event. Aug 2, 2016 at 17:39

5 Answers 5


Dictionary definitions of saving face and preserving or maintaining dignity may seem the same, but usage tends to be different. Saving face is normally a term used after the fact, not before the act. A person who is attempting to save face would be doing what would be called damage control after a potentially embarrassing incident has already occurred.

  • This was what I was going to assure about it. Thank you very much @dib. You got my point here. But the question is that aside from the interlocutor of my story was a kid, I was going to find out the tiny semantic nuance which hardly ever foreigners even think about and use an expression like "save face" prior to the event occurrence. Logically, it didn't work for me and it was why I posted this thread to think twice about it and empower myself to use more idiomatic idiom / expression when it comes to need.
    – A-friend
    Aug 1, 2016 at 18:22
  • So you confirm my take that this expression contrary to the other structures (mentioned in my fist ant second instances) would be use only after the fact not before it) (like the story of e.g. sorry vs excuse me). right?
    – A-friend
    Aug 1, 2016 at 18:22
  • I would be thankful if other natives help us to conclude about this case as well.
    – A-friend
    Aug 1, 2016 at 18:24
  • No problem, subtle differences like that take time and sometimes even very regionally with native speakers. The points being made about the sentences sounding overly formal are also true, but miss the actual usage difference to me.
    – dlb
    Aug 1, 2016 at 21:24
  • 1
    I'd agree that the concept of saving face, if ever used in the UK, arises after the event. None of the three sentences would be used by a native English speaker, as we've explained in other answers. However, if we were to hear these sentences, perhaps spoken by a parent whose first language is not English, we would understand the intention, including saving face before the event, even if it's not quite how we ourselves would use the term.
    – djna
    Aug 2, 2016 at 4:50

Although saving face is an expression used in English, it is not commonly used with children.

A common suggestion to the child would be Don't make a scene. Particularly in British English.

The expression making a scene carries the meaning you require. An embarassing display in front of guests or the public.

  • This is also good for American English Aug 2, 2016 at 20:10

If I wanted to warn my kids before guests arrive, I would say

Please behave yourselves in front of the guests (later, today, this evening, etc).

: to act in an acceptable way : to act properly


None of these seem like something parents would say to a small child.

Please preserve/maintain our dignity in front of the guests.

sounds very formal, is unlikely to be understood by a young child (or even an older one), and rather 'over eggs' it. In UK and USA, a child acting up would not damage the parent's 'dignity'.

Close would be be (per djna - noticed after writing this):

Please don't embarrass us in front of our guests.

And this one:

Please save face in front of the guests.

is just wrong. Saving face means (per this article) "the lengths that an individual may go to in order to preserve their established position in society, taking action to ensure that one is not thought badly of by their peers"; it's more concerned with avoiding reputational damage. The child would not be 'saving face'. The adults might be saving face if they (for instance) got the child to apologise and go to its room.

More likely would be an injunction to stop the behaviour (first example per @Chenmunka):

Don't make a scene.

Stop acting up!

Behave yourself!

The last of these is certainly the one I was told all the time as a kid.


I think different English-speaking peoples will have rather different ways to express these ideas. These phrases would be widely understood, at least by adults

Please preserve our dignity in front of the guests.

Please maintain our dignity in front of the guests.

Please save face in front of the guests.

but I would not expect to hear an British or US native use them, and I would not expect young children to understand them at all. If I did use these phrases I would probably say "our guests" rather than "the guests".

An alternative that seems more idiomatic to me:

Please don't embarrass us in front of our guests.

However, I would more expect people to focus on the child's perspective

Please help me to make our guests feel really welcome, let them see what a thoughtful boy you can be.

[In the case of teenagers I would, of course, use bribery. ;-]

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