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Thomas Nash and Pam McCall
Requests
Explanation
  *Situations
     We often have to make requests.  We may have to ask for directions to the nearest post office or bank, for example, for other information such as train or bus schedules, for permission to do something, or we may have to ask someone to help us in some way.
 
     It is important that we make our requests in acceptable ways.  A request is very often more than just one sentence.  It may include any or all of these parts: an opening, a form of address such as the name or title of the other person, a prerequest, and some reasons.
 1. Openings
    An opening is an expression that is used to begin any conversation.  Hello, Hi, Good morning, and in some situations, Excuse me, are common openings in English.
 
2. Forms of Address
   We use a form of address when we  call the other person by his or her name or title, for instance, Pam, Tom, Mr. Wilson, Mrs. Wang, Dr Gregson, Professor Schmidt.
 3. Prerequests
    A prerequest is an expression which indicates to the other person that we are going to make a request, before we make the actual request.   Some examples of prerequests in English include:
 
                                                                                Are you free?
                                                                                Have you got a minute?
                                                                                I need some help.
                                                                                I have a problem.
                                                                                Could I ask you a favour?
 and                                                                         I have a question.
 
4. Reasons
    Giving reasons or explanations for our requests makes them more acceptable, especially when the request may give the other person a lot of trouble.
 Form
    You will notice that in the examples of good requests, instead of please, phrases like these are used in the request sentence:
 I wonder whether..
    I was wondering if..
Could you ...
 
 So instead of saying Please help me, Please do the rest of the work for me and Please tell me the way to the post office, which are commands rather than requests, we can say:
                           I was wondering whether you could help me?
                      Could you do the rest of the work for me?
and                    Could you tell me the way to the post office?

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.
 
                you
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?
 

                                 if           you
2. I was wondering                      (could DO SOMETHING)
                              whether     I
                                                I was wondering if you could tell me the way to the
                                                  post office?
                                                I was wondering whether you could help me move
                                                this trunk?
                                                I was wondering if I could borrow your book?
                                                I was wondering whether I could go home early today?

             you
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
                                                                                post office?

                                                                            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?
 
 



     Remember, however, that the way we make requests will be influenced by other things.   For example,

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.
                                              Reason                                        Request
(a) not so good : "[ I want to go to America to study.]  [ Please tell me the method to do so.]
                                   Address                                                       Reason
 (b) good          : "[Pam,] now [ you've lived in the United States for some time and you went
                              to university there. ]

                                           Request
                            [ I wonder whether you could help me with the details that I'll need
                            so that I can make an application to enter an university in the United States.]"
 
 
 
2 . Situation:  You're attending a conference.   You want to ask the director if you can taperecord some of the sessions.

(a)  not so good - "[Can I tape this conference?]"
 
                                  opening                 prerequest
(b)  good           -  "[ Um, hello.] [ Do you have a minute?]  I'm a graduate student here in
                                                                    reason
                             this department and [ I heard about the conference that's coming up] and [ I

                                                request
                             was wondering if for my own interests it would be possible for me to
                             taperecord some of the sessions.] [ I'm particularly interested in the one on
                                    reason
                             language and cross-cultural communication that's on Thursday.]"
3.  Situation : You have to leave the office but still have some work to do.  Request a co-worker to finish some of the work for   you.
                                                 reason                                               reason
 (a)  not so good - "[ I have to leave the office now], [ but still have some work to do.]
                                        request
                               [ Please do it for me.]"
                                       reason                              reason                                         reason
(b)   good           - "[ It's 4 o'clock.] [ I'm sorry I have to leave.] [ I have a very important
                                                                              request
                               appointment.] [ Could you possibly do the rest of the work for me?]
                                                        reason
                               [ This is needed tomorrow very early in the morning.]"

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.
                                    opening                               request
(a)  not so good - "[ Excuse me.] [ Will you show me the way to the post office?]"
                                   opening                                request
(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
                                 reason                                   request
                              kind of heavy.] [ Could you give me a hand with it?]"