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  #1 (permalink)  
Unread Dec 8th, 2007, 07:23 pm
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Default Would you or Could you - politeness

I had a Japanese teacher asked me about levels of politeness. He wanted to know which was more polite:

Can you ...?
Will you ...?
Could you ...?
Would you ...?

I told him that latter two are more polite and usage would depend on what you wanted to request. I also added that politeness in English is somewhat tied to the words but has more to do with how you say it as opposed to what you say.

Then he said that university scholars have said 'Will you ... ?' is the most polite form. It's in professional literature. (the original was a trap, I guess.)

To that I said it may have to do with which English we're talking about, but it didn't sound right to me. I also said I'd see what others think and here I am.

Can that be right? He didn't have any data from articles on him. Who knows, he may have heard it from someone who heard it from someone.

What do you think?
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Unread Dec 9th, 2007, 02:57 am
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Default Re: Would you or Could you - politeness

Here's a modal page on Wiki
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Unread Dec 9th, 2007, 07:57 am
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Default Re: Would you or Could you - politeness

No -doesn't make sense.

Will conveys willingmess - Are you willing to ...
Can conveys possibility - Is it possible for you to ....

Would and could are the second forms of will and can respectively. The second form of the verb conveys remoteness from present reality which may be remoteness in time (ie past), hypotheticality or - and this is what regards us here - psychological remoteness, tentativeness rather than directness. Compare :
I want to ask you something with I wanted to ask you something, I wonder if I can see you for a moment with I [u]wondered[/U if I could see you for a moment or What's your name ? with What was your name? The first is far more direct (and in some circumstances potentially more offensive) than the second. If you think how you might say those phrases you'll probably notice that you can say the first in each pair quite brusquely, but it's much more difficult not to use "polite" intonation with the second - if you did it would probably be a steely tone which implied anger and a "pointed" use of the polite forms.

In the same way as want/wanted etc, Would is less direct than will and could less direct than can. So would/could are more "polite" than will/can.

I think you could argue for ages about whether will/would is more polite than can/could. It depends whether you think enquiring about the possibility of an action is more or less polite than enquiring about someone's willingness to do it. I'd go for willingness, as it allows the person to decide, whereas possibility might be external to the person. So my personal order from most tentative downwards would be would will could can, or maybe would could will can. I'm not sure about the middle two - to me they're round about the same level. But definitely would as most polite and can as least.

See Lewis' The English Verb for a more detailed (coherent??) explanation
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  #4 (permalink)  
Unread Dec 10th, 2007, 04:35 pm
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Default Re: Would you or Could you - politeness

Thanks, Sue and Patrick.

I can at least go back to the guy and say some people agree with me

That's what really stinks about working out in the boonies with no other English speakers around. There's no one to ask.

BUT, it's good that I have an internet connection...
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Unread Dec 10th, 2007, 07:34 pm
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Default Re: Would you or Could you - politeness

Hey Mark,

Speaking of internet, I'm sure you know the answer to this question. There are a handful of great forums for teachers like us, but I have never of a seen one for Japanese teachers. Have you ever seen one?

I ask my teachers at school but the idea of free flowing communication and exchanging of ideas seem a little foreign to them.

Do you think if someone got the ball rolling setting one up for Japanese teachers, especially Japanese English teachers, they would start using it? I think it would be awesome to have them start talking and sharing amongst themselves, even if it's in Japanese.
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Unread Dec 10th, 2007, 08:12 pm
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Default Re: Would you or Could you - politeness

From what Ican tell, they stick to blogs and communities like Yahoo groups, Mixi or Ning type networks. At least they sometimes link to me from those places and then I go check it out. Many of them are locked though and only available to members.

I think you could definitely start something, but the problem is getting them to join in. I don't know of any Japanese people that actually 'belong' to web sites and contribute. Some comment here and there.

Publically voicing an opinion or asking a question that may make you look incompetent aren't strong points over here. Fake it until you're caught

Hard to say, but it wouldn't hurt to try ... I think you need a good, large group to center it around and hope that word spreads.
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Unread Dec 10th, 2007, 10:20 pm
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Default Re: Would you or Could you - politeness

Thanks, Mark! I've been toying with the idea for a while. I figure if people could remain anonomous, they might be more open to share ideas and talk...that's has always been the great thing about the internet.

I came to the same conclusion about having a strong center to support the forum. I was thinking maybe if I could get a collection of topics and articles together in Japanese to post to the forum, that could help get the ball rolling but it still needs people to contribute. Unfortunately, I've only met a handful of teachers who I believe are TRUELY excited about teaching English and like to discuss other things outside of the strict lessons in the textbook.

Anyways, if you hear of anything, I would love to know.

Thanks!
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Unread Oct 29th, 2008, 03:57 am
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Default Re: Would you or Could you - politeness

Well the correct polite forms are:

Familly & close friends: Can I/you........, please? example: Can I have the car tomorrow, please?

Teachers, boss, someone you know but not friends with etc...: Could I/you......., please? example: Could I have next Tuesday off, please? But if you are asking a stranger for directions, you would say: Could you tell me the way to......., please?

To superiors, Grandparents, stranger etc..: May I...........? (no please, because this is the ultimate form of politeness) example: May I leave the room? May I be excused?

If you teach this way, there will be no confusions.

:-)
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Unread Oct 29th, 2008, 04:57 am
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Default Re: Would you or Could you - politeness

I'm afraid I think this is a bit too dogmatic and simplistic. Language is not that clear-cut. Rules like this can sometimes help beginners, but from intermediate upwards they need to know the subtleties - or there will certainly be confusion. I use could and would a lot - including with my family. It's not only dependent on the person you're talking to, but also on what you're asking for. There's a big difference between asking someone to lend you their pen and to lend you their Ferrari ....

It also depends on intonation. I might initially say to my son : Can you lay the table for me? but then if he doesn't, get progressively more cross and end up saying Would you please lay the table now! And that's certainly not "more polite" than the original "Can you ..."

Also, I personally would never use may in a request. It's now rare in British English, though I believe it's still used in American English (-??). In a British context May I... would sound over-formal and archaic - Can I/Could I... are the normal forms.
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Unread Nov 14th, 2008, 04:07 pm
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Default Re: Would you or Could you - politeness

Another concise primer!

Thank you for walking me through that common question which I have always answered in a more concise, yet less informative manner. My response remains: would - could - will - can
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Unread Jan 28th, 2009, 12:58 am
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Default Re: Would you or Could you - politeness

I would help if I could and I should, but would and could could be will and can, but would it be confusing should would become could or would it be better to use could?

Smile ... just playing...
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