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Dizzy Nov 12th, 2010 08:33 am

polite forms in English language
I am a second year English student in Bosnia.
today I got a seminar paper to do and the topic is Polite forms in english language
My main problem is that I cannot find books that contain this, and I am not really sure what exactly am I suppose to write about.
I know that there are forms
would you....
could you....
i was wondering if....
Is that all, or is there more forms?

Thank you for all your help.


LouannePiccolo Nov 12th, 2010 10:17 am

Re: polite forms in English language
In English, we don't use a different pronoun in order to be polite. For example, in French, you say "vous" instead of "tu" when you are speaking to someone you don't know or someone who is older, your boss etc... There are other languages where this happens too like Afrikaans and Dutch.

So, what do we use? Well, we use modals like could, would etc... as in the polite forms you mentioned above and we also use the simple past tense even when the action is going on right now. For example, you are opening up a bank account and the teller asks you "what was your name?". This doesn't mean that she is asking you what your name was in a former life! It just means she is being polite.

Have a look at these links I found a while back:
Imperatives VS Polite Requests
Modals for Polite Expressions which is a board game for polite language using embedded questions (look for it in the list under the pre-intermediate level ESL board games).

susan53 Nov 12th, 2010 11:07 am

Re: polite forms in English language
In addition to what louannePiccolo said .... as a general rule, the longer the phrase is, the more polite it is. So - the following go from most direct to most tentative :

Stand up!
Could you stand up?
Do you think you could stand up?
I was wondering if you could possibly stand up?

However, it's not just the forms themselves but also the structure of the whole conversation. For example, if I want to ask you to do something, I'll probably start what's known as a pre-sequence.

- Jean, do you think I could possibly ask you a favour?
- Yes, sure. What can I do for you?

That warns you that a request is coming and gives you a bit of time to think of an excuse if you don't really want to help. I give you even more time by "spinning out" the request and prefacing it with an explanation :

-Well, the thing is, you see, I'm going on holiday next week and I was wondering if you could possibly look after the cats for me?
- Oh well, I'm really sorry but, erm, I'm afraid I'm horribly allergic to cats.

Notice that things like the hesitations, and of course the intonation, all contribute to the tentativeness and therefore the politeness. With a different intonation you can make any polite form much more aggressive. The use and position of the word please contributes to this too. Look at the following situation :

A mother speaking to a child :
Alex, can you go to bed now, please?
(10 minutes later nothing has happened)
Alex, could you PLEASE go to bed now!
(10 minutes later and Alex is still at the computer)
Alex, PLEASE could you go to bed!!

You can find all this explained in a lot more detail here.

Dizzy Nov 15th, 2010 02:57 am

Re: polite forms in English language
Thank you both a lot. Now it is much more clear to me!

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