If you want to sound polite when speaking English, you’ve come to the right place. Our language is so rich and varied that there's never a lack of words for what you're trying to say.
This article will give you some tips for sounding polite in your everyday speech, and teach you some common words and phrases you can employ right away.
Being polite is considered very important in most places, but different cultures have different views on what is polite and what isn’t. In English-speaking countries, language is a big part of it.
Phrasing your request or opinion properly is going to serve you well, whether that’s in:
Later I will share some common words and phrases that you can copy, but first, I want to give you some tips that you can apply to your own speaking and personalize as you see fit.
When it comes to sounding polite, modal verbs are your friend. The reason for this is that they soften the request. Think about this; would you rather have someone say to you:
Pass me the salt.
Could you pass me the salt?
Even without the word ‘please,’ the second sentence sounds a lot more polite. All that’s really changed is we’ve added a modal verb.
Modal verbs are words that indicate possibility, ability, permission, or necessity.
Practice making sentences with these modal verbs and see what a difference they make to how polite you sound! Here are a few to get you going:
Would you help me move house on Saturday?
Might you be able to give me a little guidance for my assignment?
Having good manners will get you far with English speakers. ‘Please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘sorry’ come in handy, as does showing respect and consideration for other people’s feelings.
Treat other people as you would like to be treated, regardless of their social class or profession.
A note on politeness, though: there is such a thing as being too polite. Yep, surprising, I know! But the trust is it can sometimes make you sound passive-aggressive or sarcastic.
Take the following sentence, for example:
Could you please open the window?
The ‘please’ in this question could make you sound slightly exasperated or impatient, as though you’ve asked several times before and you’re making the request again.
What’s more, being overly polite can make you sound very formal, which is great if you’re in a highly formal setting, but if you’re in a casual setting with friends, it could sound a little weird for you to say:
Would you kindly help me build my new Ikea shelf, please?
Try to keep it casual and say something like:
Would you help me build my new Ikea shelf if I get us dinner and some beers?
You can use ‘sorry’ for a whole lot more than just an apology. It can be used to mean ‘excuse me,’ express empathy, show politeness, or even get someone’s attention.
Let me illustrate:
Sorry, do you know the way to the closest metro station?
That sounds awful; sorry to hear that.
Sorry, can I sit there?
Now we’ve covered some of the basics of being polite in English, let’s take a look at some specific expressions you can use in your everyday interactions.
For each category, I’ve listed a common saying, below which I’ve listed examples of that particular saying and some variants that have the same meaning.
If you have to decline an invitation or respond to a request in the negative, there are polite ways to do that so that you don’t come across as unhelpful or unfriendly.
I’m afraid I don’t have any change.
I’m afraid I can’t make it tonight.
I’m afraid I’m going to have to turn down your invitation.
I would love to, but unfortunately, I already have plans.
I would love to help, but I’m sick today.
I would love to hear more about this, but I have to go right now. Can we grab coffee later?
Top Tip! You can use ‘I would love to’ on its own to accept an invitation.
Unfortunately, I can’t make it tonight.
I wish I could help but unfortunately I don’t have any inflence here.
Unfortunately, we’re unable to offer you a better deal.
When asking someone to do you a favor or accomplish a particular task, you want to be as polite as possible so that:
a) they don’t think you’re being bossy
b) they actually want to do it for you.
Sometimes a good trick can be to formulate your request as a question instead of a statement.
Yes, please! I would appreciate that so much.
I would really appreciate that right now.
I would love a coffee, please.
Would you mind passing me the salt?
Do you mind if I opened the window slightly?
By any chance, would you mind helping me with this?
I would be most grateful if you would turn the music down a tad.
I would be most grateful if you could go with me.
I would be most grateful for a helping hand.
If you don’t agree with something someone has said, and you want to let them know, there are several ways you can do that while remaining courteous. You can use these to either move on from the topic or to engage in a healthy debate.
We’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this.
Shall we just agree to disagree?
Respectfully, I don’t think we’re going to come to an agreement on this; should we just agree to disagree?
I can understand where you’re coming from but I don’t agree.
I see what you mean but
I respect your point of view but
I agree with that, but what do you think of this?
I agree with your earlier point, but have you considered a different point of view?
I agree that we need more pens, but don’t you think new staplers are more urgent?
You’ll notice most of these involve the word ‘thanks’ or phrase ‘thank you.’ And that’s great. But there are many ways to thank someone that doesn’t require you to use the word ‘thanks’ at all.
I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.
I appreciate it more than you know.
It means a lot to me.
You are the best!
You are so helpful.
It means the world to me that you did that.
It means a lot to me that you came today.
Your help means a lot to me.
If you’re having trouble understanding or hearing what someone has said to you, but you don’t want to offend them, don’t worry! There are plenty of polite ways to ask someone to repeat themselves.
I didn’t quite catch that; what did you say?
I’m sorry I didn’t quite catch what you said.
I didn't quite catch the last part of your sentence.
I’m sorry, could you repeat what you said?
Would you mind repeating that?
Could you repeat that last sentence? I didn’t quite catch it.
What do you mean when you say that?
Could you elaborate on that? I’m not sure what you mean.
Can you clarify what you mean about that?
What about when you’re trying to grab someone’s attention, but you don’t want to be rude? If someone is in the middle of something, is listening to music, or just seems completely immersed in their own world, it can be tricky to get their attention without feeling like you’re disturbing them.
In these circumstances, the best you can do is ensure you’re being as polite as possible so that you can get off on the right foot.
Excuse me, by any chance you could point me in the direction of the train station?
Excuse me, do you mind if I borrow your pen please?
Excuse me, I was wondering if you might be able to help me.
Excuse me, sorry to bother you, but I’m looking for the train station, can you help?
I’m terribly sorry to bother you but do you mind if I sit here?
Sorry to bother you sir, do you have the time?
Sorry, do you know which way the train station is?
Sorry, do you mind if I close the window?
Sorry, do you know what time it is?
Well, I could go on and on and on because the English language really has endless ways to sound polite. But you really don’t need to know them all. Most people just have a staple few expressions that they stick to and use across different contexts, personalizing them when necessary.
You can do the same! Pick some of your favorites and mix and match them.
Here’s what we’ve learned:
If you found this article helpful, you should check out our others on the blog. There are loads more where this came from.