The Subtle Art of Inquiries, or How to Politely Request in English

All of us in our work are often faced with the need to turn to someone for help. In English, the difference between a polite request and a request to do something can be difficult to grasp, because there are well-established rules based on customs and generally accepted norms rather than logic. However, it is very important to feel this difference. By mishandling, we can not only fail to achieve the desired result, but also offend the interlocutor. As you probably already know, in English, unlike many others, simply adding “please” is not enough. Our colleague, Scott Boyce, EPAM Language Trainer, looked at several ways to write queries in English and looked at common mistakes.

The article will be especially useful for those who often have to communicate in English at work.

How to politely ask someone to do something

Mind

‘To mind’ in the context of requests means “object / have something against”. Orally this phrase can be used to make a claimrather than requests, depending on intonation and context. However, in writing, this is usually considered a request, for example:

Would you mind sending that before the end of the day?

Note that behind the word mind followed by a gerund. We cannot use the infinitive, i.e. you can’t say:

Would you mind to send <…>?

To make this request even more polite, you can put a suitable adverb after the word ‘mind ‘:

Would you mind terribly sending that before the end of the day?

It should also be remembered that positive the answer to this question, if you are ready to fulfill the request, would be ‘no’, but not ‘yes’– again, this applies to oral speech:

No, I don’t mind doing that at all.

Favor

Another way to make a request:

Could you do me a (big) favor? Can you send me that before the end of the day?

Note that this expression uses the verb ‘do’, but not ‘make’… (Also, when communicating with American partners or colleagues, keep in mind that in the United States the word ‘favorite’ written without ‘u’‘favor’).

When using this turnover, the first question is usually followed by a more specific second question. This is a rather informal phrase – it is used between colleagues who know each other well enough. Also, the buyer or customer can use this expression in some kind of application, request, when presenting requirements that he expects to be satisfied.

Wonder

This is my personal favorite:

I was wondering if you could send me that before the end of the day.

Here you should pay attention to the fact that we are using the past tense – ‘was wondering ‘ and ‘could ‘… You can generally do a “combo” and combine ‘mind ‘, ‘favor ‘ and ‘wonder ‘if you want to be super polite and increase your chances of getting the desired result:

I was wondering if you would mind doing me a huge favor.

Appreciate

Another very common way to ask politely is:

I would really appreciate it if you could send it to me before the end of the day.

Many make the mistake of omitting ‘it’… But the verb ‘appreciate’ always needs an object! Something need to be appreciated.

Sometimes some replace ‘really ‘ on ‘very ‘… But this is also a mistake, because we cannot use the word ‘very ‘ with verbs (ed. – frankly, we can, but only if together with much: I would very much appreciate it …).

Also keep in mind that if you omit the word ‘really’, then it will already look more like a request, rather than a request:

I would appreciate it if you could send it to me before the end of the day.

Grateful

Grateful ‘ very similar to ‘appreciate ‘… Only unlike the second, grateful ‘ Is an adjective, so no object is needed here (no ‘it’!):

I’d be really grateful if you could send it to me before the end of the day.

For the same reason (‘grateful ‘adjective), here we can replace ‘really’ with ‘very’.

And unlike sentences with ‘appreciate’, we can easily drop ‘really’ / ‘very’ altogether – the sentence will still remain polite.

Kind

I noticed that the phrase ‘Would you be so kind <…>‘ is very popular among my colleagues at EPAM. However, this phrase is often used without one small but very important word. The correct sentence would sound like this:

Would you be so kind AS to send that to me before the end of the day?

Yes, it is necessary to use the word ‘as’ here, since we are doing the comparison using the “so … as …” construction.

Some of you may have read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (original). So, I remember one line from this play from school, probably because I like some irony and deliberate understatement of the meaning of the statement. This is said by the minor character Mercutio, who has just been mortally wounded; this is how he talks about the size of his wound:

“No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door, but ’tis enough. ”

In the 21st century, we have largely replaced ‘so ‘ second (or, if you like, first) ‘as’… If Shakespeare wrote today, he could write:

“No, it’s not as deep as a well, nor as wide as a church door, but it’s enough. ”

One more note about the phrase “Would you be so kind as to <…>” – it is very formal. The Americans, unlike the British, rarely use it. Therefore, if you are chatting with someone from Los Angeles or Toronto (or any other city in the USA or Canada), I would recommend choosing a less formal phrase.

Telling someone to do something politely

Mostly such phrases can be heard from the project manager or customer, and they begin with the word ‘could’. The most common of these, of course:

Could you please send that to me before the end of the day?

While this request sounds extremely polite to someone unfamiliar with all the nuances I talked about above – and, I agree, it sounds really polite – but, in fact, this expression is used to make a request. Especially if a person has this right by virtue of his position.

Such requests can sometimes be worded slightly differently, without the ‘please’, but with the addition of ‘ask’:

Could I ask you to send that to me before the end of the day?


For generalization and easier assimilation of all of the above, I designed a table that, I hope, will be useful to you:

Stay polite and your requests will be honored!

And one last piece of advice from Romeo and Juliet:

“Go wisely and slowly. Those who rush stumble and fall. ” Those. “Walk wisely and slowly. Those who are in a hurry stumble and fall. ” Or, as we still say: “The quieter you go, the further you will be.”

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