Polite Requests

May 26, 2015

Do you ever get annoyed with English people continually saying please, thank you or sorry? It’s important to remember that English is a very polite language which uses a lot of indirect structures. For example, you may have noticed the unusual way that English people make requests. This week, my students have been learning and practising using Polite Requests:

When making a request we often incorporate a modal verb such as can or could (could might be considered a little more formal). REMEMBER: although the sentence is structured like a question, the speaker is not looking for an answer:

  • Can I have the bill, please?”
  • Could you pass me the water, please?”

When you are seeking someone’s attention, remember to use some polite language to begin the conversation:

  • Excuse me, could I ask you…”
  • Sorry to interrupt, but…”

Sometimes you may be seeking permission for something (REMEMBER: “do you mind if…” has a similar meaning to “would it be a problem if…” and thus the response has to reflect this):

  • Do you mind if I leave a bit early today?”
  • Is it alright if I sit here?”

Do you use these structures regularly when you speak English? Are any of them similar to your own language?

Category: Study tips

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