Positive and negative face

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Positive and negative face are defined as the two components of an individual's public self-image (face (concept)). Both positive and negative face describe the different levels of face needs.

Definition of terms

The linguists Stephen Levinson and Penelope Brown were the first to sub-divide an individual's public self-image into positive and negative face (concept). This distinction is based on Erving Goffman's definition of face. Levinson and Brown distinguish two levels of face based on an individual's basic needs as a social being (negative face) and an individual's personal desires (positive face). In order to protect one's own and the adressee's face, one has to take care of both levels.

Negative face

Negative face describes the basic personal rights of an individual, including his/ her personal freedom as well as freedom of action. One's negative face is a neglection of all factors which represent a threat towards individual rights. One popular example is the freedom of speech, which includes one's need not to be interrupted by others while speaking.

Positive face

The positive face is defined as the individual desire of a person that his/ her personality is appreciated by others. Furthermore, this includes the way a person wants to be perceived by his/ her social group. One example for positive face is the appreciation of individual achievements. According to this definition, a painter would, for instance, desire other people's appreciation of his/ her paintings.

See also

Other Languages


  • Brown, Penelope und Levinson, Stephen (1978): Universals in Language Usage: Politeness Phenomena. In: Goody, E. N. [Hrsg.]: Questions and Politeness: Strategies in Social Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 56-311.
  • Goffman, Erving (1967): On Face-Work. An Analysis of Ritual Elements in Social Interaction. In: Ders.: Interaction Ritual. New York: Doubleday. 5-45.
  • Turner, Ken und Sbisa, E. (2013) [Hrsg.]: Handbook of Pragmatics: Pragmatics of Speech Actions. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Watts, Richard [Hrsg.] (1992): Politeness in Language. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.