19

I was in a conversation with a client who asked me, "How are you?" I responded with "I am fine, thank you." I then followed up with, "How are you? Please."

My manager asks why I append "please" and says it is not standard. Is she correct or is it OK to use please after my question?

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  • 13
    No it is not standard. "How are you?" is standard. – Brandin Nov 25 '15 at 14:29
  • 3
    The "please" part would not be standard in US English. It might be different in your locale. – Joe Strazzere Nov 25 '15 at 14:39
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    It wouldn't be standard in the UK either. – user1108 Nov 25 '15 at 16:17
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    If somebody asks you, "How are you?" the common reply (to ask the same question back to that somebody and after answering the "How are you?" question) is "What about you?" or simply "You?" (with rising intonation) – shin Nov 25 '15 at 16:51
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    Is it standard to add “please” after a question, please? (just kidding) – wythagoras Nov 25 '15 at 17:28
52

As a native speaker of Northeastern US English, I would normally only add please after a question if I was asking for a specific favor or for an object from the person I am questioning.

For example:

  • Can you pass me that wrench, please?

  • Could you let me know when he arrives, please?

But it is not used when asking simple factual questions, matters of opinion, or idiomatic phrases:

  • Has he arrived yet, please?

  • Do you like those new tools, please?

  • How are you, please?

To put it briefly, "please" is used when one asks a question which solicits a favor. In the questions that have been struck out, one solicits a piece of information (and not a favor).

  • 1
    Good answer. I would add that if you are making a request for an action, which is itself the providing of information, that you can say please. For example, perhaps someone you've asked "What did she say?" refuses to answer. Then you could say "Please tell me what she said!" But your distinction holds: now you are asking for an action, not merely the information (even though in effect they are asking for the same thing). – ErikE Nov 25 '15 at 19:46
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    Oh, but "What time is it, please?" is a violation of your suggested rule, though it is actually shorthand for "Would you please tell me what time it is?" – ErikE Nov 25 '15 at 19:47
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    @ErikE - That's a good observation, although I don't feel like I actually hear people say "please" with that very often these days. – stangdon Nov 25 '15 at 19:53
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    "Which way is it to the train station, please?" is another counter-example. I think the difference might be when you are querying for personal knowledge (especially about a person's own internal state) vs. external knowledge. But then, "Are you mad at me" and "Is he mad at me?" also don't take "please", so I think it will take more examination to get this right. – ErikE Nov 25 '15 at 19:56
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    tldr; add please when requesting something. – user9709 Nov 26 '15 at 6:04
23

Please is for requests

Please could you pass me that pencil?

Or

Could you get the door for me, please?

Although note that both of these would be valid, if potentially impolite, without the "please".

Not for questions

How are you?

Or

Did your children enjoy your trip on the steam train?

  • 4
    I think the please serves more than to merely make those sentences more polite. "could you pass me that pencil" alone is not entirely clear if it is a question regarding the persons ability to pass you the pencil or a request to do so. The please disambiguates this as a request. – Vality Nov 25 '15 at 17:47
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    @Vality I would never think that "Could you pass me that pencil?" meant "Are you able to pass me that pencil?". It is merely a request for a pencil, no more, no less. – D_Bester Nov 25 '15 at 18:01
  • @vality I disagree - you're transposing 'are you able to' onto the request. The two are not analogous: admittedly 'can you' it is sometimes used that way colloquially but never when ambiguous. Eg 'can you reach the ceiling?' Is clearly a question. 'Can you reach the cans on the top shelf for me?' Is clearly a request. Why would you ever ask if someone is physically able to pass you a pencil? Of course 'no, I have my hands full' is an acceptable answer to the request, but that doesn't make the original request into a simple question. – Jon Story Nov 25 '15 at 18:10
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    This is a common joke enjoyed by children (or, alternately, to annoy children): When someone says "Could you pass the salt?", you say "Yes, I could!". It's not really ambiguous — it's very clear to everyone that this is a request to actually perform the action — but it's (depending on your taste in humor) humorous to pretend otherwise. – mattdm Nov 25 '15 at 19:27
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    Exactly, the request isn't ambiguous, it's just a dad joke. – Jon Story Nov 25 '15 at 19:36
9

Please goes with a request—not with a question—but there are some gray areas.

One common case where "please" often follows a question is when an employee begins to ask a customer a series of personal questions. In this case, I think there is an implied request for the customer to provide personal information in this new phase of the interaction:

Employee: How can we help you today?
Customer: I'd like to open an account.
Employee: Wonderful! I'd be happy to open an account for you. What is your name, please?
Customer: John Doe
Employee: And your home address?

  • "What is your name?" is really equivalent to "Please can you tell me your name" - the context makes it a request, even if the phrasing is somewhat question-like: it's understood that the cashier/advisor isn't randomly asking the question for their own interest, and it's really a prompt/request for the next piece of information on the form. – Jon Story Nov 26 '15 at 11:03
0

In most of the US it is not standard to add 'please' at the end of a question. There are some portions of the Midwest, particularly parts of Ohio, where this is standard practice.

  • Whoah, really? I'm curious -- what parts of Ohio, and just how standard is it? – jme Nov 26 '15 at 16:19
0

It is not required to say "please" after a question unless it is an imperative sentence. However, I think "please" is polite

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