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I've heard someone in my native tongue was saying these in a very nice way that many people were pleased with them but I think they are depend on the tone of voice or the context. I need to make sure. Are these true?

  1. If you ask a taxi driver to hurry because you are in hurry by saying "Will you hurry?" you are actually asking the driver's willingness and will hurt his/her feeling.

  2. "Could you ~?" is usually more polite than "Can you ~?" but only when you ask for help "Can you help me?" is more considerate than "Could you help me?" because when the answer is no the person feels more easier to say no.

  3. "Would you mind ~?" is not polite way of asking but it's rather cynical.

Thanks for your help.

  • Thanks everyone. All examples and explanations are so helpful to me. So I understand these points above I mentioned are all not wrong, but depending on the situation those said not good here are also good to say. – karlalou May 12 '14 at 16:58
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You are right about context and intonation playing a very important role in these sentences.

If you ask a taxi driver to hurry because you are in hurry by saying "Will you hurry?" you are actually asking the driver's willingness and will hurt his/her feeling.

If you are stuck in traffic, asking the driver if he will hurry may indeed hurt their feelings, since it seems obvious that their willingness to hurry is not questioned by the fact that they are simply unable to hurry. (Albeit that some drivers have very original ways to enable them to hurry even in very busy traffic, and that their willingness to do so may increase after the promise of an extra financial reward...)

Indeed, the use of "will" normally inquires directly about a person's willingness to perform a task, and we normally assume that the person is able to do so. Asking them if they are willing when they are obviously unable might be insulting. On the other hand, you could use "would" for a hypothetical situation: "If you knew Spanish, would you help me with my homework?"

"Could you ~?" is usually more polite than "Can you ~?" but only when you ask for help "Can you help me?" is more considerate than "Could you help me?" because when the answer is no the person feels more easier to say no.

"Could" is indeed usually more polite indeed. Where "can" simply asks whether the person is capable of doing something (and implying that you would appreciate they did it!), when you use "could", you are implying that they have to also have a willingness to do it.

So indeed "could you provide an example?" is more polite than "can you provide an example?", but can is the correct form to use when you are genuinely wondering if the person is able to do something:

Can you come to the dinner party this evening? => Are you able to make it, or have you another appointment?
Could you come to the dinner party this evening? => It would be much appreciated if you would come.

"Would you mind ~?" is not polite way of asking but it's rather cynical.

It is actually a very polite way of asking. "Would you mind giving me a hand?" is more polite than any of the previous forms.
However, exactly because is is so polite, it is often too polite in most circumstances! And because of that, it can be very effectively used in a cynical way, in the same way we can use formal forms of address or other (extremely) formal language.

As such, nobody will think of cynicism if a lady asks a stranger:

Would you mind helping me cross the street?

But if I address a friend of mine in this way:

Miss Jones, my dearest, smartest friend, would you mind terribly if I were to decline your kind invitation to your extremely interesting lecture on the history of quilting in 1970's rural Northumbria?

I am quite sure she, and anyone who heard it, would understand that I might be a bit cynical about the interest in the subject as well as my actual appreciation of the invitation - and most importantly, it would be understood I am not actually inquiring whether she would mind my rejection, I am assuming my rejecting should come as no surprise to her!

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In terms of formality, “can you” is the most casual, “could you” is more polite and “would you” is the most formal and polite. There is no major difference in meaning between “can you” and “could you”. However, there is a difference in nuance between “could you” and “would you”. The words “could you” focus on the ability to do something, but the words “would you” focus on the willingness to do something. For example:

Can you help me with my homework later? (said to a friend or family member)

Could you tell me how to get to the train station from here? (said to a stranger on the street)

Would you lend me your car this weekend? (said to a friend or family member, but in a very polite way because you want something from them)

Sometimes people get confused between the difference between “could you” and “would you” but there is one example sentence which usually helps people to understand. If a man is asking someone to marry him, he would say:

Would you marry me?

But he would NEVER say:

Could you marry me?

By saying, “Would you marry me?” he is asking “Are you willing to marry me?” but if he said “Could you marry me?” it sounds like “Do you have the ability to marry me?” (which sounds quite strange and VERY unromantic.)

EDIT : To differentiate will/can , use this.

  • Would you marry me? I don't think anyone would say this when proposing. You might use this when discussing your suitability as a partner, with a (close) friend. Agreed that you would also never use could in that situation. But I'm almost certain it's exclusively will you marry me? In common usage, can, could and would, when requesting services, are essentially interchangeable, and equivalent in meaning. Only a very pedantic person would correct the differences outlined (willingness vs. ability). Also, what's your basis for saying could is more polite than can? – jimsug May 12 '14 at 6:22
  • Politeness is not an issue here. It's willingness vs. ability. .It's not insulting the person by questioning their ability to perform something. – user3168736 May 12 '14 at 6:25
  • So - sorry, to clarify - are you saying that even though politeness isn't an issue (though you did mention that could you is more polite than can you), it's about not insulting someone (which I can only read as an act of politeness) - even though you've said there's no major difference in the meaning of the two? – jimsug May 12 '14 at 6:28
  • I'm asking about your distinction between could and can - not would - and your basis for saying that one is more polite than the other. Not saying that it isn't, just wondering why you say that. – jimsug May 12 '14 at 6:38
  • Consider two cases. case 1 politeness isn't matter between friends. So "can you give me that pencil?" - Asking a friend ll not create any issue. case 2 Can you use that sentence to your teacher.There is an unstated "if" clause is present when using could. – user3168736 May 12 '14 at 6:53

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