The Many Ways We Use ‘Of Course’

04 April, 2019

In the film, "Love, Of Course," single mother Amy Andolini finds herself alone after sending her daughter to college. But when she gets a job planning the school's Harvest Festival event, she falls in love with Noah Ferris, a professor. The film title tells us that Amy accepts the idea of falling in love.

There are many uses for the expression "of course" in everyday speech. For example, we use it to say "yes" with certainty to requests and some questions. We also use it is to show agreement with or sympathy for a speaker.

Most uses are good-natured and polite. But a few can be considered impolite. So, be careful. You would, of course, want to avoid those.

On this Everyday Grammar program, I will talk about good and bad uses for the expression "of course."

To answer requests

The first we will explore is as an answer to a request for permission.

Suppose you are attending a party with a friend. You need to call home but your mobile phone is out of power. Listen to a short exchange:

Oh no. My phone just died. Can I use yours?

Of course! It's in my bag near the red chair.

Thanks! I'll only be a minute.

When someone asks for permission, and we answer with "Of course," we are answering with an emphatic "yes."

This is a polite way of using the expression.

Other times, a person may wish to confirm information. In this next exchange, listen for the answer "Of course."

Hey Alice! Are you coming tubing with us Saturday?

Of course! And I'm bringing drinks for everyone.

Nice! I'll bring my waterproof radio.

You just heard me use "Of course" politely.

A group of friends enjoy a day of tubing at James River State Park.
A group of friends enjoy a day of tubing at James River State Park.

Pay attention to tone

Tone is important for this expression. The wrong tone can change the meaning of "of course" from good to bad.

Listen to what happens with a change in tone:

Hey Alice! Are you coming tubing with us Saturday?

Of course. And I'm bringing drinks for everyone.

Oh, ok.

Here, the expression sounds unpleasant and feels impolite. The other person may take it to mean, "You should already know the answer."

To answer an offer

Another use for "of course" involves answering a polite offer.

But is this next exchange a good or bad use of the expression? You decide:

Hey, dear. I'm going to the supermarket. Would you like me to bring you anything?

Of course. Bring me a bottle of soy milk, please.

That's not a very nice answer to a kind offer. Here, answering "Of course" suggests you think the other person should have magically known the answer.

A better answer to a polite offer is either "Yes, please" or "That would be great. Thanks!"

Other questions

For most other questions, it is best to avoid answering with "Of course." Such an answer may sound impolite or even strange.

For example, suppose someone says, "Your hair looks wonderful. Did you get it cut?" The answer "Of course" is not fitting. Again, it may suggest you expect the other person to be telepathic and read your mind.

To show agreement

Another use of "of course" is a way of showing interest in and agreement with what someone else is saying, so it is polite. It can also show sympathy for another person.

Listen to this exchange between parents:

This is the third physics tutor who has not been helpful to my son.

Oh, I'm sorry to hear that.

And I had talked to a lot people before giving her the job.

Of course, you did. But, don't worry. Maybe I can help you find the right tutor.

To show lack of surprise

OK, the last use we'll explore today for "of course" is a way to show that something is not surprising. Unlike the others, this use is not a response. Instead, the speaker uses the expression in his or her own statement.

Here is how it might sound:

And I forgot to bring my umbrella again so, of course, I got soaked on my way home. It always seems to rain when I have no umbrella!

Here, the speaker is showing a lack of surprise at their own forgetfulness.

Of course not

Now, let's talk about the term "of course not." It is the normal negative form of "of course." We can use it to say "no" in a way that shows we are certain or "yes" to a polite request.

Listen to a quick exchange:

Did you break this glass?

Of course not!

Here, the speaker uses "Of course not!" to say very strongly that something is not true. This is only suited to informal situations.

But we can also use "of course not" to answer a request. This only works when the request uses the wording "Do you mind...?" or "Would you mind..." Have a listen:

Hi Tesha. Do you mind watching my dog for an hour?

Of course not! You can bring Lando over at 3.

In this exchange, use of "Of course not" means, "I don't mind at all. I would be happy to watch your dog!"

Final thought

Well, that brings us to our final thought:

If you are ever unsure whether to use "of course," the good news is that you can simply avoid it. There are, of course, many other ways to say what you want to say.

I'm Alice Bryant.

Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

titlen. the name given to something (such as a book, song, or movie) to identify it

certaintyn. the state of being or feeling certain about something

politeadj. having or showing good manners or respect for other people

emphaticadj. said or done in a forceful or definite way

tubingn. the activity of riding on an inner tube over snow or down a river

tonen. the quality of a person's voice

telepathicadj. having the ability to know another person's thoughts without being told what they are

tutorn. a teacher who works with one student

soakedadj. made completely wet by water or another liquid

negativeadj. expressing denial or refusal