What’s the fun in studying a foreign language if you can’t even make thinly veiled, snide remarks about the condition of the office kitchen? Every language has its own stock collection of common passive-aggressive phrases, and if you’re going to access the full range of human expression that’s available to you, then you’re going to want to learn how to get catty when circumstances call for it.
Although go-to passive-aggressive phrases tend to vary from culture to culture, some things stay the same just about anywhere you go. Variations on “per my last email” can be found in just about any society with an office culture, and seemingly “polite” statements uttered through gritted teeth are also not uncommon.
Here are a few ways to be covertly contentious in nine different languages.
In Portuguese, as in many languages, how you say things is perhaps more important than what you say. Even the most neutral phrases can become passive-aggressive phrases with the right intonation. However, a common theme is exaggerated politeness.
Você poderia fazer o que eu pedi para você, por favor?
“Could you please do what I asked you to do?” The use of “could” and “please” together may show that the person is trying to get their feelings under control (but not completely succeeding).
“Whatever!” This can also be neutral, but it is very often used when people are exasperated or angry. It’s like you are giving up, but you are not convinced.
Se você acha que é melhor assim…
“If you think it’s better this way…”
Estou confusa com sua decisão.
“I am confused with your decision.” In other words: You think that the decision is bullshit.
Eu só acho que…
“I just think that…” (with a big focus on só).
Swedish culture is pretty infamous for its non-confrontational idiosyncrasies. Swedes are all about lagom, which is a cultural tendency toward moderation. Generally speaking, open arguments and conflicts are rare, especially at the workplace. And this, as we know, creates the perfect storm for passive-aggressive phrases or behavior.
In Sweden, it’s not uncommon to find anonymous “angry notes” on your badly parked car, in your building’s laundry room or in the lunch room at work. There are even books about the best angry notes people have ever seen.
Din mamma jobbar inte här.
“Your mom doesn’t work here.” A common message you might see on an angry note left around the workplace kitchen or eating area — meaning “you should really clean up after yourself.”
Vän av ordning
“Friend of order” — what people often sign their angry notes with when complaining about trash or a loud neighbor.
“Kind reminder.” Every sentence that starts with a “se ruega” has a 90 percent chance of being passive-aggressive. For instance: Se ruega que dejen la cocina limpia (“Kind reminder to clean the kitchen”).
Gracias por adelantado
“Thanks in advance”
Como te dije en mi correo anterior
“As I told you in my previous e-mail”
Buen trabajo, pero la próxima vez, por favor…
“Good job, but next time please…”
“Urgent.” When this is written in a subject line, the rest of the message is likely to be at least somewhat passive-aggressive. But you could say the same for pretty much any word in capital letters.
In France, passive-aggressive phrases are often those spoken in a harsh tone with a surface denial of anger or annoyance. It’s also not uncommon for French people to be superficially nice to someone they may not like very much, which means there are often subversive statements being made beneath the subtext of a smile.
Je suis pas énervé !
“I’m not angry!” When spoken in an angry tone, this is almost surely an expression of passive aggression.
Fais comme tu veux.
“Do as you wish.”
Leuk voor je.
“Good for you.” Sounds friendly on the surface, but often intended in a sarcastic way (especially when it’s missing the exclamation mark).
Zou je dat alsjeblieft de volgende keer niet willen doen?
“Could you please not do that the next time?” Using the polite alsjeblieft (“please”) is a bit misleading here: the speaker is very annoyed.
Hebben we dit zo besproken?
“Did we discuss this like this?” Subtext: we really didn’t discuss this so what’s your deal?
Heb je mijn vorige bericht niet gehad?
“Didn’t you get my last email?” Actual meaning: “Read your freaking emails.”
Zo, die heeft er zin in.
“Well, that one is having a blast/looks like they’re enjoying themselves.” Perhaps a little too much, though.
“Oh well.” But you know — not really. This is a classic way to express your disapproval or disappointment indirectly.
Jak już wspomniałem/wspomniałam…
“As I mentioned already…”
Chciał(a)bym zauważyć, że…
“I would like to point out that…” By using the conjunctive, you can make this sentence sound pretty aggressive, especially if you are referring to something that has been mentioned before.
Ты что-то сказал/a? (Ty chto-to skazal/a?)
“Did you say (m./f.) something?” Chances are, you actually did hear what the person said — you just didn’t like it. And now you want to subtly suggest they change their mind.
Как скажешь! (Kak skazhesh!)
“As you say!” You would generally use this when you don’t want to argue anymore but still want to express your disapproval.
Да иду уже я! (Da idu uzhe ya!)
“I’m coming already!” As though you didn’t hear your mom tell you to come to dinner three times already. Geez.
Ладно, проехали (Ladno, proyehali)
“Ok, we already drove or passed by it.” This actually means “just forget about it.” The conflict is there, but arguing is just going to make it worse.
Я же просто пошутил/a (Ya zhe prosto poshutil/a)
“It was just a joke!” Perfect for when you realize you’ve hurt someone’s feelings but don’t want to apologize.
A lot depends on your tone of voice in German. Many things can seem polite, but with just a hint of irony, you can make it super passive-aggressive.
Typical passive-aggressive phrases can also take the following forms:
Das Geschirr räumt sich nicht von alleine weg!
“The dishes won’t clean themselves!” Being abstract and not addressing anyone in particular, although everyone feels implicated somehow, is a classic move.
Bitte Tür immer geschlossen halten. Danke!
“Please keep the door closed. Thanks!” Including bitte (“please”) and danke! (“thanks!”) with an annoyed message, and especially without a greeting, is a good way to express your displeasure.
Wie in meiner letzten E-Mail bereits gesagt…
“As I already said in my last email…” We’re well familiar with this one by now.
In Italian, tone plays an important role in making things sound passive-aggressive, especially when the end of the sentence trails off into a series of ellipses.
Pensavo lo sapessi…
“I thought you knew…” In this example, omission is one of the warning signals that someone is being passive-aggressive: they can hide their anger and avoid sharing information that could be useful to everyone involved. By shielding themselves behind this sentence, they are defending their inaction and taking pleasure in the difficulties and suffering of others.
Stavo solo scherzando…
“I was only kidding…” Well-placed sarcasm can make any ambiguous compliment sound passive-aggressive. This allows anyone to express their anger out loud, but still indirectly and in a socially acceptable way. You can follow this up with “Certo che con te non si può mai scherzare!” (“It’s true that no one can ever joke with you!”).
“As you wish…” The more patronizing this sounds, the better.