6

When I learnt "could you possibly" pattern, my friend said to me this is very polite form to use when I make a request.I said 'how about if I use the please also with it" and he said ' it is a bit too polite that almost in a begging manner'. I can understand that but what I would like to ask that there are other ways of making request.For example :

Would you open the window

or

Could you open the window

But in these forms it is ok if I do not use the word please?


Does its politeness degree change depending on where to use the please?

For example :

Could you please open the window

or

Could you open the window please?

Which one is more idiomatic or more polite ?


And at last but not least which one is more polite?

  1. "Would you please open the window"
  2. "Could you please open the window"
  3. "Could you possibly open the window"
  4. "Could you possibly open the window please"
  5. "Would you mind opening the window"
  6. "Would you mind opening the window please"
  • 6
    The inherent difference in politeness between your six examples is much smaller than the range of politeness possible in any one of them that is dependent on how you say it. I would worry less about choosing among them and spend the time listening to native speakers' inflection. That said, I would tend toward 1,2,5 & 6, and use 3&4 only if there is a clear reason why it might not be possible. But really, that's just me (AmE), and the more important factor is intonation. – Adam Mar 5 '15 at 16:15
  • @Adam I wholeheartedly agree. Furthermore, when speaking you have the capacity of tone and inflection (are those two redundant?) which actually expands the ability to use even one that does not contain the word "please". As you wrote, it is how you say it that may matter in speech, whereas in writing it would depend on the words used and the tone the project collectively. – Gary Mar 5 '15 at 23:07
3

I agree with your friend that if you use please in addition to another "softening" phrase in your request that it could be perceived as somewhat obsequious or even a bit sarcastic.

As Adam mentioned, inflection is very important. These examples could be spoken in a way that makes them more of a demand than a polite request.

Could you possibly roll down the car window please? The next time you decide to eat 5 bean burritos for lunch, you should drive by yourself back to the office.

Would you mind taking your feet off of my desk, please?

I tend to use "Could you..." mostly if there is some doubt as to whether the person is able to do what I ask. I think it's fairly common in AmE to make that distinction, but I'm certain some folks don't see much difference between "could you" and "would you", so it's not really a rule that you have to follow.

Could you possibly speed up the process for me? I need to get those permits before next week.
Could you please speed up the process for me? I need to get those permits before next week.

I tend to use "Would you..." mostly in situations where I'm asking the person if they would be willing to do what I'm requesting.

Would you help me carry these boxes please?
Would you mind helping me with these boxes?

  • Emphasis on the words does make a big difference. Emphasizing "please" makes it sound like a demand. "Often I will replace "please" with "if you have a moment" or "if you don't mind" to make my request sound less like a demand. – jetset Dec 2 '15 at 7:20
0

In interrogative sentences, obviously the most basic is just simple command form: "Stop doing that". It tends to sound aggressive and blunt, and even impolite in formal settings.

One of the ways that this straightforward manner is attenuated is by the use of the word "please", softening the command to a request (though it can still be used for mandatory actions): "Please stop doing that" or "Stop doing that, please". This is soft enough for even the most formal of situations, interestingly. Young children are in fact taught to always say please with their interrogatives in order to be polite.

We also start to use the conditional as we get even more formal: "Could you stop doing that?", which is more formal in that it's very indirect; the asker is not asking whether the subject is literally capable of stopping, but rather requesting/mandating politely that the person stop.

Those can be combined, as well, as with one more tactic: the indicative syllogism. This is when the command is phrased in a very roundabout way, such as: "The way you do that is upsetting the children", which in context would be a request to stop. This one requires some logical ability, and subjects may not get the hint, but when executed well, it's very tactful and polite. The subject may not even realise you've asked them to stop!

Also, parents talking to children sometimes use indicative statements with "we". For example, a child might say to her friend, "Make sure to wash your hands", but the friend's parent might say "We wash our hands before dinner in this house". This is considered to be condescending and pejorative if done between adults, however, as it's traditionally reserved for obvious circumstances of a superior mandating to an inferior.

Combine all but that last one, and compare with the original:

  • "Stop stepping on those plants!"
  • "If those plants were to be crushed underfoot, they may never bloom, and the garden wouldn't look very pretty!"

To me, the difference in politeness is obvious.

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