I was wondering if I was rude to a professor.

I am a Japanese student at a Japanese university and I'm planning to apply for a British graduate school. Then, I contacted a professor at the graduate school and asked some questions about the school. The professor replied to me very politely. Due to my bad English skills, I misunderstood what the professor told me and wrote something inappropriate. Realizing my mistake 10 minutes after sending my original reply, I sent him a message again, apologizing for my mistake with a correction. I think I did things in a very polite way, but I still worry if I made a bad impression at the same time. Do you think the professor would see me as a rude student? Please let me know your ideas.

*I mean I made just a simple English mistake. I should've written "my" instead of "your". I did not write anything like insulting him.

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    Everybody makes a mistake from time to time, and in the UK it is considered perfectly acceptable to make small mistakes, especially if you correct them yourself. The professor will probably think you have been very polite by correcting the lack of signature. There is absolutely nothing to worry about.
    – Louic
    Aug 27, 2018 at 11:55
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    When you say "wrote something inappropriate" do you mean you responded incorrectly or you said something mean in retaliation? Aug 27, 2018 at 16:31
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    There is one thing I use when writing in a language I have low proficiency, is the two-way translation. 1) write what you want. 2) translate to your home language 3) translate back into the foreign language. By comparing 1) and 3) and adjusting 2) you can get your real meaning across. Aug 27, 2018 at 16:44
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    @Mindwin it's unclear and that's why I asked, because the answers would differ for each situation and I want to make sure OP gets the best help possible. I agree, I think that is the most likely scenario though. Aug 27, 2018 at 18:26
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    What level of "something inappropriate"? If it's inappropriate grammar, or inappropriate factual information that's one thing, but if you sent an inappropriate angry response to a perceived slight, you have a bigger problem.
    – barbecue
    Aug 27, 2018 at 21:29

7 Answers 7


Different cultures have different standards of politeness. Educated people tend to understand that. By UK standards you were more polite than you needed to be, but by Japanese standards, perhaps, just right.

Don't think of it as a mistake. There should be no issue at all. In fact, I'll guess you've made a good impression.

The opposite problem, in which a person isn't polite enough in the local culture is a bit more of a problem, of course. I hope that if I were to meet you in Japan, you would forgive me for my seeming lack of politeness in some situations imagining (correctly, I hope) that it isn't intended.

  • Thank you for answering. Do you think was it rude that I replied him based on my misunderstandings of his words though I made corrections after sending it?
    – kkkk
    Aug 27, 2018 at 16:06
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    @kkkk, no, it was fine. "No worries" as they say in Australia.
    – Buffy
    Aug 27, 2018 at 16:26
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    @BallpointBen "Mate" is implied by the closing quote.
    – JiK
    Aug 28, 2018 at 11:53
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    In the former maritime parts of the US northeast, "Matey" is used in a somewhat (at least) different sense. "Want to step outside and talk about that, Matey?" Usually with unpleasant results. Australians may also use it in that sense, I suppose, but in other, more friendly senses, as well. ("Bub" is a synonym, as is "Mr. Man".). In some contexts, if you are called "Sir", duck or apologize.
    – Buffy
    Aug 28, 2018 at 11:59

Generally, that is culturally appropriate for British and American.

Politeness aside, the mistakes matter as well. If it's more serious, like you meant Department of History but wrote Department of Anthropology, or misspelled the reciepient's name, or got the meeting date wrong, those are definitely justified.

But if it's something akin to "Oh, no, by time difference it should be evening there, I should not have written 'Good morning,' let me send a correction." Then it could be trivial, but definitely not impolite.

Moving forward, an advice I often give to students may be useful for you: when you write an e-mail, proofread it. And to avoid clicking the Send button too fast or by accident, fill in the contents of the e-mail first, then fill in the recipient's e-mail addresses at the "To:" slot the last.

Overall, don't be too nervous about this. Take effort to talk more with the native speakers, use English all the time, and your fluency will skyrocket.


In addition to the answer by @Buffy, if you were already having correspondence with the professor and if you replied to a message which the professor sent to you, I think, the professor will recognize the sender very well. Especially, if you are using your name as your username, the professor will be able to recognize you easily. But generally, when you have correspondence with your professors or anybody else, it is a good habit to read and re-read and edit the message you composed before sending it out.

I found this post on how to e-mail your professor, employer and professional peers very useful.


No, it's not rude. In fact it happens all the time, e.g. "Our meeting is at 3pm today" and then a few minutes later "Correction: our meeting is at 3:15pm today".

Having said that, I think you don't need to send such a correction email in the future because today's email services collect the entire conversation. The professor will not only be able to see who the person sending the email is, he'll also be able to see which conversation the email is referring to.

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    Not all methods of reading emails show conversation view (thankfully).
    – Jessica B
    Aug 27, 2018 at 16:28

As far I know, Japanese culture has a strong super-polite flavor. I see a strong chance that your message wasn't even inappropriate, or it was much lesser inappropriate in the eyes of the Prof.

I think the best correction email is if you only state positive things. For example, once I accidentally addressed a very important person as "Dead Mr. X" instead "Dear Mr. X".

The important thing is, that don't reply the mistake even by negating it. Thus, "No, I did not want to write that you are dead", it had been another mistake. What I wrote: "I am really sorry, I wanted to write "Dear Mr. X".

Another important thing is, that the Prof has an idea what is in your mind, just as you have an idea, what is in the mind of the Prof. And he is probably rational and mainly cooperative. By understanding that your intention was absolutely not inappropriate, then rationality dictates that essentially nothing happened.

Profs get typically a lot of mail, every day, since years or decades, and answering them is not the most loved part of their job. Furthermore, they are communicating with stundents with a lot of different languages, English level and cultures. Thus

  • Most likely they will easily adapt.
  • Most likely they find similar uncommon events very often,
  • And they forget them on the spot after they've solved it.

This is the point of view of an American who taught part-time at a local university for about 8 years (future advice).

Things you need to consider:

  1. Culture. In some cultures it could be consider disrespectful to do this. I don't know enough about British culture to give you a straight answer. Perhaps it might be good to ask a classmate that was born and raised in the U.K.
  2. Ego. Some people's ego are simply way too big and might take offense to this. I used to tell my students on our first meeting that I acknowledge I am human and as such I can make mistakes. So, I challenged my students to correct me if they think I give them erroneous information. Of course, I emphasized that you must do so in a respectful manner. As a student, I had to deal with professors that were too closed-minded to admit they were ever wrong so I know this is a difficult thing to do.
  3. Email could be too impersonal of a medium to communicate something this important. Also, he or she might not get to your email in time. Or worse, his or her email might be read/filtered by an assistant.

My advice to you is: DON'T USE EMAIL. Instead set up an appointment to see him or her and frame your issue in the form of a question. For example: "I thought 'xyz' was true, but in your lecture I thought you said otherwise. Can you help me clarify this?" There are two things in place here. The first one is that you are asking for a clarification instead of flat out coming out and "accusing" the professor of putting out incorrect information. Second, and most importantly, you are putting this on you by saying you probably misunderstood (I thought) what he or she said.

I am certain that, if you do this, your professor might be more open to the indirect criticism and might even thank you for bringing this to his or her attention.

Going back to your question: Will the professor see you as a rude student? Who knows. A true professional should be able to accept your apology and move on. It also helps when these sort of incident doesn't repeat again. You need to assume your professor is a true professional and won't hold this single incident against you.


Extremely rude, telling the Professor that you didn't check your work enough times to make a mistake, it tells them that you didn't take the time or didn't care to fix it.

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    Extremely rude seems like an exaggeration to me - and I think we've all been too quick on the trigger finger, hitting that send button before every detail is perfect. Perhaps our difference is geographical? If you don't mind sharing, in which culture are you active? In addition, the follow-up email would seem to signal some "care to fix it" in my opinion.button.
    – Anyon
    Aug 27, 2018 at 19:07
  • Ok, so I guess my comment is a case in point... Please disregard the spurious 'button' at the end of the comment.
    – Anyon
    Aug 27, 2018 at 19:27
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    The question specifies that the professor is British or, at least, working in the UK. In that context, it is absolutely wrong to suggest that it is "extremely rude" to make a mistake in an email, without even knowing what that mistake was. Furthermore, one would expect a British professor to be reasonably understanding of a mistake caused by a non-native speaker misunderstanding something. Aug 27, 2018 at 22:37
  • The professor is English and I am Japanese
    – kkkk
    Aug 28, 2018 at 9:17

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