For context, I have recently started a new job, it's a startup in the UK and most employees come from an academic background. I have lived in the UK for 4 years but didn't study here, and English is not my first language.

I noticed that it is common here to word requests in a form of "can I get X", when addressing a group. For example, in my team's Slack channel (instant messaging tool), people ask "can I get a review on (link)". It should be noted that doing these reviews is within my team's responsibility.

This form of making a request doesn't feel very polite to me. I usually word my own requests in the form of "can I please get a review on (link)", or "could someone please help me with X". However, no one else in this company says this, and I also got some feedback (on other occasions) on my communication style being too direct, so I wasn't sure if this would be the most appropriate form to use.

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    Lynne Murphy, in her book The Prodigal Tongue says "Can I get a coffee? This simple question tops many a British list of annoying Americanisms". Later, she says "The real reason can I get sounds bad in Britain is because it's not the way British folk have been taught to make a polite request." She notes that "can I have" works as a polite request in Britain, but "less well for Americans, for whom it can sound like asking permission".
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 30, 2020 at 18:53
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    @Tanya It sounds as if you are saying that everyone uses "can I get". Then, when you say it, you say "please can I get". How can adding "please" be too direct? It sounds as if you should ask someone among the people you work with what formula you should use, according to the culture at your startup. Jul 30, 2020 at 21:07
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    +1 Good question. Ok, requests/directives are quite subtle and difficult in English, once your English is high level (which yours is!). If you're asking a group something then "Can I get ..." can be a polite request; it depends on the request. However, adding please, if you put it after a modal verb, can be very agressive indeed. It could also seem agressive if you put it at the beginning of the sentence too if you're asking people for a favour. See this post here. Aug 3, 2020 at 22:54
  • So please is important, especially in British English, but not only for politeness. It is is also important in terms of being aggressive or rude! It's a good idea to be very careful with the word please! Aug 3, 2020 at 23:02

1 Answer 1


Nobody's going to mind you saying "please can I get...", especially if English isn't your first language - this seems more about tone. Some people say "hello", some say "hi", some say "hey", and they're all fine, but some people will like hearing one more than another. This sounds like an informal office, and "can I get" is a casual way of saying "could I please have" that people are just more comfortable with.

I should also say that it's less direct than something like "could I please have..." which is an actual explicit request for something. The tone is less "oh hey it would be cool if somebody could do this", and more like "this is something I need and I'm politely asking you to do it for me". That puts more social pressure on the other person to either fulfil your request, or turn you down.

That's the tricky part about language - even when you can speak it, there are these cultural and social nuances and norms that people outside the group don't always know about. (That includes people posting in here, including me - I don't know exactly what your workplace is like, what the vibe is, etc.) Copying your peers often works though!

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