Requests - English Grammar Today - Cambridge Dictionaries Online


from English Grammar Today

When we make a request, we ask someone for something, or we ask someone to do something.

Asking for something

There are different ways of asking for something. We usually ask for something in a polite and indirect way, for example, using can, could, would you mind if and may:


Can I have the salt?


Of course, here you are.


Could I ask you the time, please?


No problem. It’s quarter past four.


Would you mind if I borrowed your pen, please?


Of course, here you are.


May I have the bill, please? (May is more formal.)


Certainly, Madam.

I need is very direct and is usually used for urgent requests:

I need a doctor.

I need the fire extinguisher. Fast!

I want is very direct and can sound impolite. We don’t normally use it to make requests unless we want to be very direct:

I want to speak to the manager right now. I am not leaving here until I get my money back.

Asking someone to do something

There are a number of ways of asking someone to do something in a polite and indirect way. We often use please to make our requests more polite:

Could you call a taxi for me, please?

Would you ask Rose whether she has signed the card, please?

Would you mind collecting my suit from the dry cleaner’s, please?

Do you think you could come in ten minutes early tomorrow, before the presentation?

We sometimes use can you and will you to make requests but they are more informal:

Mum, can you wake me at seven o’clock?

Will you send me an email tomorrow just to remind me to book a hotel?

We need is often used in work contexts by a boss or manager to ask for something to be done in a polite way:

We need to email the contract to Peter immediately.

We need someone to go to the meeting in Paris on Wednesday. Bill can’t go.

When we are not sure if someone will be able to do what we ask, we sometimes use you wouldn’t …, would you? or you couldn’t …, could you?:

You wouldn’t drop this into the post office for me, would you?

You couldn’t stop at a bank machine, could you?

In formal letters and formal emails, we can use the following expressions:

I would be grateful if you could send me more information about the course.

We would be most grateful if you could send someone to meet us at the airport as we do not speak Japanese.

(“Requests” from English Grammar Today © Cambridge University Press.)
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