I used to work with an English guy and whenever I had to ask something for permission I'd go like

  • Do I put this away?
  • Do I delete this from the system?
  • Do I go home now?

He told me that this is not good English, better ways to say this is by starting the sentence with shall, should, can or could. I was just wondering which grammar rule am I breaking?


  • 1
    If you are interested in using "good English", you should avoid using "I'd go like" when you mean "I would say". – Michael Harvey Nov 6 '18 at 10:12

The three questions are all perfectly grammatical and idiomatic.

Using do I is an alternative to should I.

Both constructions are typical of the questions that people who are new to a situation ask of instructors or experienced colleagues. They are seeking advice on the usual way of doing things.

Can I is used more in a context where someone is asking permission to do something (although many native English speakers use can I when they mean may I.)

Shall I is slightly more direct than should I although the difference is negligible in practice.

In short, you can safely ignore the advice of your "English guy".

  • I also asked another Aussie guy and he said it is alright and does make sense, but he'd prefer other expressions. May be native speakers don't normally use this construction. – user31782 Nov 6 '18 at 8:29
  • This is really a case of personal preference and local or national habits. The question is not whether it's correct and idiomatic (it is!) but simply whether you're comfortable with it. Suit yourself! – Ronald Sole Nov 6 '18 at 11:57
  • I think you may want to emphasize this point: "...typical of the questions people who are new to a situation ask." When we ask, "do I do something this way," we're asking for instructions, not permission. – Juhasz Nov 6 '18 at 14:08
  • @user31782 Many native speakers use a "Do" construction. Many do not. It's not "wrong" to do so. How I speak is different from how other people speak. – Jason Bassford Nov 6 '18 at 15:02

The grammar is correct.

The meaning is slightly odd, as asking "Do I xyz?" asks whether the speaker (I) does someing in the simple present. This tends not to indicate a willful action, but most "I" questions are about actions that the speaker is doing at will.

This is odd because the questioner should know about their own actions. It is possible to use the simple present tense when asking about actions that are required.

Do I go home now?

Is is time for me to go home, whether I want to or not.

May I go home now? (or "Can I" or "Could I..")

Please give me permission to go.

Shall I go home now? (or "Should I...")

What is your opinion on whether I choose to go home now or not? Since you normally have some choice in your actions, it may be more common to ask for advice with "shall" or "should".

You say you are asking for "permission". And so you would normally ask "Can I", "May I" or "Could I".

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