Episode 6:
Making Requests in American English

Transcript of the Episode: 

Main Intro: Welcome to the English for Everyone ESL Podcast! I’m your host, Caren Hayden, and I’m here to help you improve your English.




This week’s episode is all about making polite requests in English in American culture. I will discuss how, why, and when Americans make requests. Stay tuned.




In general, American culture is informal and direct. You must remember these cultural values when making and responding to requests. Americans like to get to the point. They prefer not to “beat around the bush,” so in many situations, Americans feel comfortable asking for what they want. You should too! For example, if you are at a friend’s house, and they have forgotten to offer you a drink, feel free to speak up and make a request. This is not considered rude by most people. Most Americans really want to make you feel at home and are happy to get you a drink. Of course, polite requests are appreciated. Make sure to use the correct words and phrases to make your requests polite instead of sounding too demanding.


There are basically three kinds of requests you can make in English. You can ask permission to do something. You can ask someone else to do something for you. Or, you can ask for an object. A very common way of making these kinds of requests is using modal verbs to begin your request. Modal verbs are special verbs that behave in a unique way and have their own grammatical rules. In addition to modal verbs, there are some other common phrases Americans use to make requests.

  1. First, when you want permission to do something, like use someone’s bathroom while you are visiting their house, you would use modal verbs such as could, can, or may. For example: Could I use your bathroom? Can I use your bathroom? Or, the most formal of the three: May I use your bathroom? Some other ways to make this same request using different phrases are: Is it all right if I use your bathroom? Or: Would you mind if I used your bathroom? Or, finally: Do you mind if I use your bathroom? All of these sentences basically convey the same request. They are all polite ways to ask permission to do something. Feel free to add the word “please” to the previous requests that include could, can, or may to make them even more polite. You will add “please” after the subject or at the very end of the sentence. For example, you could say: May I please use your bathroom? Or: May I use your bathroom please?

  2. Sometimes, you need someone else to do something for you. In this case the other person will be the subject of the sentence, since they will be the one to do the action you need or want them to do. Modal verbs, such as can, could, will, or would are very common ways to ask others to do things.  Here are some examples: Can you pass the salt? Could you pass the salt? Would you pass the salt? Or, Will you pass the salt? These are all polite ways to ask someone to do something for you. Again, feel free to add “please” to any of these requests after the subject or at the end of the sentence. For example: Can you please pass the salt? Or: Can you pass the salt, please? Some additional phrases you can use to make this kind of request are: Would you mind passing the salt? or Do you mind passing the salt?

  3. Finally, the last type of request we will discuss today is asking someone for an object. You may want to borrow, use, or have an object. These are the verbs you will likely use in your request. Again, you will most likely be the subject of the sentence, since you will be the one to borrow, use, or have the object. Pair these verbs with modal verbs to make your request. You can use modal verbs such as: can, could, and may. For example: Can I borrow a pencil? Or, Could I have a tissue? Or, May I use your car tomorrow night? Don’t forget to use “please” to make these requests more polite.


I hope you have learned something about making requests in English. I’d love to hear about your experiences making requests in America. How is this process different in your country? Leave me a comment on iTunes or on the podcast website!


Main Outro: Well, that’s it for today everyone. Thank you so much for listening to the English for Everyone ESL Podcast! Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. You can find the transcript for today’s show and more information about today’s episode on the show website: www.englishforeveryonepod.com. [Stay tuned for the slower version of today’s podcast.]




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Music is Where’s My Jetpack by Computer Music All-Stars found on www.freemusicarchive.org