TESOL/Requests

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English provides many ways of making requests with differing levels of politeness appropriate for different situations. Making requests differs from offering suggestions and giving commands.

Form[edit]

Yes/no questions[edit]

Direct yes/no questions[edit]

Requests are usually made using yes/no questions. Roughly in order of politeness, they include:

  1. can you - ?
  2. could you - ?
  3. would you - ?
  4. would you be able to - ?
  5. could you possibly - ?
  6. would you possibly - ?
  7. might you possibly - ?
  8. would it be (at all) possible for you to - ?
  9. might it be (at all) possible for you to - ?

Question tags[edit]

Negative statements with question tags are also used to make informal requests.

  • You couldn't lend me your pen, could you?

Indirect yes/no questions[edit]

If a yes/no question is asked indirectly, it can make an even more polite request.

  • I wonder if you could help me carry this.
  • I don't suppose you have some spare change.

If a question tag is added to this type of request, it is still very polite.

  • I don't suppose I would be able to use your computer, would I?
  • I don't suppose you could lend me your phone, could you?

Mechanics[edit]

Requests made using yes/no questions are polite only if the question is positive. If the question is negative, the question sounds more like a complaint than a request.

  • Can you leave me alone for a few minutes? Can't you leave me alone for a few minutes?
  • Could you get me some tea? Couldn't you get me some tea?

Quiz[edit]

Change the following commands to polite requests.

1 Come here!

you come here?

2 Bring me a towel!

you could bring me a towel.