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.
Direct yes/no questions
Requests are usually made using yes/no questions. Roughly in order of politeness, they include:
- can you - ?
- could you - ?
- would you - ?
- would you be able to - ?
- could you possibly - ?
- would you possibly - ?
- might you possibly - ?
- would it be (at all) possible for you to - ?
- might it be (at all) possible for you to - ?
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
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?
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?
Change the following commands to polite requests.