When starting to learn English, your primary goal is effective communication. While phrases like ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘excuse me’ are nice to use, overlooking other polite nuances can inadvertently seem rude or unprofessional. Even with an accent or as a non-native speaker, it’s wise to focus on learning proper social customs. Politeness is especially important in formal situations like interviews, client meetings, medical appointments, or when seeking assistance. To enhance your communication skills, Cafe Converse has created this guide on English politeness.
What would you say while making a request?
“In English, while making requests or asking someone to do something, it is common to employ modal verbs such as ‘could,’ ‘might,’ ‘should,’ and ‘would’ to convey politeness. These modal verbs help soften the request, avoiding the impression of giving orders. For instance, in a restaurant, a waiter is more likely to provide excellent service if you say, ‘I would like a cup of tea, please,’ rather than the more direct ‘I want a cup of tea’ or an imperative like ‘Give me a cup of tea.’ Instead of issuing commands, it’s advisable to phrase your requests as questions:
- Could you please open the window?
- Do you think you could lower the music a bit, please?
- Would you mind telling me the time, please?
- Would you be so kind as to pass me that book?
- I would appreciate it if you could…
- I would be most grateful if you could…
- When it’s convenient for you, could you please…”
What would you say while saying “Thank You”?
“Expressing gratitude is important when your polite request has been fulfilled. Depending on the situation, you can use these expressions:
- Thank you very much!
- That’s very generous of you.
- Thanks a lot! (Note: Be mindful of your tone as it can sometimes be used sarcastically to mean the opposite.)
- Thanks, I appreciate it.
- You’ve been very helpful.
- Thank you for going out of your way to assist me.
- Many thanks! (Note: Typically used in written thank-you notes and may sound a bit formal when spoken aloud.)”
How to disagree politely?
When you need to convey disagreement, it’s essential to convey respect for the other person’s opinion while politely presenting your own viewpoint. Utilize the following phrases to maintain a considerate tone and express your perspective without causing offence:
- I understand your perspective, but…
- I respectfully disagree.
- I acknowledge your point, but alternatively…
- I appreciate your viewpoint; however…
- I have a different take on that.
- It’s possible you’re correct, but let’s not overlook that…
How to turn down an invitation?
Declining an invitation gracefully can be challenging, but using these polite expressions can help you respectfully decline without causing hurt feelings:
- I would genuinely enjoy it, but…
- That sounds wonderful, but…
- Regrettably, I won’t be able to make it because…
- Thank you so much for inviting me, but…
- Unfortunately, I have prior commitments due to…
While not understanding or asking to repeat
When you haven’t clearly understood what someone said, you can employ polite phrases to request a repetition. It’s courteous to attribute the misunderstanding to yourself, even if external factors contributed, such as low volume or background noise. Here are some polite ways to ask for clarification:
- I apologize, but I didn’t quite grasp that.
- Could you please repeat that?
- Would you be kind enough to say that again?
Things to say while avoiding finger-pointing statements
Maintaining a diplomatic and non-confrontational tone when addressing problems is crucial to prevent exacerbating the situation. To achieve this, emphasize ‘I’ and ‘we’ rather than ‘you,’ which can be perceived as accusatory, and employ the passive voice:
- It’s possible that my message isn’t coming across clearly.
- Rather than: You’re not understanding me.
- My favourite mug has suffered damage!
- Instead of: You broke my favourite mug!
- The understanding was that the task would be completed today.
- Instead of: You said you were going to complete the task today.
Ms Sonu Goel is a professionally acclaimed certified ESL trainer from British Council having 15 years of strong background for teaching English language in both online and physical classes. She is dedicated to the teaching of English in an interactive and practical way, whereby learners feel enriched with knowledge and experience the language hands-on. She uses creative ideas and aids to let the learning happen as organically and efficiently as possible. Ms Goel has travelled various European countries and experienced an array of cultures and linguistic skills for the English language.