The art of polite conversation can be challenging for an English language learner, especially when we consider the cultural differences that can interfere with understanding. In many cultures it is perfectly ok to speak in a direct manner, but we must understand that this is considered to be extremely informal in the English language.


Polite speech:

Distant tone – One would consider it right to state…

Long winded questions – Could you be so kind as to tell me…?

Indirect questions: I was wondering if you could inform me about…?

Expressing uncertainty – I am no expert, but…

Certain connectives – nevertheless, notwithstanding, thus, hence

Agreement and disagreement – see the following link HERE

Avoid the use of phrasal verbs – tolerate instead of put up with

Only use certain idioms – see the following link HERE

Avoid contractions – can´t, won´t, gunna, wanna

Use inversions – Should you require any further information, do not hesitate to ask


When we consider the timing of when we should speak in a polite way we need to take into account the situation involved. Generally we speak in a formal way:

  1. With strangers or acquaintances
  2. In work situations e.g. a job interview
  3. On the phone to specific organisations
  4. With teachers or professors at university




Before you make a polite request, you ought to ask for permission or apologise.

  • Sorry to interrupt…
  • Sorry to bother you…
  • Sorry, but do you have a moment…
  • Sorry, but could you spare a moment…
  • Sorry, but would you mind answering…
  • I am ever so sorry, but would it be possible to make an enquiry?


Making polite requests or asking questions:

  • Would it be possible…?
  • Is there any possibility…?
  • Could you be so kind as to tell me…?
  • I was wondering if you could inform me about…?
  • I was wondering if it were possible to…?
  • Would you consider it right…?
  • I am ever so sorry, but could you…?
  • Sorry to bother you, could you be so kind as to settle a doubt…?



When you are not completely certain, you can try one of these more advanced (C1) English phrases:

  • I do not have any special reason for believing this. It just seems right to me that…
  • I could be wrong as I have no special reason for believing this. I just feel this is right as…
  • I´m not sure why I feel this way but I have reason to believe…


When you ARE certain, try one of these phrases:

  • There is a lot of evidence to support my point of view. For example…
  • There are many facts in favour of my opinion. One such fact is…
  • From my own personal experience, I am lead to believe…


Rejecting requests:

  •  I am afraid that that is not a possibility…
  • I am sorry, but that would be out of the question…
  • I am sorry to say that the request has been rejected…
  • I am afraid that the request has been turned down…


The use of role-play is a powerful tool in language learning to put yourself into contexts and practise language, in the role-plays you need at least two people to conduct the conversation:


Situations to practise speaking:

Asking your university tutor for permission:

You are a university student who has been through some difficult personal problems lately. Ask your tutor for permission to hand in an assignment two weeks later than the deadline.


Asking for a pay rise at work:

Recently you have made great advances in your job that has seen your productivity sky rocket. Ask your boss for a pay rise.


Asking for directions in the street:

You are in a city for a job interview and you are looking for a specific building where the interview will take place. Ask for directions from a stranger.


Ask for someone to solve an issue with a bill:

You are on the phone to the telephone company because there has been a problem with one of your bills at home and you would like it to be solved.


Job interview:

You are having a job interview and you would like to ask some questions concerning the job. Ask about the job role, salary and any other benefits.




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