Making Polite Requests

Making Polite Requests


“Life is short, but there is always time enough for courtesy.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson


In general English people love being polite and respect good manners. You might have noticed we are continually saying please, thank you, excuse me and sorry.

When making a request you are asking someone to do something that will help you but may not help them in anyway. In fact, you might be asking something that will be really difficult for the other person to do. Therefore it is important when making a request to ensure you are being polite.

To do this you might want to include a modal verb such as can or could (more formal) to soften your approach. This may make it look like you are asking a question rather than making a request. However, don’t worry the listener will understand you are not looking for an answer other than the answer to the request.

For example, if you are in a restaurant and say: “I want the bill” to the waiter, you request will be considered very direct. You might want to use this kind of language if you are angry or have had very bad service. However if you wish to remain polite you might want to consider one of the following options:

Can I have the bill, please?”

Could I possible have the bill please?”

Polite language can also be used to ask for the permission of the person you are speaking to. For example just sitting down next to someone in a bar might be considered a bit forward or if that person is waiting on a friend might create an awkward (uncomfortable) situation. You might want to seek their permission first. For example:

“Would it be ok if I sat here?”

Do you mind if I sit here?”

Is it alright if I sit here?”

This extends to seeking someone’s attention. For example if you want to get past someone who is blocking your way “move please!” will be seen as being very direct. You might wish to soften this approach by adding and “excuse me” or “sorry to bother you.

  • Excuse me, could I possibly get past?”

Sorry to interrupt, but could I ask you to move just for a moment while I get past?”

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