There are several phrases like this in English. The following
forms are commonly used to make request sentences. However, do not
forget the other parts of a request: an opening, form of address, and a
prerequest and reason if the request may give the other person a lot of
trouble or if the other person is your superior.
1. Could (DO SOMETHING) Could you tell me the way to the post office?
I Could you help me move this trunk?
Could I go home early today?
Could I borrow your book?
2. I was wondering (could DO SOMETHING)
I was wondering if you could tell me the way to the
I was wondering whether you could help me move
I was wondering if I could borrow your book?
I was wondering whether I could go home early today?
3. Can (DO SOMETHING) Can you tell the way to the post office?
I Can you help me move this trunk?
Can I go home early today?
Can I borrow your book?
4. i) Would you mind (DOING SOMETHING)
Would you mind telling me the way to the
Would you mind helping me move this trunk?
ii) Would you mind if I (DID SOTIETHING) Would you mind if I went home early today?
Would you mind if I borrowed your book?
1. Who are we talking to? A friend, our boss, teacher, subordinate
or a stranger?
The relationship between the people involved is important.
2. What kind of request are we making? Will it be easy for the
person we ask
to agree to or will it give him a lot of trouble? For example, if we are asking
a friend for a $1000 loan, probably more than one reason would be given. If we want to borrow a pencil, however, a reason is hardly necessary. When asking for the loan we would also be more likely to use a prerequest. Openings and forms of address, however, would be okay for all types of requests.
It is important to know that adding the word please
to a request does not guarantee that it will be polite and acceptable.
Please is often used in English to make commands sound more
polite. Remember that in a request we are asking, not telling or
ordering. Please is best used in requests that are easy for
the other person to agree to, such as
Would you please pass the salt?
Could you lend me your pencil please?
and (on the telephone) May I speak to George please?
In requests that may give the person we ask more trouble, we usually express
our desire to be polite in some other way, such as using an opening, a form of address, a prerequest and giving reasons. This .kind of request is usually not made using the form Please (DO SOMETHING) or Will you please (DO SOMETHING ).
Now let's look at a few examples of good requests in English and a few which are not so good. All these examples of requests were taken from taperecordings of Australians, Japanese, Filipinos, and Americans.
1. Situation: Requesting that a friend
help you figure out how to apply to study at a foreign university.
(a) not so good : "[ I want to go to America to study.] [ Please tell me the method to do so.]
(b) good : "[Pam,] now [ you've lived in the United States for some time and you went
to university there. ]
(a) not so good - "[Can I tape this conference?]"
(b) good - "[ Um, hello.] [ Do you have a minute?] I'm a graduate student here in
this department and [ I heard about the conference that's coming up] and [ I
4. Situation: You are in an
unfamiliar city and want to go to the post office. You stop a stranger
in the street to ask for directions.
(a) not so good - "[ Excuse me.] [ Will you show me the way to the post office?]"
(b) good - "[Excuse me,] but [ could you tell me the way to the post office?]"
5. Situation: Requesting that a co-worker
help you move a very heavy trunk.
form of address request
(a) not so good - "[ Thomas] come on [ help me move this heavy trunk.]"
form of address prerequest reason
(b) good - "[ Tom ] [are you free right now?].... [ I got this trunk over here]; [ it's
kind of heavy.] [ Could you give me a hand with it?]"