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.
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).
We use the modal verbs will and can in less formal situations, whereas we use would and could in more formal situations.
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 comes over?
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?
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 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 shut the door, please?
Could you take our order, please?
Can you please pass me the pepper?
Will you please lend me some money?
If when using modals of request we’d like to ask someone NOT to do something, we can place not before the verb.
Can you not make so much noise?
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.
! No, I won’t. – you can also answer using won’t but it’s considered very impolite.
I’m sorry, but 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.
Actually, I’d prefer to stay at home.
When we offer to do things, we use the modal verbs can, would, could, may.
Would you like a beverage?
When we invite someone to our home to do something we use: would (like), could, will, or can.
Can you come home early tonight?
When the waiter wants to ask us about our preferences, he’ll use the phrase “Would you (like)…”.
Would you like sauce with that?
I’ll have the chicken.