Ask politely, please!

Can I have Friday off?

What’s wrong with this sentence? Technically (grammatically) speaking, nothing at all! However, if you were to ask your English-speaking boss this question, chances are you won’t get the day off! Why not? To a native English speaker, this request simply doesn’t sound very polite!

English speakers are generally much less ‘direct’ than German speakers, particularly when asking for something. Therefore, getting ‘straight to the point’ may be well received when dealing with your German colleagues, but in English it’s not the best strategy.

So how can we make our speech less ‘direct’ and thereby more polite? Don’t worry, there are plenty of ways to do so. Let’s look at some techniques you can use!


Use modal verbs

might, can, could, would

Use distancing phrases (not using the present tense)

I was hoping…, I was wondering…, I wanted to…

Use tentative language

Maybe…, Perhaps…, I’m not sure if…, I don’t know if…, might

Use introductory phrases

It looks like…, It seems like…, Actually…,To be honest…Well…, I see what you’re saying (but…),

Use positive language (avoiding negative expressions like “bad,” “won’t work,” “ineffective,” etc.)

It might not be the best approach.


Here are a few practical examples to show you how to use these techniques:


Direct:                 There is a problem

Indirect:              It looks like we may have a problem.


Direct:                 I completely disagree with your proposal.

Indirect:              I see what you’re saying, but I’m not sure I fully agree with you.


Direct:                 Can you give me a ride home?

Indirect:              I was wondering if you could give me a ride home?


See what I’m getting at? Even though this is not a ‘language’ issue per se, using these sorts of phrases will definitely benefit your communication skills. Remember that these cultural lessons are a crucial part of language learning – perhaps even more important than grammar and vocabulary – as cultural norms are often reflected in language. Respecting these cultural norms when dealing with native English speakers, whether you’re asking for a promotion or a piece of paper, is bound to help you get your desired outcomes!