We can use certain modal verbs, especially the past forms of the modal verbs can, may, shall and will (could, might, should and would), to be more polite or less direct. We can also use other modal expressions (certainly, possibility, be likely to, be supposed to be). We often do this when we ask for something or ask someone to do something:
Might I ask if you are related to Mrs Bowdon? (rather formal and more polite/less direct than May I ask …?)
Would you follow me, please, sir? (more polite/less direct than Will you follow me …?)
Would you mind moving your car, please?
Couldyou take a look at my laptop? It’s taking so long to start up.
Well I’llcertainlytake a look. Is there apossibilitythat it might have a virus?
Well, the anti-virus issupposed to beup to date.
You arelikelyto feel stressed before your exam. (less direct than You will feel stressed before your exam.)
Sometimes we use a past verb form when we refer to present time, in order to be more polite or less direct. We often do this with verbs such as hope, think, want and wonder. The verb may be in the past simple, or, for extra politeness, in the past continuous:
Where’s the key to the back door?
Iwas hopingyouhadit. (less direct than I hope you have it.)
I thought you might want to rest for a while since it’s been a long day.
I wanted to ask you a question.
I am having problems with my internet connection and I was just wondering if you could tell me how to fix it. (less direct and forceful than I have a problem with my internet connection and I wonder if you could tell me how to fix it.)
In formal contexts, we sometimes use past forms in questions, invitations and requests in the present so as to sound more polite:
Did you want another coffee?
I thought you might like some help.
We were rather hoping that you would stay with us.
In shops and other service situations, servers often use past verb forms to be polite:
Using very familiar terms of address inappropriately
When people know each other very well, for example, couples or very close friends, parents and their children, they may address each other using terms such as love, honey, darling, pet. In certain dialects, you may also hear people use these terms in shops and cafés, for example. It is impolite to use these terms in formal contexts: