Is it right that on a question: "Could you wait for a moment, please?" I can't say: "I could", only "I can" because "could" in my answer will be about the past. What else short answers with modal verbs are appropriate here? Could I say "I will"?

1 Answer 1


Here 'Could' is the beginning of a polite request phrased as a question, not a real question. An appropriate answer might be "Yes", "OK", "All right", "Sure", etc. An answer using a modal verb (apart from e.g. "I can" or "I will") might be unusual or incorrect, for example "I could" would probably sound sarcastic.

Requests (Cambridge Dictionary)

  • So, the answer with a modal verb is needless here, isn't it?
    – Sergei
    Apr 19, 2021 at 10:38
  • 4
    No. "I can" is a perfectly good answer using a modal verb - as would be "[Of course] I will". Michael just means that in the exact cited context, echoing back the "polite possibility" reference of the original question is likely to be interpreted as implying "I'm capable of waiting - but whether or not I will wait is another question that I'm not currently answering". Apr 19, 2021 at 14:02
  • 4
    "I can" or "I will" are perfectly acceptable, but a rather formal compared with "OK" or "sure." On the other hand, in British English "I could" means "I am physically capable of waiting, but I am not going to wait, and how you deal with that is your problem, not mine."
    – alephzero
    Apr 19, 2021 at 19:32

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