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Leech's Politeness Principles

Politeness concerns a relationship between self and other. In conversation, self is identified as the speaker and other is the hearer. Beside that, the speaker also shows politeness to the third parties who may be present or not. The politeness principle (PP) is introduced by Geoffrey Leech. PP is Minimizing (other things being equal) the expression of impolite beliefs, and there is a corresponding positive version (maximizing (other things being equal) the expression of polite beliefs) which is somewhat less important. PP proposes how to produce and understand language based on politeness. The purpose of PP is to establish feeling of community and social relationship. Thus, PP focuses on process of interpretation that the center of the study is on the effect of the hearer rather than the speaker. There are six maxims of the politeness principle that are used to explain relationship between sense and force in daily conversation, those are:

The Tact maxim
The tact maxim is minimizing cost to other and maximizing benefit to other. This maxim is applied in Searle’s speech act, commissives and directives called by Leech as impositives. Commissives is found in utterances that express speaker’s intention in the future action. Then, Directives/ impositives are expressions that influence the hearer to do action. The example of the tact maxim is as follows:

“Won‘t you sit down?”

It is the directive/ impositive utterance. This utterance is spoken to ask the hearer sitting down. The speaker uses indirect utterance to be more polite and minimizing cost to the hearer. This utterance implies that sitting down is benefit to the hearer.

The Generosity Maxim
The generosity maxim states to minimizing benefit to self and maximizing cost to self. Like tact maxim, the generosity maxim occurs in commissives and directives/ impositives. This maxim is centered to self, while the tact maxim is to other. The example will be illustrated as follows:

“You must come and dinner with us.”

It is an advice utterance that is involved in directive illocutionary act. In this case the speaker implies that cost of the utterance is to his self. Meanwhile, the utterance implies that benefit is for the hearer.

The Approbation Maxim
The approbation maxim requires to minimizing dispraise of other and maximizing praise of other. This maxim instructs to avoid saying unpleasant things about others and especially about the hearer. This maxim occurs in assertives/ representatives and expressives. Assertives/ representatives are utterances that express the true propositional. Meanwhile, expressive are utterances that show the speaker feeling. The example is sampled below.

A: “The performance was great!”
B: “Yes, wasn’t it!”

In the example, A gives a good comment about the performance. He talks the pleasant thing about other. This expression is a congratulation utterance that maximizes praise of other. Thus this utterance is included the approbation maxim.

The Modesty Maxim
In the modesty maxim, the participants must minimize praise of self and maximize dispraise of self. This maxim is applied in assertives/ representatives and expressives like the approbation maxim. Both the approbation maxim and the modesty maxim concern to the degree of good or bad evaluation of other or self
that is uttered by the speaker. The approbation maxim is exampled by courtesy of congratulation. On other hand, the modesty maxim usually occurs in apologies. The sample of the modesty maxim is below.

“Please accept this small gift as prize of your achievement.”

In this case, the utterance above is categorized as the modesty maxim because the speaker maximizes dispraise of himself. The speaker notices his utterance by using “small gift”.

The Agreement Maxim
In the agreement maxim, there is tendency to maximize agreement between self and other people and minimize disagreement between self and other. The disagreement, in this maxim, usually is expressed by regret or partial agreement. This maxim occurs in assertives/ representatives illocutionary act. There example will be illustrated below.

A: “English is a difficult language to learn.”
B: “True, but the grammar is quite easy.”

From the example, B actually does not agree that all part of English language difficult to learn. He does not express his disagreement strongly to be more polite. The polite answer will influence the effect of the hearer. In this case, B’s answer minimize his disagreement using partial agreement, “true, but…”.

The Sympathy Maxim
The sympathy maxim explains to minimize antipathy between self and other and maximize sympathy between self and other. In this case, the achievement being reached by other must be congratulated. On other hand, the calamity happens to other, must be given sympathy or condolences. This maxim is applicable in assertives/ representatives. The example is as follows.

“I’m terribly sorry to hear about your father.”

It is a condolence expression which is expressed the sympathy for misfortune. This utterance is uttered when the hearer gets calamity of father’s died or sick. This expression shows the solidarity between the speaker and the hearer.
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  1. Enter your comment...Frank being, I appreciate your analysis; simple, clear and helpful!

  2. thank u so much

  3. Hi, can you explain why the politness principle complements the Cooperative principle and the grice's maxims?

  4. thnx so much, this halped me in my english class, so now i defo pass

  5. How politeness involve in speech act?

    1. All of politeness utterances are based on performative utterances. PP focuses on process of interpretation that the center of the study is on the effect of the hearer rather than the speaker

  6. This article is really helpful for students. This helped me to fix my Final Assignment of English Pragmatics. Thanks abundantly, Gbu.

  7. please I want to use this article as a reference, but cant find the date of publishing !!!

  8. Can you please refer to the sources you involved in your discussion and analysis??


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