Making routine requests is pretty easy for English learners. For these everyday requests, we don’t need formal, indirect language. A simple question with can or could is just fine.

But what about if you are making a special request or asking for a huge favor?

For these situations, we can’t use the same language that we would use for a routine request.

Instead, we need one of the following polite expressions.

I was wondering if…

Using past tenses instead of present tenses is one technique for softening our language and making a request less direct (and therefore more polite).

We can use I was wondering if… for big requests that we’ve had some time to think about.

Here are some examples:

“My car broke down this morning and I had to take a taxi. I was wondering if you could give me a ride home after work. I think my house is on your way.”

“I need to get to the bank by 4 p.m. I was wondering if I could leave work a few minutes early today so I can be sure I get there in time.”

“I was wondering if we could do a brief review before we take the test today. There are a few things I’m not 100% sure of.”

Notice that we use could and not can in these requests.

I was hoping…

This is another expression we can use to make a polite request. Since I was hoping… isn’t a question, we sometimes follow the expression with a question such as Would that be okay? or Would that be a problem?

Here are some examples:

“I know you’re really busy right now with your classes, but I was hoping you could help me do my research paper this weekend. Are you available?”

“I just found out that my best friend is going to be in town next week. I was hoping to take Friday off so I can spend the day with her. Would that be okay?”

“I was hoping you could host Christmas at your house this year. Work is really crazy for me, and I honestly don’t know if I’ll have time to plan a party. Would that be a problem?”

Notice that we use could and not can in these requests.

Do you think you/I/we could?

This is another expression that we often use to politely ask for a favor.

Here are some examples:

“My husband and I will be on vacation next week. Do you think you could get our mail for us while we’re out of town?”

“It’s really difficult for me to get here at 7:30 a.m. Do you think we could change the meeting time to 8 a.m.?”

“I’m applying for a new job. Do you think I could use you as a referral?”

Would it be possible to…?

This is another common expression for politely asking for a favor.

Here are some examples:

“Would it be possible to bring our children to the party? We haven’t been able to find a babysitter.”

“Would it be possible to change my appointment to next Friday instead of this Friday? I just found out I have to travel for work on Friday.”

“We are a bit behind schedule on this project. Would it be possible to push back the deadline a day or two? It’s going to be really difficult to finish on time, and we want to make sure we do quality work.”

Would it be a problem if…?

To make the request polite, we use the simple past form of the verb after this expression.

Here are some examples:

“Would it be a problem if we took your car instead of mine? Mine isn’t as comfortable on long drives.”

“Would it be a problem if I left a few minutes early today? My daughter has her dance recital tonight and I have to help her get ready.”

“My car won’t start. Would it be a problem if I left it in the parking lot overnight? I can have it towed tomorrow morning.”

 

For more polite language, check out these techniques and expressions for being polite in English.

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