The other day I was amused when I was talking with a student. The student used the expression “I don’t care”. I was confident from the flow of the conversation and the general attitude of the student that the meaning was good. However, the expression “I don’t care” has a meaning that is not very good. The difference between “don’t care” vs “don’t mind” is important.
First of all, there is no difference between “don’t care” vs “don’t mind” in terms of rhythm. They both have the same rhythms and stresses. The last word, “care” or “mind” is a strong point, so it is easy to hear the difference. You can study more about rhythm here.
The Meaning of “I don’t care”
When you say I don’t care, you’re talking about indifference and no connection to the subject that people are talking about. It sounds like you’re not connected, and you don’t want a connection to that topic. In many situations this can sound rude and uncaring. It may look like you’re angry.
Two people are talking about lunch. One person makes a question:
A: “Would you like sandwiches or a salad?”
B: “I don’t care.”
At this point, the first person might feel a little bad, because the second person lacks connection. It indicates an uncaring attitude. There is a time and a place to use “I don’t care” but it is limited and usually pointed. You might use it when you are angry or don’t want to keep up a good relationship with that person.
Safer Choice is “I don’t mind…”
Obviously the difference between “don’t care” vs “don’t mind” is important you need to be cautious. There is, thankfully, a safer expression. The safer expression is “I don’t mind”. When you say you don’t mind, you’re telling people that either of the choices is okay and you are open to accept either choice.
So “I don’t care” sounds like your mind is closed to either choice. You don’t want to think about it and you don’t want any connection with it. Your mind is closed and you’re trying to stop that conversation topic. “I don’t mind” on the other hand has an open feeling to it. Your mind is open and either consequence is fine with you because of your openness.
Safe to Use
Now there are times when we can say “I don’t care” in a conversation. We would say it in a situation where the subject that you don’t care about is not connected to the listener directly, and your tone of voice is light. For instance if you’re choosing a certain fashion and you’re unconcerned about what many strangers might think you could say “I don’t care about what they think” without offending most people. The same could be true for getting a job. If you know that that job will make you happy you might say:
“I don’t care if other people agree that it’s good if I get the job or not”,
especially if they’re strangers who are unconnected to you.
So using the expression “I don’t care” is good when there’s a lot of distance, but if there is less distance between you and the subject or other people and the subject, then it might be safer to use the expression I don’t mind.
Sometimes I ask students questions like, “Do you mind if I turn on the cooler?”, or “Do you mind if I open the window?” Often, their response is simply “Yes”. In fact, I know that they are agreeing to open the window, but using the answer “Yes” indicates the opposite. If we make a full answer, it would look like “Yes, I do.”, or better yet, “Yes I do mind.” Then it becomes more clear that it is refusing agreement. This is quite different from the Japanese way of speaking, so you need to pay attention to this question and always give a full answer for safety.