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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 visualise 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 2021/09/27
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