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  • I don't know about you, but I don't like it when people are rude.

  • Politeness is generally very important, especially if you want people to help you with something.

  • If you want someone to do something for you, there are different ways of expressing it in English, depending on how polite you want to be.

  • If I say, "Open the window," it's quite direct, isn't it?

  • It's the imperative form, which is more or less an order.

  • "Open the window, please!"

  • Adding the word "please" does make it more polite, but it's still quite direct.

  • "Can you open the window, please?"

  • Now we are getting more polite, but why is this more polite?

  • Well, one reason is because this is now a question.

  • So, it's more of a request than an order.

  • And because it's a question, it's easier to say no.

  • Let's now use "could" instead of "can".

  • "Could you open the window, please?"

  • "Could" is more polite than "can", and this is where it begins to get interesting.

  • Why is "Could you open the window, please?" more polite than "Can you open the window, please?"

  • Well, it's all to do with the relationship between "can" and "could", and the idea of distance, of remoteness.

  • "Could" can be described as the remote form of "can".

  • Sometimes, that distance is "time".

  • "I can swim."

  • That's an ability I have now.

  • "I could swim when I was four."

  • That's an ability I had at a time in the past.

  • Sometimes, that distance is between what is real and what is imagined.

  • "I can't do that in my head."

  • This is something that is not possible for me to do now.

  • "I couldn't do that even if I had a calculator."

  • This is something that's not possible for me to do, even in an imagined situation where I have a calculator.

  • And sometimes distance is in "relationship".

  • "Can you open the window, please?"

  • "Could you open the window, please?"

  • "Could" puts more social distance between speaker and listener.

  • That makes it more polite as it's less uncomfortable for someone to say no.

  • Now, we're not talking about actual distance here.

  • We're not saying you have to be physically further away to be polite, but it is a good way to visualize it.

  • The further the speaker is away, the easier it is to say no, and "could" puts you further away.

  • Open the window!

  • Open the window, please!

  • Can you open the window, please?

  • Could you open the window, please?

  • And in English, we can make that distance even further, too, using past forms and modal structures.

  • I was wondering, if you wouldn't mind, opening the window, if it's not too much trouble.

  • For a simple request like opening a window, that one is probably a bit over the top.

  • One very important thing to remember, perhaps more important than the words themselves, is the way they are spoken.

  • It's only polite if the tone of voice is polite.

  • You can make a polite form of words less polite if you stress it in a different way.

  • For example, "Can you open the window?" "Could you please open the window?"

  • So, sounding polite is a combination of words and the way you say them.

  • And when it comes to words, "could you" is more polite than "can you", and longer phrases with past forms and modals are more polite still.

I don't know about you, but I don't like it when people are rude.

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How to be Polite in English - | Top Tips for Language Learners!

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    林宜悉 posted on 2022/11/04
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