When someone asks me

Can you do this?

I feel that it is missing the “please”.

Is “please” already implied by “can”, or is it proper to ask

Can you please do this?


The word "can" does not imply please. It is nice to say please but please does not always mean someone is being polite.

Usually the word "please" might be added to a simple sentence like that because the person asking may feel like you are not doing X fast enough, that you normally wouldn't do X, that X is doing them a favor... I personally like not hearing the please because it usually means that everything is running smoothly. I would hate to think that someone would feel they need to say please to get me to do something.

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Fundamentally, "can you please do..." is a request, while "can you do..." is a question (albeit one with an implied request attached).

Can you pass the salt?

Literally, this is asking whether the salt shaker is within your reach, and thus whether you have the capability to grab it and pass it along. However, there is also an implied request, namely if you are capable of doing it, then you should do so. This does not mean that there's an implied "please" in there; this is definitely the lowest on the politeness scale.

Can you please pass the salt?

This is no longer asking about capability; you are assumed to be able to reach the salt shaker and pick it up. As a request, it's polite enough for most purposes, but we can do better.

Could you pass the salt?

This is also an outright request; capability is assumed. Where it belongs on the politeness scale is somewhat debatable, but I would say it's about equal to "can you please...".

Could you please pass the salt?

This is the proper, polite form of this request. We have both the conditional and the "please" in there, so the request has been softened about as far as it can be without resorting to overblown false humility ("I was wondering if I could possibly trouble you to do me the immense favor of please passing the salt").

That all said, the politeness (or lack thereof) of a request depends greatly on the tone. "Can you pass the salt?" said without any particular emphasis would be much more polite than "Can you please pass the salt?!", because the latter, with the emphasis on the please and the exclamatory tone, implies frustration rather than politeness.

To address something from the comments:

Could you please just pass the salt?

Here, we've blown right past politeness and into exasperation. This would only be used if you've already asked for the salt, and instead of being passed the requested spice container, you were given a long story about how salt is bad for you and how it's impolite to ruin the spicing that the chef has so carefully achieved and really, don't you think the stew is already salty enough?

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These are two different sentences - understand why by replacing 'can' with 'could'.

  • Could you do this? (do you have the capability?)
  • Could you please do this (will you do this because I am asking you to do so?)
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  • While can does mean to be able to, many people use can for requests. I agree that in certain contexts they could mean different things. This, however appears to be more of an issue of formality. – John Q Public Oct 3 '13 at 0:05
  • OP is asking if please is a redundancy of can. For myself, I don't think that it is and it's excessively informal to make them equivalent. – lonstar Oct 3 '13 at 0:06
  • I'm not sure that I follow you, but if the question is are they redundant, the answer is no, they aren't. I believe on that we agree. The only thing that we don't agree on is that I don't feel that they are explicitly asking two different questions per se. – John Q Public Oct 3 '13 at 0:18
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    It can be two different questions, but they can also mean the same thing. Context and setting will determine the meaning. I might ask my a friend can you pass me my glasses? I'm not asking if he's able to pass me my glasses. I'm asking him to hand them to me. It's a very familiar relationship, so politeness is always required; people don't always say please when around close friends. And as far as could * goes, *could is just a weak form of can. It sounds to my as if the speaker is hearing them used interchangeably, which is possible. – John Q Public Oct 3 '13 at 6:31
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    Yes - as John Q Public says, Ionstar is making too strong an assertion with 'These are two different sentences'. Indeed, 'Please will you pass the salt." and "PLEEEASE will you pass the salt!" are very different sentences (as Tom points out). (I wouldn't call either a question - a request, yes.) "It can be two different questions [etc], but they can also mean the same thing. Context and setting will determine the meaning." That nicely sums up most of English. The field of studying 'why / how identical structures can be used / interpreted to mean very different things' is called pragmatics. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 3 '13 at 9:34

Can does not imply please. When speaking informally, many people omit please; but when you are in a formal situation, it's impolite to not say please.

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  • Could does imply a polite request, however, where can does not. – Bradd Szonye Oct 3 '13 at 4:50
  • To be fair, the question is about the use of can. Informally among very close friends, it's often used for requests. I believe when you say, polite you mean what I say when I say formal. I'm talking about when you're not asking for a rather large favor. Just simple requests from friends and family. I suspected that the question was asked because s/he has been hearing both used in the same fashion. And also, did state that could was the weaker form of can. – John Q Public Oct 3 '13 at 6:42

Both are proper to ask. They both convey the same kind of request. The first is more direct and can be used in normal day to day business, casual, etc. conversation. The second is a little more polite but caries the same meaning. If I were speaking to my dad, I'd use the second. If I were speaking to my office college or a friend, I'd use the first. That said, please is not implied in the first.

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