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What are the alternatives (but not too formal or unnecessary polite) to "I was going to ask you" phrase to start conversation with the question?

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There's nothing wrong with "I was going to ask you..." Some alternatives would be "I wanted to ask you..." or "I was meaning to ask you..." None of these sound too formal or unnecessarily polite, and they could be used in a wide variety of contexts (among friends, between an employee and boss, between a husband and wife, etc.)

Yet one more might be: "May I ask you a question?"

  • Thank you @J.R. I was under impression that "May I ask you a question" if not formal, but definitely polite-ish??? – Mitten May 3 '13 at 17:27
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    Mitten: I'd call it flexible. That is, it's polite enough that it wouldn't seem rude in more formal settings, yet it's not so polite that it would sound too stuffy among friends. In the latter case, though, it's often spoken as "Can I ask you a question?" rather than "May I ask you a question?" – J.R. May 3 '13 at 20:45
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Besides previously-suggested formulas, consider the following. All of the following have about the same meanings, but depending on tone or content will have different nuances, as suggested in the comments after each.

Can you tell me if... (fairly neutral but may suggest information is restricted or person's knowledge limited)
Will you tell me if... (fairly neutral but may imply person is secretive)
Won't you tell me if... (sometimes used to ask for information as a favor)
Do you know if... –or– Do you know whether... (neutral, but some people may bridle at the implication they don't know something)

In many cases, these and the previously-suggested formulas are no more than conversational fillers; the direct approach of just asking the question you want to ask often is a better thing to do.

  • thank you. Why do you think the direct approach is better? Should not we get a person attention first with a filler phrase first? – Mitten May 3 '13 at 17:25
  • I suggest saying the person's name, if necessary. That is likely to be less irritating than using a filler phrase. However, no single approach always is best; sometimes fillers are appropriate; often they are not. For example, if in a meeting you address a question to a panel, avoid filler words or phrases. – James Waldby - jwpat7 May 3 '13 at 18:05

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