A. Polite requests
We can use can or could in a request, when we ask someone to do something.
Can everyone be quiet for a minute, please?
Can you keep me informed’? ~ Yes, of course.
Could you lend me ten pounds until tomorrow? ~ Sorry, I haven’t got ten pounds.
I wonder if you could explain something to me. ~ I’ll try.
Could is often more polite than can.
In a request we can also use Do you mind . . . ? or Would you mind...? with an ing-form.
Do you mind waiting a moment? ~ No, I can wait.
Would you mind sitting in the back? ~ No, not at all. We
can also use Would you like to …?
Would you like to lay the table for me? ~ Yes, of course. We do not use Do you like …?
for a request, NOT
DO YOU LIKE TO LIE THE TABLE FOR ME?
It is always worth taking the trouble to use one of these request forms in English. We do not normally say
Lay the table for me. This can sound very abrupt and impolite without a phrase like Could you . . .?
B. The imperative
We can sometimes use the imperative form to tell someone what to do.
Bring another chair. Hurry up or we’ll be late. We
form the negative with don’t.
Don’t be silly. Don’t make so much noise.
We can use an imperative when we are with friends in an informal situation. But we do not use it to a
stranger or in a more formal situation.
Excuse me. Could you tell me the way to Oxford Street, please?
Tell-me-the way to Oxford Street-please.
Would you mind sending me a copy of your catalogue?
Even people in authority often avoid using the imperative to give orders. Instead they can use I want/I’d
like you to . . . , You must…, or a polite request form. Manager: / want you all to be at the meeting.
Policeman: You must wait until you see the green light. Doctor: Could you lie down on the bed, please?
C. Asking for things
We use Can I/we have…? and Could I/we have . . .? when we ask someone to give us something.
Can we have our room key, please? Could I have a receipt, please? We can also say
Could you give me a receipt, please?but we do not use the imperative.
When we ask for something in a shop or a cafe, we can simply name what we want, but we must say please
A large white loaf, please. Two coffees, please.
We can also use I’d like … or I’ll have …
I’d like a chicken sandwich, please. I’ll have a coffee.