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How to ask for things in English



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How to ask for things in English

Asking for things in English doesn't need to be stressful. Just remember some key phrases, and you'll be able to deal with most situations smoothly and confidently!

(Hello.) Can / Could I have ….. please? (Falling intonation)

(Good morning.) Can / Could you give / get me ….. please?

(Good evening.) A table for two, please.

Interrupting people to ask them for something

Excuse me…

…. Do you know if…?

…. Do you have…?

…. Do you accept …. (credit cards)?

…. Is this the right way for…. (the Post Office)?

…. Could you tell me if …. (there's a Post Office near here)?

In more formal situations

Excuse me…

…. Would you mind …. (keeping an eye on my luggage?)

…. I wonder if you could …. (move your suitcase a little.)

Responding to questions

You ask for something, then the person you have asked needs more information. He or she asks you a question. If you haven't expected this, you can "play for time" – say something to give you time to think. Say something like "Oh", "Ah", "Um", or "Er" to give you a second or two to formulate an answer. Remember, complete silence makes the other person feel uneasy!

You: "Two tickets to Glasgow, please."

Clerk: "Single or return?"

You: "Um, return please. We're coming back tomorrow."

(You are at the bureau de change)

Clerk: How would you like your money?

You: Oh, er, three tens and a five, please.

You: "Hello. Can I have a leaflet about London museums, please."

Clerk: "Sure. Anything else?"

You: "Um, do you have any information about musicals?"


When you ask someone for something, or you ask them to do something for you, it is essential to be as polite as possible. Here are some ways that you can be polite.

Say hello

A "hello" and a smile go a long way! Say "hello" at the beginning of your request.

"Hello. (I'd like) a travel card, please."

In more formal situations, you can say "Good morning", "Good afternoon" or "Good evening". (Remember, we only say "Good night" if we're saying "Good bye" at the end of the day.)

"Good evening. We've booked a table for four."

Remember "please" and "thank you"

"Please" normally goes at the end of the sentence:

"Two tickets please."

"Can you give me directions to Oxford Street, please."

Say "thank you" after you have received something:

"Here's your change."

"Thank you."

You can use "Yes, please" or "No, thank you" in response to a question:

"Would you like salad with your pizza?"

"Yes, please" or "No, thank you."

Say "excuse me"

If you ask someone who is doing something else, remember to say "excuse me":

"Excuse me, do yo have this dress in a smaller size?" (In a shop)

"Excuse me, do you know where the nearest bank is?" (On the street)

Structure of an example conversation

1. Clerk greets you

(Good morning.) How can I help you?

What can I do for you?

2. You ask for something

Hello. I'd like some information about…

Can I have….

Three stamps for Europe, please.

3. Clerk asks you a question

Single or return?

Air-mail or surface mail?

4. You answer

Oh, er, single thanks.

Um, let me see. Air-mail please.

5. Clerk asks you if you need anything else

Will that be all?

(Is there) anything else?

6. You answer

Ah, actually I'd also like…

No, that's it thanks / thank you.

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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 3 weeks later...

Great tips for beginners whoa re still getting the hang off this language. I prefer to use "May I...............? It's simple and doesn't sound fancy.

For me it's the opposite, I think "May I" sounds too formal. I would prefer "Can I" over "May I".

Overall, this is a great guide for beginners. Thank you for sharing this.

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For me it's the opposite, I think "May I" sounds too formal. I would prefer "Can I" over "May I".

Overall, this is a great guide for beginners. Thank you for sharing this.

Yeah, exactly! English is my native language. I never, ever hear anyone say ¨May I...?¨ No one. Ever. It is correct when asking for permission, but I guess ¨Can I...?¨ sounds polite enough that nobody feels the need to say it the ¨right¨ way. And I agree, it does sound extremely formal.

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My teachers used to always correct us whenever we used "can" to ask for permission and always insisted that we use "may" instead, and I agree, because saying "can" connotes ability and you probably already have the ability to do so if you are asking permission and instead are merely just asking if you could be allowed to do so.

For example, if you are going to ask if you could be allowed to go to the other room, you should say "May I go to the other room?" Instead of "Can I go to the other room?" Because you definitely can with your own two feet or you could even roll yourself there if you please, but the real question is if you would be permitted to do so.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Great information for those just starting out...sometimes things that seem daunting initially aren't so bad when broken down like that. I prefer "Can I...?" to "May I...?" in most situations, though I have had some teachers in the past who were a little old school on that and felt that "May I...?" is the only proper way to go.

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  • 10 months later...

Thank you, a very well written post :)  Truly excellent, I am sure this post will come in handy for all those people who are trying to perfect their English.  When I was learning and my level was advanced-intermediate, I found this kind of info truly useful :) Thanks for the excellent post. 

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These are helpful English phrases.  These will be of great help to beginners who are learning English for the first time, and at the same time advanced English users will see these phrases as a refresher.

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  • 4 weeks later...

"May I" is defintely more formal than "Can/could I" but both of these expressions are considered polite.

One thing we don't say when asking for things in the UK is "Can I get an OJ please?". That's an Americanism and is never used here. A native English speaker would say "Can/could I have an OJ please?".

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I think May I and Can I are great tools. I always use May I but am considered to be overly polite on occasion. Another great one to use among friends is "is it okay if I..." or is it okay if we.." when suggesting an action or that you want to go do something separate from the group!

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