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modals of request

Modals of request

Modals of request

When we want to ask for things, order at a restaurant, invite people to meetings or to our home, make offers, we use modals of request. We use modals to make requests sound more polite. In English, making the request short and direct is considered quite impolite. It’s much better to use a longer version of the request by using modals of request, so that the request is less direct and therefore considered more polite.

Lend me some money. (direct request)

Could you lend me some money, please? (indirect request)

There are four basic modals of request that we use: can, will, could, would, and may (for offers).

more formal would
less formal will

We use the modal verbs will and can in less formal situations, whereas we use would and could in more formal situations.

Would you open the window?
Could you pass me the potatoes?
Will you lend me some money?

Can I borrow your pen?

What are modal verbs?

Modal verbs are used to add more information to the main verb. They are always followed by the main verb in the infinitive form without to (base form). Also modal verbs don’t change their form – meaning you don’t add -s, -ing or -ed to them.

Can she come over?
Cans she come over?

Can she comes over?

modals of request

Affirmative questions with modals of request

We form affirmative questions by placing the modal first, then the subject of the question, and finally, the verb in its base form.

modal + subject + verb (in base form)

Would you like something to drink?
Could you take a look at my homework?
Will you give me my money back?
Can you buy me a soda?

English? No problem

Would you mind…

Would you mind + verb-ing

When we want to make a polite request in English we can use the phrase “would you mind…”.

Would you mind passing me that book?
Would you mind turning down the TV?
Would you mind being more quiet?

Would you mind shutting the window?

You can also use the phrase “Do you mind…” However, this phrase is less polite than “Would you mind…”.

Do you mind closing the door?


When using modals of request, we can place “please” either after the subject or at the end of the sentence to make the sentence more polite.

Would you please shut the door?

Would you shut the door, please?

Could you please take our order?

Could you take our order, please?

Can you pass me the pepper, please?

Can you please pass me the pepper?

Will you lend me some money, please?

Will you please lend me some money?

Negative questions

If when using modals of request we’d like to ask someone NOT to do something, we can place not before the verb.

Would you not speak so loudly?
Could you not smoke here?
Will you not spend all the money?

Can you not make so much noise?

Answering requests

We can answer requests using short answers. Short answers have a very simple structure. To answer affirmatively, we use YES, and then we add the appropriate subject pronoun and the modal verb can or will. To give a negative reply, we use NO, appropriate subject pronoun and modal verb can’t.

Would/Could/Can/Will you come with me to the store?
Yes, I can.
Yes, I will.
No, I can’t.

! No, I won’t. – you can also answer using won’t but it’s considered very impolite.

To make a refusal sound more polite we can add “I’m sorry…” to the answer.

I’m sorry, but I can’t.

Other possible affirmative answers:
Would/Could/Can/Will you come with me to the store?
Yes, certainly.
Yes, of course.
I’d be happy to.
No problem.
Yes, sure.

Of course.

Other possible negative answers:
Would/Could/Can/Will you come with me to the store?
No, I’m sorry.
Sorry, I can’t.

I’d like to, but I can’t.

It’s important to remember that some people don’t like to say no. For example, British people may be less direct when refusing a request.

Well, I’m not sure.
Um, actually, maybe not at the moment.

Actually, I’d prefer to stay at home.

Making offers

When we offer to do things, we use the modal verbs can, would, could, may.

Could I offer you a beverage?
Can I bring you something to drink?
May I take your order?

Would you like a beverage?


When we invite someone to our home to do something we use: would (like), could, will, or can.

Would you like to come over tonight?
Could you come early?
Will you come to the movies with us?

Can you come home early tonight?

Ordering food

When the waiter wants to ask us about our preferences, he’ll use the phrase “Would you (like)…”.

Would you like sauce with that?

When ordering at a restaurant we can use the following phrases:
I would like…
Can I have…

I’ll have…

I would like the fish.
Can I have the beef?

I’ll have the chicken.

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