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Making polite requests in Spanish Posted by on Mar 27, 2014 in Learning, Spanish Grammar, Spanish Vocabulary

In Spanish, as well as in English, there are different ways of making requests or asking somebody to do something. They can be made in a direct way, as a command, which can be considered improper or too rude depending on the context, and in an indirect way. Polite requests are always correct, but more particularly in formal situations (when you are talking to somebody you don´t know quite well, or a business meeting, for example). So let´s see some strategies to make polite requests in Spanish:

1. A common way is to turn the command into a question. If we include “por favor” at the end of the question, the addressee will perceive it as even more polite.

– Cierra la puerta. Close the door (imperative, too aggressive)
– ¿Puedes cerrar la puerta, por favor? Can you close the door, please?

2. A different option is to use different verbs to express our need or desire. The most typical ones are “querer” and “poder”, but we can also find “importar”, “gustar”, desear”, etc.

a) Querer (to want). We can use this verb in present tense, but we need to add “por favor” (please) at the beginning or the end of the sentence not to be considered too rude. The imperfect subjunctive, quisiera, is a common way of expressing wishes and making polite requests.

– Quiero un sandwich, por favor. I want a sandwich, please.
– Quisiera un sándwich, por favor. I´d like a sadwich, please.

b) Poder (to be able to, can). We use “poder” in present tense and the conditional tense to make requests. “Poder” can be used with a “Would you mind…” sense too, or the equivalent phrases “¿Te importaría + action?”, “¿Te molestaría + action?”, “¿Querrías + action?” and “¿Te gustaría + action?”.

– ¿Puedes cerrar la ventana, por favor? Can you close the window, please?
– ¿Podrías ayudarme, por favor? Could you help me, please?
– ¿Te importaría hablar más bajo? Would you mind speaking quietly?
-¿Te molestaría apagar la tele? Would you mind turning the tv off?
– ¿Querrías acompañarme? Would you like to come with me?
– ¿Te gustaría acompañarme? Would you like to come with me?

In formal situations, we have to bear in mind that in Spanish we use “usted” instead of “” as a sign of respect, or when we don´t know our addressee. Also, the pronoun “te” would be replaced by “le”(formal, singular) or “les” (formal, plural).
– ¿Te importaría…? (less formal)
– ¿Le importaría…? (quite formal)

Now let´s see an increasing scale of politeness in these sentences:
– Dame/deme un vaso de agua. (imperative: mostly rude)
– Dame/deme un vaso de agua, por favor. ¿Me das/da un vaso de agua? (familiar, but ok)
– ¿Me das/da un vaso de agua, por favor? (polite enough, most used)
– ¿Me darías/daría un vaso de agua, por favor? = ¿Podrías/podría darme un vaso de agua? (particularly polite)
– ¿Me podría dar un vaso de agua, por favor? = ¿Le importaría darme un vaso de agua, por favor? (most polite)

Responding to Polite Requests
It would be easy if the answer is yes, but we should soften the answer if it is negative, a straight “no” would be considered quite impolite. We can do it by introducing “lo siento” (I´m sorry) before we give our reasons.

1.      Affirmative Responses

– Sí, con mucho gusto. (Yes, with pleasure.)
– Por supuesto. (Of course.)
– Como no. (Certainly sure.)

2. Negative Responses

– Lo siento, no puedo. (I’m sorry, I can’t.)
– Lamentablemente, no puedo. (Unfortunately, I can´t.)
– Me gustaría ayudar, pero no puedo. (I’d like to help, but I can’t.)

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About the Author: Magda

Hi all! I’m Magda, a Spanish native speaker writing the culture posts in the Transparent Language Spanish blog. I have a Bachelor’s in English Philology and a Master’s in Linguistics and Literature from the University of Granada, in Spain. I have also completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Education, and then worked as an English teacher in several schools and academies for several years. Last year was my first at university level. In addition, I work as a private tutor, teaching English and Spanish as a foreign language to students and adults. In my free time, I’m an avid reader and writer, editing and collaborating in several literary blogs. I have published my first poetry book recently. And last but not least, I love photography!


Comments:

  1. Sharran:

    Hi
    Only just started with this site. Very interesting and helpful.
    Except
    As a novice the pronunciation would be helpful in brackets maybe next to the most used of your
    Sentences. (Por favour).

  2. Peter:

    Magda – you can say ‘would you mind coming with me’ but never ‘would you like coming with me’
    It should be ‘ Woukd you like to come with/accompany me’

    • Magda:

      @Peter My mistake, thank you Peter!