If I want to ask a question in a polite way, how should I ask?

  • Which is correct?
    1. May I ask you what's your name?
    2. May I ask you what your name is?
  • Which is correct?
    1. Could you tell me where are you from?
    2. Could you tell me where you're from?

In the same way, there may be other important grammatical rules. Could you please explain me?

  • This is heavily influenced by the setting and intent. A bar, a business meeting, on the street, in a store, would all take different approaches. Do you have any specific situation in mind?
    – DTRT
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 12:50
  • @boatseller,yes I've some situations,Talking politely or indirectly with a new friend, stranger or a person whom I'm going to introduce with
    – yubraj
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 13:14

2 Answers 2


These sentences come in two parts. Let's look at each part, first as a statement and then as a question. Note that the word order is inverted in the question.

You could tell me... statement, not inverted
Could you tell me... question, inverted
Where you are from. statement, not inverted
Where are you from? question, inverted.

When you phrase a polite question, the polite bit is grammatically the question (so it's inverted), and what you want to ask is simply a statement (so it's not inverted).

So, in the correct versions of your two questions, the word order of what you want to ask (the highlighted bit) is not inverted.

  1. May I ask you what your name is?
  2. Could you tell me where you are from?
  • I think we might also say: May I ask, what is your name?
    – djna
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 10:05
  • 1
    @djna... agreed, but not sure it's really a comma between the two clauses. Colon? Question mark?
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 11:18

The simple way to ask someone's name is to say, "What is your name?"

If you are concerned that a question -- any question -- is abrupt or potentially rude, you can soften it by saying, "Excuse me, but ..." or "Would you please tell me ..." or "Would you mind telling me ...".

In your examples, "May I ask you what your name is?" is valid. "May I ask you what's your name?" is awkward; a fluent speaker wouldn't say that. Well, someone might say that in informal speech, but you wouldn't write it or use it in formal speech. Use of contractions gets tricky some times. Usually you can only use a contraction when it can be expanded in place. Here, you wouldn't say, "May I ask you what is your name?" Though we break this rule for questions sometimes. It's okay to say, "Don't you like apricots?", meaning, "Do you not like apricots?" But no fluent speaker would say, "Do not you like apricots?".

You can ask, "Could you tell me where you are from?" Note "where you are" not "where are you". "Could you tell me where you're from?" is fine, because the contraction expands in place.

Perhaps your uncertainty is with the wording of "indirect" questions like this.

"Where are you from?"

"Can you tell me where you are from?"

Note the order of the subject and verb changes, from "are you" to "you are". In general in English, a statement is written subject - verb - object. Questions that you "is" or "are" are generally is/are - subject - verb or is/are - subject - adjective. Like "Is Bob going?" or "Is Bob tall?" Questions that use an interrogative word like who, how, why, what, or where are generally interrogative - is/are - subject - object or interrogative is/are - subject - infintive verb. Like, "Who are Bob's friends?" or "Where is Bob going?" With do/does it become interrogative - do/does - subject - verb. Like, "What does Bob eat?" or "How does Bob think?"

  • I got what you mean, what I infer is that when we want to ask questions politely,we need to ask indirect. And the question sometimes looks like an statement as you said "may I ask you where you're from" is correct out of "may I ask you where are you from"
    – yubraj
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 13:23
  • Yes. I should add, what's considered polite depends a lot on context. In a very busy office it might be perfectly acceptable to just look at the person and say, "Name?" In other context you might have to add several layers of indirection, like, "Excuse me, sir, but do you mind if I ask you for your name?" At some point this strays from "language" to "etiquette".
    – Jay
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 15:44
  • ,Thank you very much for your usefull answer. but how would you respond(answer) to this question related to you. ell.stackexchange.com/questions/101025/…
    – yubraj
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 15:56
  • SLC had a good answer there. I upvoted it. If that doesn't answer your question, feel free to make comments to ask for more information. By the way, sorry if when trying to answer your question I use language more complex than what you have learned so far. Sometimes it's easy to forget that people are asking questions here because they are struggling with English, and the answer should be as simple as possible!
    – Jay
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 16:07
  • ok ,I have put my comment
    – yubraj
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 16:50

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