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10 Expressions to Help You Sound More Polite in English Conversations

February 14, 2020

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Politeness is an inexpensive way of making friends.

—William Feather

In today's post, we're going to focus on how to express politeness when speaking in English.

Whether you're studying English for immigration, work, or travel, knowing how to be polite in English will help you in many ways! You'll avoid offending people unintentionally and you'll connect with others more easily. Also, learning polite language might help you win friends in your personal life and build stronger relationships at work.

Here are ten expressions that will help you sound more polite in English.

1. "Could you…?"

We often use "could" when making requests in English. This softens the request and makes it sound less like an order. "Can" is also common, but it's more often used with close friends. If you'd like to sound more polite when talking to someone you don't know well, "could" is great to use.

So, instead of saying:

"Send me the report." or "Close the door."

You could say:

"Could you send me the report?" or "Could you close the door, please?"

2. "I was wondering if…"

We normally use this expression in spoken English to ask someone politely for help. It follows this pattern:

I was wondering if + subject + past verb

Here are some examples:

  • I was wondering if you had time to help me.
  • Sarah was wondering if you could pick her up from the airport.

We also use this expression to ask someone politely if they would like to do something. For example:

  • I was wondering if you wanted to join me for dinner tonight.

3. "By any chance…"

This is a common expression we use to ask for information. "By any chance" means "possibly," and it’s used as a polite emphasis in questions or requests.

We can use "by any chance" at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the sentence.

Let's look at some examples:

  • By any chance, do you know where the train station is?
  • Do you, by any chance, know where the train station is?
  • Do you know where the train station is by any chance?

4. "Do you mind if…?"

"Do you mind if…?" is a great way to ask for permission, and it follows this pattern:

Do you mind if + subject + present verb

For example,

  • Do you mind if I use your phone?
  • Do you mind if we park here?

5. "What if…?"

We often use this expression when we want to suggest something indirectly. Generally speaking, when someone proposes an option and you'd like to suggest an alternative, offering your suggestion in the form of a question will help you sound more polite.

For example:

  • What if we went out to eat instead?
  • What if we tried a different design?

"What if I…?" can also be used as an informal way of suggesting something that you can do to help someone:

  • What if I helped you with your essay?

6. "Pardon me?"

"Pardon me" is a polite expression often used to ask someone to repeat what they said. Because responding with "What?" can sound rude and too direct in some cases, replying with "Pardon me?" or just "Pardon?" is a great alternative when asking for clarification.

Here's an example:

  • Pardon me? I didn't hear what you said.

7. "Sorry to bother you…"

"Sorry to bother you…" can be used as a polite way of interrupting someone when you’d like their attention. For example, if you have to interrupt someone because you need their help, you can say:

  • Sorry to bother you, but I really need your help.

Here are a few other examples:

  • Sorry to bother you, but do you know what time it is?
  • Sorry to bother you, but do you know if this bus goes to the mall?

8. "I would like…"

Because "I want" can be direct and impolite in some situations, a more polite option is "I would like…"

When using "I would like," follow one of these structures:

I would like + infinitive (to + verb)

I would like + noun

For example, instead of saying:

  • I want another coffee.

You could say:

  • I would like another coffee.
  • I would like to have another coffee.

9. "I would love to, but…"

This is a polite way to say "no" in English. For instance, if someone invites you to do something and you want to decline their invitation nicely, you can say:

  • I'd love to, but I can't. I have to get up early tomorrow morning.
  • We'd love to join you, but we're going away this weekend.

10. "I'd love to hear more, but…"

We often use this expression when we're in a hurry and we need to end a conversation politely.

Here are a few examples:

  • I'm so sorry. I'd love to hear more, but I'm late for work!
  • I'd love to hear more, but I have to run to an appointment.

We'd love to hear from you! What other expressions would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments. Also, do you have a friend or a colleague who would like to know how to be more polite in English conversations? If so, please share this post with them. Thanks for reading!

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Comments (2)

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Abeba Kefle(Guest)

This is my first time ,but itis good

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Anthony Abrena(ESL Library Staff)

We're glad to hear that Abeba!

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